It took the 19 hijackers less than two hours on Sept. 11, 2001, to destroy the twin towers at the World Trade Center. Less than two hours to claim almost 3,000 lives and shatter thousands more.
It has taken thousands of volunteers and staff workers with Habitat for Humanity Tucson 33 years to build 350 homes and better the life of hundreds of families.
It is always easier to destroy.
Today, as it has the past 11 years, Habitat for Humanity Tucson will commemorate the attacks of 9/11 with Building Freedom Day. Close to 300 volunteers will take part in the initial construction of four Habitat homes in the Copper Vista neighborhood as a way to honor those who lost their lives in the attacks.
They will build up as a repudiation of those who tore down. They will remember the dead by helping the living. Whether through Habitat or the many other volunteer opportunities available, we should all participate in making our community a better place.
For Pat Hirschman, a Habitat volunteer and board member, it is hard to comprehend what motivates people to do evil. But as she looks around the construction site surrounded by early-morning volunteers, she understands the good we can do.
“Habitat attracts bighearted people, generous of spirit and with their time,” she said. “Habitat is the perfect vehicle to not only giving back but seeing the work that you do make an impact on someone.”
Now in its 12th year, Habitat’s Building Freedom Day was born as a way to honor first responders and the spirit of self-sacrifice. Originally suggested by Habitat homeowners, the celebration was a natural fit, said Habitat’s Tucson Executive Director Michael McDonald, because the group literally builds community.
Through Habitat, a vacant lot becomes a home, an empty area becomes a neighborhood, and the ripple effects carry outward for the betterment of the region.
Recipients of Habitat houses are invested in their new homes. The organization’s philosophy of giving a “hand up, not a hand out” means people helped by the group work for the opportunity of homeownership. Going through a series of classes, volunteering for 200 hours — constructing their own home or someone else’s — and paying a mortgage.
Volunteers say the effect of homeownership on families is clear and they all have stories of success among people helped by Habitat: The children who never gave much thought to school and are now college-bound, the single mother who found stability for her family, the security that empowers many to find a better job.
Long before Congress designated Sept. 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance, Habitat for Humanity Tucson was giving a way for volunteers to focus their emotions and heal the community. Volunteers say that while it is difficult to forgive the act, part of the mending is moving forward through positive action.
“You can’t change history; we can only move forward. And that’s what we should do,” said Hirschman.