Reflections from Sept. 11: Experiencing New Yorkers’ outpouring of volunteerism

By Debbie Chitester, Disaster Program Manager, Summit, Portage, and Medina Counties Chapter

September 11, 2019- This year marks 18 years since the tragedies of Sept. 11 occurred. Each year I reflect upon that time and remember those who were lost, but also the good work of people that rushed to the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to help. I remember the support that was given to everyone affected, either directly or those coming to help the ones in need. The following is what I wrote after I returned from three weeks working in New York City. I still reflect upon it often.

2001 Terrorism NYC

I have witnessed probably the largest outpouring of volunteerism in my lifetime. In New York City, the American Red Cross processed 21,000 volunteers by Oct. 11, 2001, one month after the tragedy.

2001 Terrorism NYC

The local volunteers came out in spontaneous droves — literally 24 hours a day — giving truth to the phrase “New York: The City that Never Sleeps.” People of all races, creeds and religions came out to help. From caterers to computer operators, from men in suits to women in hard hats, flight attendants, retired phone operators, out-of-work actors, working actors, college students, musicians, nurses, doctors, psychologists, rabbis and even a medium — socioeconomic status did not matter. This city joined together to heal itself.

2001 Terrorism NYC

And that is how we viewed this . . . a healing process for the residents of the New York metro area. Most did not care what they did, just so they could help. They were drivers, data entry specialists, family services and respite center workers, cooks and greeters. No job was too small.

2001 Terrorism NYC

On the corners were groups of people with large signs saying, “THANK YOU” and cheering. At first I thought, “Well they must think we are firefighters or police.” Then we stopped at the corner and they saw the Red Cross and they said, “Thank you, Red Cross!” Driving through checkpoints late at night after a VERY LONG and stressful day, the police officer that checked IDs said, “Hey Red Cross, thanks, you are doing a great job!” That made us all feel good. This was not only at the beginning of my journey; I saw those signs when I left three weeks later.

2001 Terrorism NYC

It was difficult to leave this operation. Usually when I leave, the job is coming to an end, and I transition to the local chapter to carry on the job of recognition and follow-up. Not this time. We knew that the work was not done, and we needed to go home to our other “families.” But there was a feeling of accomplishment knowing that so many New Yorkers helped their community.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross Volunteer

Sept. 11 experience moves resident to become avid Red Cross volunteer

By Doug Bardwell, American Red Cross volunteer

Sept. 11, 2001 made significant impressions on most every adult living at the time. It certainly did for Susie Muetzel, an American Red Cross volunteer with the Lake to River Chapter.

Susie Muetel

Susie Muetzel

“At the time, my husband was a Cleveland firefighter and I was working for the clerk of Cleveland City Council,” said Susie. “After being told we needed to evacuate the building, as I drove home, I recall seeing the plane that was Flight 93 flying overhead when all planes were supposed to be grounded. I recall feeling sorry and helpless and terrified. Within a couple hours, I determined that I was never again going to feel like there was nothing I could do. There was no way I wanted that feeling of helplessness.”

Shortly thereafter, Susie saw on TV that the Red Cross was looking for volunteers. She still remembers making the call and talking with Disaster Specialist Debbie Chitester, who now serves as the Disaster Program Manager for the Summit Portage and Medina Counties Chapter.  Debbie helped Susie her get her initial training. On October 1, she began her volunteer service. She wasn’t able to deploy to New York or Pennsylvania back in 2001, but since then, she has deployed to countless hurricanes and floods, working in an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) and offering meals to those affected. She most recently responded to Hurricane Florence.


Susie Muetzel, left, and Red Cross volunteer Sue Wisdom

Locally, between national disasters, she keeps very busy with her chapter, covering four of the five counties along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. “Here at home, I’m a DAT (Disaster Action Team) leader, the DAT Coordinator and weekend AOC (Administrator-On-Call),” said Susie.

That could be the most rewarding part of her volunteer work, explained Susie. “I recall one weekend when we had back-to-back fires, each with fatalities. When we go to a fire and are able to provide some degree of comfort to someone who has lost everything and is desperate for help, that’s extremely rewarding.”

If someone is looking for volunteer opportunities, take it from Susie, “You get so much more out of it than you could ever possibly give. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. When you come home from helping someone, even in the middle of the night, you know that you did something good and really helped them. If you have that empathetic heart, it fills you up in ways that you never dreamed of.”

To explore the various volunteer possibilities open to you, visit and begin your online application.  There is a critical need for volunteers to join the Disaster Action Team in the Lake to River Chapter, which includes Ashtabula, Trumbull, Mahoning, Columbiana and Jefferson Counties.  Residents there can get more information by calling the chapter at 866-319-7160.