by Paul Litwack, CHRP - the Capability Improvement Coach

In 2001 just after the events of  9/11, while in New York City on business for one day, I had the honor of volunteering at Ground Zero.

This travelog note is dedicated to the brave, selfless people I met while volunteering there and at the Relief Base at the Javits Center.  Words do not do justice to honor the extraordinary efforts of those true 'Angels' (described below): the Firefighters, Police Officers and so many others. God Bless You and continued success in your own lives and to every soul you touch! 

Hotlinks for volunteering are at

... Paul Litwack, CHRP

PS When you recognize any of the people below by their stories or photos, please re-connect me to them. We were together only for a few precious hours and became known to each other by first names). Thank you.


September 24, 2001

To my many valued friends, family, business and professional colleagues:

As the Capability Improvement Coach, my professional Keynotes and personal coaching assignments are usually planned well in advance. Meeting planners frequently call me or scout my web site, for relevant outlines and together we agree on a themed, thought provoking program for immediate and lasting improvements.

This wasn’t one of those assignments - but it would change how I view the world and some of the wonderful people in it! 

Last Monday, I was asked to fill in for a colleague to present a customized workshop for their client in New York City – two days later. And this was less than a week from the catastrophe that struck America on September 11, 2001.

My family and close colleagues were very supportive, though anxious about my flying into New York. Quite frankly so was I, but I reasoned that perhaps destiny was giving me a chance to help others while there. (Now I know that was indeed true).

I arrived at LaGuardia Airport by 9am, welcomed by armed guards and vicious looking sniffer dogs and pouring, cold rain.  Heading directly to the client at 5th and 49th in Manhattan, I found myself in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral just as an animated police officer was yelling at a limo parking in the wrong spot, just 10 feet away from where I stood. Within seconds, British Prime Minister Tony Blair came from that limo with his security entourage, arriving for the memorial for the British citizens who died in the World Trade Center.

That day, without exception, every New Yorker I met, personally knew at least one person (many knew more!) who died at the World Trade Center or at the Pentagon - the loss was that great! The whole city seemed to be in a fog. Normally busy New Yorkers with little time seemed to float through space in no rush to get anywhere. New York retailers were really hurting too - locals not in a buying mood and few visitors. 

Later in the day, I made my pilgrimage in the rain to Times Square to check on Broadway tickets for that evening (just about anything playing was 'suddenly' available). It was the first time I noticed the NYPD command post there.

It was obvious that they do not get many unescorted visitors there ;-) The senior officer, Roger, at first seemed amused that I felt I could just show up, given Mayor Giuliani's broadcast earlier that same day about not needing more volunteers! In a strange way, perhaps his reluctance gave me the courage to get serious about helping. The Business-like tone mellowed when he realized I  hadn't heard the broadcast and genuinely wanted to offer any support.  

When I gave him a copy of my Nix Negativity NOW™ audiotape album to circulate, he turned genuinely appreciative. Roger was very keen on my professional ability to motivate others and asked me to share a few tips ("just for me and my buddies here"). Now convinced, he called their command post near Ground Zero and highly recommended my services as a volunteer.  

Within the hour by subway and walking (much of the downtown system was closed or bypassed, for safety), I was at Broadway and Chambers. Once confirmed by radio, I was ushered though the barricades and was given a 3M safety ventilation mask (even in the rain, the dust and fumes were evident). I was assigned to support a cleanup crew near Broadway and Liberty (about a block from the SE corner of the World Trade Center complex).

I cried on seeing the vast destruction of those huge buildings and surroundings - it was more than even the press photos can show). Unfortunately, in the rain and in a mask, the volunteers and the crew didn't speak much – we nodded frequently acknowledging each other.

At about 8:30 there was ‘a discovery’ and security cleared the area swiftly. (The next morning I returned to the site in daylight, but never found out what happened. My personal photos are at right and at

With the speedy halt to my volunteering, I went to my hotel, showered and watched President Bush’s State-of-the-Union address. Like you, I was awed by his candor, clarity and passion to wipe out terrorism and help get America back on its feet. My heartfelt sorrow goes to all those who lost loved ones.

I decided to volunteer again – this time at the Javits Center where the relief tents were located (recall the news photos of all that donated bottled water piled high). From Penn Station it was a 5 block run through the puddles (still pouring rain) to the Javits Convention Center at 34th and 11th. While I have presented my professional seminar and conference programs inside the grand halls of the Javits Center, I was struck by the makeshift Tyvek tents set up outside along 34th.

So who is a volunteer and what does a volunteer do?

