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Post-attack volunteerism: Lasting trend or a blip?
By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Since Sept. 11, Donna Nix has given blood, sorted canned goods at a food bank and made care packages for AIDS patients.
Before the terrorist attacks, Nix was content to enjoy the comfort of her living room sofa. But when the unfathomable happened, she -- like thousands of Americans -- was inspired to join the nation's ranks of volunteers.
"Giving of your time became more important instead of just sitting at home watching TV," said Nix, a 27-year-old office worker from Hendersonville, a Nashville suburb. "I realized I could be doing something better."
In the hours and days after Sept. 11, Americans flooded volunteer agencies and relief organizations with donations and offers to help.
Since then, President Bush urged the nation to make the post-attack "culture of service" a lasting part of American life. Bush called for each American to donate 4,000 hours over a lifetime.
But while Sept. 11 sparked a tremendous upsurge in volunteerism, it's not clear "whether that's been a lasting trend or just a blip," said Sara Melendez, president and CEO of Independent Sector, a Washington-based coalition of more than 700 charitable groups.
So far, it looks more like a blip to Jennifer Gilligan Cole, executive director of Hands On Nashville, an organization that coordinates more than 1,600 volunteers.
"We've seen a lot of people interested, but I have not seen a lot of follow-through," Cole said. "We really are still working to get people to come out and make a long-term commitment."
United Way of America reported a 6 percent rise in volunteers in 2001, and "I'm sure that can be attributed in part to Sept. 11 and renewed community spirit," said United Way spokeswoman Ann Andrews. But whether that held firm in 2002 won't be clear for several months, she said.
Close to ground zero, interest in volunteering remains high, said Ariel Zwang, executive director of New York Cares, which still advertises recovery-related needs on its Web site.
"It's obviously leveled off since the early months, but what we have now is a level about 25 percent higher than before," said Zwang, whose organization provided volunteer opportunities for 48,000 New Yorkers last year.
Ashley Harris, a 17-year-old senior at Great Valley High School in Malvern, Pa., volunteered with United Way before Sept. 11, but the attacks strengthened her resolve to "do something."
"After Sept. 11, I went up to see ground zero and it was really inspiring," said Harris, who helps at a Police Athletic League community center and visits residents at a senior citizens home.
In Tennessee -- nicknamed the Volunteer State for furnishing a remarkable number of volunteers in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War -- some college students want to keep the patriotism and volunteer spirit alive.
Brooks Brown, a 20-year-old student at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, helped persuade state lawmakers to pass a "Unite Our Cities" resolution. It urges public school systems statewide to create opportunities for students to do volunteer work commemorating Sept. 11.
"We want to show parents and teachers and kids coming up behind us that we are concerned about our community and the future," Brown said.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks, Americans also showed their concern by giving blood.
Nationally, more than 276,000 people gave blood for the first time between Sept. 11 and Oct. 1, the Red Cross reported. However, only about 20 percent have returned to give blood a second time.
As Mando Rueda, 65, donated blood near Las Vegas, he said it's easy to
forget that help is still needed. "A year has gone by. Ground zero has been
cleaned up," he said. "I'm just hoping that we don't forget."
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