Observing 9/11 by doing good deeds

Sixth anniversary of terrorist attacks are commemorated.

BY P.J. HELLER | MESA, Ariz. | September 11, 2007

"I think there's a billion good deeds out there that anybody can do . . . I would just love it if everybody would pick one and say, 'Here's my good deed.'"

—Andrew Reinholz

Andrew Reinholz was more than 2,100 miles away from New York City on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists crashed two jetliners in the World Trade Center.

"Obviously 9/11 moved all of us," Reinholz said. "And it stirred something in me."

It was a stirring that over the years was to change his life and the lives of others.

"If something stirs in you, then you need to pay attention to what that is," Reinholz said. "If all of a sudden you feel your heart being tugged . . . you need to pay attention to that. That’s really what I did."

As Americans pause to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks most observances are expected to be low-key Reinholz said he will be remembering the families who lost loved ones in the Twin Towers and the rescuers who died when the buildings collapsed, as well as those who perished when a plane slammed into the Pentagon and another crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

Rather than that remembrance casting a pall over the day, Reinholz said he is heartened by the good deeds and acts of kindness Americans nationwide have pledged to do as part of a Sept. 11 national day of service, charitable acts and good deeds.

At the myGoodDeed.org Web site, more than 100,000 people are expected to have signed up to perform good deeds and other forms of charitable service as a long-term way to remember and honor the victims, survivors, volunteers and rescue and recovery workers of 9/11.

"Over the past five years, our nation has been able to pay tribute through important national services, but as time goes by, it is inevitable that these memorial services will gradually and naturally convert to private moments shared mostly by family members and others directly affected by the attacks," said David Paine, president of the non-profit organization and a co-founder of the site.

"As a nation, if we hope to remember 9/11, we will need to find other ways to acknowledge the significance and impact of the events of that day in our nation's history, and there is no better way to do that than to transform 9/11 into a national day of voluntary service," Paine said.

The "good deeds" posted on the site range from a Florida woman helping rescue turtles crossing roads near a beach to John Feal of the FealGood Foundation who donated a kidney to a stranger to help a seriously ill 9/11 rescue worker.

"It's great," Reinholz said of the site, whose founders say it was created with the support of 22 family, volunteer and survivor member groups of Sept. 11. "You hope stuff like this is going on, but you don’t know.

"I love to read that kind of stuff," he said, adding, "It would be great if more people did one thing. It doesn't have to be anything big. It can just be something small."

For Reinholz, his major act of kindness which actually occurred months before the Sept. 11 observance entailed purchasing a fully equipped van complete with hydraulic lift for a wheelchair-bound teenage boy with cerebral palsy and his family.

Reinholz was at a loss for words in trying to explain what motivated him to buy the $42,000 van for the boy and his family, whom he met and struck up a friendship with at a local park where he would take his three sons.

"I don't have any explanation other than I knew that was what I supposed to do, so I did it," the Mesa, Ariz., resident said. "I don't really know why I did it, but I just did.

"I can't really explain what it is," he added. "I don't know if it was God moving in me. I really wish I had some really great explanation. It's just something that comes out of you. It's in there."

Before purchasing the new van, the boy would have to be physically lifted in and out of a standard minivan, which was no easy task, according to Reinholz who once attempted the feat himself. It became even more of a challenge after the boy's father had to undergo back surgery in early 2007, he said.

"I was a football player, a football coach and a power lifter and that was tough," Reinholz recalled of lifting the youth into the van. "I walked away from that and it was like everything stirred in me at once, from 9/11 to Katrina to God calling me to 'pay it forward.' I just went to his dad and said, 'I'm going to buy you a van.' He said, 'Are you crazy?' "

Reinholz laughs when he describes telling his wife about the purchase.

"Hey honey, by the way I'm buying a new van," he told her.

"Oh really. Great," she replied.

"But I'm buying it for somebody else," he said, still laughing.

"I think she understands," he said. "I think she gets it. I would always talk about these things."

The new van has made a world of difference for the boy and his family, Reinholz said.

"They don't have anything to worry about now because all they do is use the hydraulic lift to lift him in and out of there," he said. "He just rolls up in there, they lock him in and they're good to go."

Reinholz, who sells athletic shoes to sporting goods stores around the country, said he's just an ordinary guy who was looking to help others without expecting anything in return.

"I don't want to make too big deal out of the van," he said. "I don't have any explanation for that. That was just my 'assignment.' Your assignment might be nothing more than helping someone change a flat tire on the side of the road. Unfortunately, we worry too much about what could happen (if we stop to help). What could probably happen is you might change that person's life. You just don't know.

"The truth is I'm just a normal guy," he said. "I'm like any guy. I'm nothing special. I'm just a dad with three boys and a daughter and a wife and a good marriage."

Reinholz said he hopes his example will encourage his three sons - ages 15, 13 and 8 - to follow his example in helping others. He also hopes that message will be picked up when his 8-month-old adopted daughter is older.

"If they go out . . . whatever career they have in life, I want them to say, 'Hey, you know what. I have to give back to my community.' I don't know if they get it all right now, but I think it will click one day for them. So I'm just trying to get them to understand that whole complex outside of their iPod, PlayStation world," he said.

"I just hope that what I'm doing with these three boys and this daughter of mine is planting those same seeds that they feel the mercy and compassion on 9/11."

Reinholz said he would like to take his two oldest sons to New Orleans to see the recovery efforts for Hurricane Katrina. He also wants them to adopt the pay-it-forward concept popularized by the motion picture of the same name. In that film, a young boy develops a plan to do three good deeds for people and rather than having them pay the favor back, they "pay it forward" doing good deeds for others.

"If everybody would just do that, what kind of a change could we make," he said.

He and his sons already are doing that, volunteering at a large Phoenix food bank. Reinholz also coaches youth sports teams; one of the requirements to be on the track team is for the youngsters around Christmas time "to do something for someone who can do nothing for you," he said.

Reinholz said getting to the point of donating the van was a gradual one since the 2001 terrorist attacks, which killed some 2,700 people in New York, 184 in Washington and 40 others in Pennsylvania.

"In 2001 and 2002, I didn't know what to do," he admitted. "When that happened, things started stirring and it was a gradual process. You kind of learn, it's a little bit of a process in understanding how to give back.

"I don't think people really know," he said. "I know I didn't. I was a selfish person. I was real selfish. I think that was part of the turning point for me to quit being selfish, especially when I read about these guys doing their job who died. It hurts me even when I'm reminded of 9/11.

"I think there's a billion good deeds out there that anybody can do . . . I would just love it if everybody would pick one and say, 'Here's my good deed.' You can tell people about it or you cannot tell people about it. I just think that's what were supposed do. Everybody receives blessings. Blessings can come in all kinds of shapes or forms."

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