The Last 9/11 Charity

I just wrote a story for dead-tree Time about the closing of the last major 9/11 charity for victims and families. Somehow, although the attacks happened almost seven years ago, it seems soon for these charities to be finished… The interesting thing about this one (for the victims of the attack on the Pentagon) is that it will live on in at least two ways.

First, the Survivors’ Fund was designed around giving people help, not just money—the opposite of the much larger, federally financed Victim Compensation Fund, which was built to write checks. So the people who were helped by the Survivors’ Fund got the kind of help that lasts after the cash is gone. They each got a trained social worker to help them manage the chaos at first and then build for the future afterwards—with help finding therapy, better jobs, daycare for their kids, scholarships to grad school, whatever they felt they needed to do to become stable, healthy families again. In a study of the Fund, 71% of the survivors surveyed said they thought this kind of holistic help was better than getting a lump sum of money.

Which brings us to the second reason the Survivors’ Fund will live on. It is likely to be used as a model for the victims of terrorist attacks in the future. That’s party because it was so smart and so popular with the people it helped. But it’s also because the organizers and social workers who managed the program did a very rare thing: they consistently evaluated what they were doing and issued regular public reports. They also changed things that weren’t working, and they left behind an excellent, relatively honest blueprint for future efforts.

This model should be considered after every kind of disaster, not just terrorist attacks. People need a guardian, a social worker, an escort through the bureaucracy, a life coach and a fundraiser after a major trauma like this. In most cases, they need millions of dollars less than they need those things.