For Americans everywhere, Sept. 11 is a day to remember — to remember the tragedy, to remember the loss, to remember fellow citizens.
For James and Eva Vincent it is a day of insurmountable thanks. The couple will soon be moving out of their travel trailer and into a new house built through an organization that works to commemorate Sept. 11, 2001, by helping others who have suffered from disaster.
“We wanted to thank people for what they did in New York in our time of need,” said Jeff Parness, founder of New York Says Thank You, a foundation that reaches out to others in need each Sept. 11.
Last December, a tornado ravished through the Vincents’ home, leaving nothing but scraps. The home that for three generations was also used to house disabled veterans was not insured and since the area was never declared a disaster, federal assistance was not available.
But a week later, after seeing stories of the tornado’s damage on the Weather Channel, Parness called the Vincents and said he wanted to help.
“We didn’t really believe it,” Eva Vincent said. “We’re in Groesbeck, Texas, of all places, we were just in awe.”
Their dream of a new start became a reality this weekend when more than 120 volunteers from all over the country turned a slab of concrete and a pile of building supplies into a new home.
“They just stood back and had this far away look in their eyes like they couldn’t believe this was happening,” said Larry Johnson, a captain at the Red Oak Fire Department, who teamed with a group that traveled from Louisiana to build.
The organization had aided their rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina and they wanted to give back too. Groups who were assisted after the wildfires in San Diego also came as well as firefighters and residents from New York and other corners of the country.
Parness, who lost his friend and business partner in the 9/11 attacks, said the first project started after his 5-year-old son saw a child on TV who’d lost his Halloween costume in the San Diego wildfires.
His son wanted to help. So with encouragement from his dad, the boy helped gather toys from the family’s building to comfort children in California. Then Parness, along with two of his friends, drove a U-Haul of supplies across the country, sporting a sign of thanks for the support the rest of the country had shown them a few years prior, “New York Says Thanks.”
Now, six years after the trade center attacks, Parness has found another way of saying thanks for help he and many New York firefighters received six years ago.
Reaching out to one of their own, the firefighters decided James Vincent, who, along with his extended family, make up about a fourth of the volunteer fire department in Groesbeck and have long reached out to disabled veterans, made them the perfect candidates for the spirit of service Parness said his organization likes to commemorate.
Mary Rand, vice president of Farmers State Bank in Groesbeck, who helped organize the weekend build, said the Vincents weren’t the only ones helped through the hours of hammering and building in the heat.
“All the people that worked on it are equally blessed as the people who have a new home,” Rand said, adding that she received an e-mail Monday morning from a woman widowed on Sept. 11, 2001, that said, “Tomorrow will be easier because I was there this weekend.”
Johnson agreed, saying the weekend away from his Ellis County home was one of the peak experiences of his life.
“I really can’t describe the way it made me feel,” he said. “It’s a great thing to help someone else and see all these people build a house.”
Since the organization’s first effort, which was accomplished with just 16 volunteers, Parness said, people who’ve been helped each year keep showing up to help the next person in line.
“This is what America’s about, Americans coming together,” Parness said. “Next year we’re going to have a lot of people from Texas.”
Johnson said he’s already blocked out the dates for next year’s project. The Vincents said they’ll be there too.
“I told Jeff (Parness) yesterday when I left,” Johnson said, “Even if you’re in Alaska on the North Sea, I’ll be there.”
For more information, visit www.newyorksaysthankyou.org