By Amy Liebman Rapp, Alex Cares for Grieving Youth
Within hours of the September 11 World Trade Center terrorist attack, my voicemail and email were overloaded with requests for services from corporations, mental health agencies, and schools. All were looking for assistance in how to help adult survivors cope with the sudden traumatic death of their loved ones and support the grieving children and teens whose parents had died in the towers.
I accepted several challenging opportunities that included working with the American Red Cross and the Aon Corporation, but the most intriguing call came in early 2002 from a board member of a recently formed charitable foundation called A Little Hope.
The founder, Cantor Fitzgerald bond trader Whitney Siderman Michaels, was on her honeymoon in Hawaii with her husband Evan, while Cantor Fitzgerald’s corporate headquarters, located on floors 101 to 105 of the North Tower, were destroyed. A staggering 658 employees died. As Whitney and Evan attended numerous memorial services, they witnessed many bereaved children now having to face life without their mother or father and wanted to find a way to offer them hope for the future.
The board of directors were seeking a mental health professional with expertise in childhood bereavement to join the board and wanted to meet with me. In addition to my clinical thanatology (death, dying, and bereavement) practice, I had been president of the board of a nonprofit children’s after school organization and had an extensive business background. After meeting the founders, I agreed to become the foundation’s clinical advisor and a (volunteer) founding board member. The first fundraising gala in lower Manhattan took place just three months later in June 2002, and more than $200,000 was raised.
The strategic plan was to establish a granting organization that would provide emotional support for the surviving children of September 11 who experienced the death of a parent. Many of the board members were highly skilled individuals working in the corporate sector (hedge funds, banking, accounting, law, and insurance), but no one had any previous board experience. I realized that with prior board experience and a current network of colleagues in the bereavement field, the executive committee of A Little Hope was looking to me to spearhead the granting initiative.