Twenty years of Tuesday’s Children: How nonprofit stepped in to help raise generation of 9/11 orphans

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Brian Leavey lost his father, a lieutenant with Ladder 15 in South Street Seaport on 9/11, and was mentored through Tuesday’s Children.
Courtesy of Tuesday’s Children

Out of the ashes of despair following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks came a non-profit organization, Tuesday’s Children, which aims to serve families and communities impacted by terrorism, military conflict, and mass violence for the past 20 years. 

Tuesday’s Children’s Executive Director Terry Sears has spent the past two decades working with 9/11 family members, providing long-term support for those who suffered the ripple effects of the terror attacks and ensuing war.

Sears prides her organization on their steadfast work aiding children impacted by the destruction of the World Trade Center as they grew up through mentorship and programing. She estimated that there were 108 children born after 9/11, creating even more youth who would grow up without knowing their loved ones. Even though many of these babies are now young adults attending college, she emphasizes that they still need the organization’s support due to the emotional and mental impact of losing a parent. 

“We know from mental health experts that children grieve differently. It’s not like an adult where you have a loss, and you have a tough year or two or three. For kids, as they become adults, as they become teenagers often that is when the loss hits them the hardest. It’s been important that there be a community of understanding and a community of support as they find their way into adulthood,” Sears said. 

Tuesday’s Children’s Executive Director Terry Sears. Courtesy of Tuesday’s Children

Tuesday’s Children was founded as a base program to fill the void due to a lost parent, focusing on bonding activities, mental health services, and simply serving as a sturdy shoulder for families to lean on while attempting to find some stability. 

Sears has witnessed the devastation wrought within her community of Manhasset after 9/11, stating that at least 41 families in the Long Island community lost a loved one. This left behind 55 children without a parent. 

“It was something that needed to be addressed, that these kids had a commonality of loss throughout the Tri-State area,” Sears said.

Tuesday’s Children initially functioned as resource that featured trained mentors who would function as a big brother or sister to take the youth to a baseball game, picnic, or other fun event. This mentorship transformed into surrogate family members over the years, from simply hanging out together to attending weddings and baptisms, creating an everlasting bond. 

Tuesday’s Children supports those impacted by terrorism, mass violence, and fallen veterans through recreational fun and programing. Courtesy of Tuesday’s Children

“As those kids got older, we decided to help them with resume writing, how to create a LinkedIn profile, interview skills—filling it a bit with that guiding light that they had lost in their life,” Sears said, adding, “Our program does not replace that loved one lost, but tries to fill in a bit. Tries to supplement what the surviving parent is doing. While you never really get anywhere close to bringing that person back, you then have more of a leveled playing field for skill-based life that one would have if that parent was there.” 

After two decades, the adolescents are now grown up and moved on, even serving in the military, studying in college, and pursuing their careers, they still keep in touch with Tuesday’s Children as mentors to those who’ve also face loss due to terrorism, mass violence, and veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Brian was once mentored through Tuesday’s Children, and now he is a mentor himself. Courtesy of Tuesday’s Children

Brian Leavey lost his father, a lieutenant with Ladder 15 in South Street Seaport on 9/11. After being mentored as a child, the process has come full cycle now that he has become a mentor himself. Working with a young man named Connor, who is a Gold Star family member, which is a term the organization uses to label their commitment to serving families of a fallen service member—Connor lost his father to COVID-19. Over the past year, Brian and Connor have been getting to know each other, bonding through their shared loss. 

“It’s incredibly and personally rewarding to watch these kids grow up,” Sears said, sharing that Tuesday’s Children will be providing consultation to organizations who need advice on how to help those who’ve lost a parent due to COVID-19. 

Andrea is another mentor who continues to work with the program after directly being impacted by 9/11.  Both of her son’s were in a mentoring program with Tuesday’s Children, and she saw first-hand the profound effect it had on her family. She decided to pay it forward by becoming a mentor for a girl named Skyler, who lost her father due to post-9/11 illness. 

“Skyler’s endless energy, vivacious personality and entertaining stories never cease to amaze me,” said Andrea. “I find our time together to be simultaneously uplifting and rewarding.”