I am a research assistant for Voices of September 11th, a non-profit located in New Canaan, Connecticut.
What? Where? Since when do English majors do research?
I didn't think they did either. What started out as a communications internship turned into an opening as a research assistant--a job at this small company that was supposed to be for a graduate student. I had applied for a communications position after seeing a posting through OneDayOneInternship.com and did not think much of it. After getting the position, however, my boss called me a few weeks before I was about to start and told me about the research opportunity. I said I would love to take that position instead. Who says change isn't good?
About a month ago I packed up my Penn State apartment, whisked home to New Jersey for a few days, and moved back up north to Stamford, a town about 15 minutes from my office. I did not know what to expect at my new job or the caliber of work I would be doing--I had never interned outside of the Penn State community.
I quickly learned that Voices of September 11th is a small organization with big-name prospects. It is a non-profit created by Mary Fetchet--a mother who lost her 24-year-old son, Brad, on that tragic day--in the months after the terrorist attacks to provide ongoing support for those affected by the event. The organization's quiet office in New Canaan is complemented by one in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and both are teeming with passionate social workers and professionals that seek only to help others. Advocating for government reforms down in Washington, hosting an annual "Always Remember" gala each year, and hosting private sessions with family members are just a few of the large-scale accomplishments this organization achieves. In doing some background reading my first few days, I was astounded by Voices' history, and I was inspired to be working for a company that seemed to make such an integral difference in a part of United States' history.
My job would be to start on a new research project, funded by a grant from the Department of Justice's Office of Victims of Crime, with one other assistant and a project manager to oversee us. Our task is to create a long-term support model for families affected by disasters or mass trauma events, one that addresses the long-term needs through resiliency efforts. We look at September 11th, but also the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University and the bombing in Oklahoma City for best practices. Now that these events are years behind us, many support groups have faded into the shadows and other coalitions have served their purpose and thus disbanded. But what about those individuals who still need help? Multiple years may seem like a long time for most of us, but for those who lost someone that day at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, Shanksville, Virginia Tech, NIU, or Oklahoma City, that equates to thousands of days of thinking of their loved one. And for most, those thoughts pervade every aspect of their life, even today. Our research project's purpose is to address that need that those people still have and to find best practices for them in case of future mass trauma events, allowing them to stay strong even after so much time has passed.
Though I am not a part of the social work component of Voices--I don't meet with families that come in or get to help people directly, which is something I really enjoy doing--I feel that I am a part of something bigger with my role as a research assistant. The work that we do this summer will take shape as the project continues long after I am gone, and it will hopefully be successful in creating a long-term support model, in whatever form that will be. Just in the first few weeks, I feel better educated about September 11th, about the government and its structure, and about our world. I was only ten years old when the Twin Towers were struck, and I don't remember much about the weeks afterward other than continual footage of the wreckage and firefighters on the news. It has been a wonderful opportunity, a wonderful learning opportunity, to be able to discover more about what changed our nation eleven years ago and what we need to do today to continue supporting those affected. I hope that my research this summer will not only open my eyes to this but also to how in times of trouble, the human race really can come together and give each other what we all need--a place to talk, a place to listen, and love.
I look forward to my coming weeks and hope that this feeling of accomplishment and appreciation continues. Check back soon for updates on my experience with Voices, including details about working an annual gala and more!