Arriving at 10:30 pm, I was greeted by a cheerful Michelle who quickly got me signed in and to work. Michelle had been volunteering for the past few days over the evening shift (until 5am). She just turned 19 and was studying to be Paramedic (you will be a fine Paramedic, Michelle :-)

By Midnight, we had already helped hundreds of aching firefighters, Police Officers and people who had become homeless or hurt in the WTC. They came to the relief center to get healthy food (both hot and cold), warm, dry clothes and words of encouragement from anyone who would spare them a moment to chat and reflect – out of the cold rain. Without exception, every one of them went out of their way to praise us as 'Angels' - sent from above to see them through the mess. He returned the compliment - they were really the Angels, returning day after day and night after night.

Josh and Kevin were two  30-something eager beavers who worked at Sports Illustrated magazine during the day. It seemed they spent the entire night juggling soda cans, bottled water and juice between three huge barrels – just to keep them filled and ice cold.

Julie (the mother-hen of the tent – more about her, below) was constantly scrambling to keep the food tables full of bagels, nutritional power bars, cereals and fresh fruit. It was her creative touch to bring teddy bears as table centerpieces – brightening the faces of everyone who saw them. A photo is at right -->

Ron, a crusty (but true softie inside ;-) was an off-duty army cook and my job was to support him and his crew to prepare hot meals throughout the night. And that began by cracking 80 dozen donated eggs (yes, that is almost 1,000!). Helping me was Sabrina (just turned 40 last week), a tennis pro who cycled there in the rain from the upper East Side; Christy, who proudly informed us that at 52 she recently left a ‘high powered senior executive’ role on Wall Street to pursue a career in professional guitar; and Omar, a mid 30’s man studying in New York (he is from Jordan and was quite graphic about the physical and emotional backlash he was receiving from insensitive people since September 11th).

A story for another time: the NY Health Officer who was assigned to monitor Food Safety that night – given that everything was donated. At least he helped us carry food items through the rain from the refrigerated trucks parked nearby.

Throughout the night, cars and trucks arrived unannounced with donated goods – including one with another 40 dozen eggs and one fellow who seemed to bring what looked like leftovers ;-) While gracious, Joseph, the Red Cross volunteer and Relief Center co-ordinator (he came from Idaho to volunteer) needed to decline accepting the half an avocado and cut melons.

At about 1am a very business-looking man in a suit (the only one I saw there all night) arrived looking to offer a refrigerated truck for our use from the people at Stop ‘n Shop. He just needed to get some official documentation for his company to bring the truck.

The rain had been pouring all night and it sure looked like one of the plastic roofs was about to collapse from the weight. Quick thinking, Joseph decided to push from inside, hoping the accumulated reservoir would pour down the side – which is almost what happened ;-) The makeshift tent wasn’t connected at the edges, so pity the poor people standing there – it was classic comedy and much needed levity in the cold damp tent. True to form, there was no anger – it was a beautiful scene as they graciously accepted the towels and a warm change of clothes (borrowed from the reserves for the homeless).

At 3 am, there was a quick meeting by the BBQs. Joseph had a presentation to make. Joseph and several of the volunteers had made a birthday cake and we all sang Happy Birthday to a very surprised, emotional Julie – our mother hen. Happy Birthday Julie!

At 4:30, I bid adieu to my new friends who only got to be known by their first names – but who will always be remembered as my co-Angels that night. We brought a ray of light and a few cheerful words to the real Angels – those hardworking professionals – the firefighters and Police Officers – many who had come from across the country to support New York’s Finest.

I am proud to have served with such a fine specimen of human spirit and genuine desire to help others. And I am grateful to have been provided the opportunity to volunteer.

Here’s what you can do now:

Please visit the web page I created at It contains many helpful hotlinks to opportunities for you to help in your own local cities – and to contribute to the many worthwhile funds helping people in need.

And here's wishing us all sustained personal and world peace, good healthgood fortune – and the opportunity to help make our precious world a better place – because we are there!



Paul M. Litwack, CHRP

PS - As a splash of cold water to wake me up, my unlimited-ride 1-day subway pass had expired at 3am. Now at 5am, the booth attendant wasn't interested in my story about where I had just been (I paid the $1.50). Later, at the airport, security required passengers to unbuckle our pants belt in public view to they could complete their security scan. Sigh, back to the real world ......

   'hover' over each picture for descriptive name
  wtc - new skyline - from LaGuardia.JPG (18914 bytes)

wtc - Times Square Stn 'people lost' posters.JPG (35857 bytes)

wtc - view from the SouthEast.JPG (45643 bytes)

wtc - view from the east.JPG (38191 bytes)


wtc - teddy bears in the Relief tent.JPG (46018 bytes)






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