On September 1, 2001, I moved to New York City to start a new job in the positive youth development field that I love so much.  Ten days later, our lives were changed by the attacks on the World Trade Center towers.  Here’s what I remember:

    • Looking out my 10th floor apartment window in the morning and seeing smoke billowing from the first tower.
    • Walking to NY Presbyterian Hospital to give blood. Seeing the doctors and nurses straining their eyes toward downtown and waiting outside in the emergency room driveway for ambulances to bring patients.
    • Spending hours dialing and re-dialing my cell phone to reach my family in Missouri because the cell phone antennas atop the World Trade Center were gone.
    • The quiet streets in NYC in the days after 9/11.  No cars, no people, just silence as the city mourned.
    • Second Avenue on 9/12 – empty of cars except for a miles-long line of yellow bulldozers and construction equipment heading to the WTC site like an excavation armada.
    • Adding my brownies to the huge potluck table of food from neighbors for the police officers and staff of the 13th Precinct who were working around the clock right on my block of 21st street.
    • The heroes – police, fire, EMT, Port Authority. Everyone giving them tremendous respect and appreciation for all they had done and all they had lost.
    • The horrible smell of all that was burning downtown and changing my air conditioner filters every week to get rid of the black soot.
    • So many people wanting to support the needs of kids through our organization during such a difficult time.

Most of all, I remember the overwhelming feeling of unity this tragedy brought to our country. As a new New Yorker, I tangibly felt the support of the entire nation and the world as we struggled to come to grips with what had happened. And I was determined to stick around to be part of the city’s recovery.

On this 20th anniversary, I realize that today’s 4‑H’ers don’t remember 9/11. Thank goodness.  Our 4‑H’ers and their peers in Gen Z are being shaped by other formative experiences – the pandemic, school shootings, racial injustice, and cyber-bullying.

After more than 20 years in this field, this anniversary of 9/11 is a reminder to me that every generation faces significant challenges. To build the resilience, confidence and connections needed to thrive, our young people need the mentors, leadership roles and skill-building that positive youth development organizations like 4‑H provide.  Thanks to millions of Cooperative Extension staff, volunteers and supporters through the decades, 4‑H has been here for every generation since 1902 and we will continue to be here for Gen Z and beyond. How thankful I am to be a part of such an important mission.

May each of us never forget the heroes who gave their lives for their neighbors on 9/11 or the lessons of that horrible day that inspire us to “pledge our hands to larger service for our clubs, community, country and world.”

About the Author

Jennifer Sirangelo

President & CEO - National 4‑H Council

Jennifer is a believer in young people and their capacity to change the world. As President and CEO, she leads National 4‑H Council in its mission to increase investment and participation in high-quality 4‑H positive youth development programs for millions of young people around the world. Learn about 4‑H’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.