NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — Twenty years after the Sept. 11 attack on America, there is an organization in New Jersey offering proof that good can come from even the most horrible tragedy.
A Garden State community, deeply affected by the attack on the World Trade Center, decided back then to make a change for the better. They wanted to prove their theory that the greater the tragedy, the more likely Americans are to rise above it. And they’re still doing their best to prove their point.
Heartworks founder Megan McDowell of Basking Ridge, N.J., was busy living her life the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when she got a call to turn on the television.
“I think everyone of a certain age can attest, you’ve just never … seen anything like it,” McDowell recalls. “I mean, you didn’t even know what you were looking at.”
McDowell’s brother-in-law, 41-year-old John Farrell, a father of four, died that day in the south tower of the World Trade Center.
“And then to think to yourself that someone that you love and that you know is there,” she says, “I don’t know if our minds could fully comprehend it.”
McDowell was not alone in her personal tragedy. Her hometown of Basking Ridge lost 21 people that day. It was devastating for the entire community.
But what happened next, McDowell says, was amazing.
She watched as her family, and others, got cards and letters of support from strangers all over the country. People were lining up to support their fellow Americans, which made McDowell wonder, what would it be like if we acted that way all the time?
Toward that end, McDowell founded Heartworks, an organization devoted to acts of kindness and constantly paying it forward, inspired by the events of Sept. 11. During a recent visit to the group’s Basking Ridge headquarters, volunteers were busy preparing care packages for area veterans. And on each anniversary of 9/11, the group’s volunteers pay tribute to those who were lost on that fateful day.
“There’s so much love that goes on in this building,” McDowell says.
“Twenty years later, we’re standing here and I can’t believe it,” adds volunteer Jennifer Donohoe.”
Two decades down the road from the events of Sept. 11, 2001, McDowell and Heartworks have spread across the country, helping whomever they can, wherever they can, both quietly and anonymously. The group strives to recapture that national feeling of common purpose that followed on the heels of great tumult and tragedy.
“It didn’t matter who you were, where you were from, certainly not what color your skin was,” McDowell recalls. “And everybody just came together in this wave of love. There were no strangers. People that were strangers on Sept. 10 were no longer strangers on Sept. 11. And I just thought to myself, ‘Why would we ever go back to the way that we were?’”