To Honor Those They Lost–9/11 Ten Years Later

A decade after the devastating attacks, family, friends, and colleagues of terror’s victims are finding peace through service.

by Kenneth Miller from Reader's Digest, September 2011

Jay Winuk and David Paine
“9/11 is about how good people responded.”

When the first plane hit the World Trade Center, Jay Winuk’s brother, Glenn, was in his apartment in Midtown Manhattan talking on the phone. The 40-year-old lawyer could have stayed there. But Glenn was also a volunteer firefighter, and he thought his rescue skills might be needed. He jumped in a cab and made it downtown in time to help evacuate workers in his building a block from the World Trade Center. Then he ran to the South Tower, where he borrowed a medic bag from an EMT and rushed into the lobby.

You couldn’t stop Glenn from going down to the scene of an accident,” says his brother Jay, 53, a public relations executive in Mahopac, New York. “He also responded in ’93 when the towers were bombed. I spent 9/11 trying to call him. By that night, we were calling hospitals. It wasn’t until weeks later that we gave up hope.” In October, Winuk’s family held a funeral; lacking a body, they buried a few of Glenn’s possessions in a plain pine box. The following spring, searchers found his remains beneath tons of debris, and the family held a second funeral.

Jay agonized over how to memorialize his brother. Then he got a call from David Paine, a former PR colleague and ex–New Yorker whose own brother had escaped from a building near Ground Zero. “I was struck by the way the whole country came together, this remarkable spirit of unity,” says David, recalling the conversation. “I had just read that the New York Mets had donated a day’s pay to the relief efforts for the 9/11 families and thought, What a great idea! Maybe we could all find a way to donate a day’s pay, or a day’s service, to help others. That would be a great tribute to those who had lost their lives.”

Jay loved the idea. The two men started a website and a nonprofit, MyGoodDeed, to coordinate volunteer efforts on the anniversary of 9/11. In the first year alone, 50,000 people posted their plans for the day, whether pitching in at soup kitchens, repairing schools and homeless shelters, or simply helping needy neighbors. “We wanted each person’s good deed to be personal to them, in tribute,” says David. In 2009, President Obama signed into law David Paine and Jay Winuk’s vision—the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance. This year, MyGoodDeed is organizing events in 24 U.S. cities and several foreign countries.

“I lost my kid brother, somebody I shared a bedroom with growing up,” says Jay. “Your siblings are the people you’re supposed to know the longest in your life. And when they’re taken away, that leaves a big, big hole. So the ten years of trying to do something in memory of him have been a labor of love. His example of going out of his way for other people in need—we could all use more of that.

“We want future generations to understand that 9/11 is not just about the attacks. It’s about how good people responded.”

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