Milestones: VOICES of September 11
What began as a home-based support group in New CANAAN is Now one of the most influential advocacy organizations for the 9/11 community worldwide
photography: american flags by istockphoto.com/ © gmcoop
On September 11, twenty-four-year-old Brad Fetchet leaves a message on the home answering machine of his mother, Mary Fetchet. He calls her from the South Tower of the World Trade Center, where he works as an equity trader. Brad is among the nearly 3,000 victims who die in the attacks that day. In the following weeks, Mary, a clinical social worker from New Canaan and mother of three boys, invites others who lost loved ones into her home to learn about available assistance and share their grief. In October Mary and Beverly Eckert, a 9/11 widow from Stamford, establish VOICES of September 11, a grass-roots advocacy group and information clearinghouse for the 9/11 community.
VOICES, with Mary at the helm, fiercely lobbies local politicians, senators and President George W. Bush for an official investigation of the 9/11 attacks, demanding that government explain how it could have happened. “I can’t live with the fact that people in charge are telling me, assuring me, this is going to happen again,” Mary says. “It is our moral obligation to be sure that our government is doing everything they can to make sure this is a safer country, so that no one is walking in my shoes.” The 9/11 Commission is founded in November, and Mary is appointed to the board of the Family Steering Committee, created to monitor the commission’s progress. Soon after, VOICES opens its
first office in New Canaan.
Recognized as one of the most forceful advocates for an official investigation into the terrorist attacks, Mary speaks at the first of twelve hearings of the 9/11 Commission. She receives the National Justice Award and VOICES secures nonprofit status.
The 9/11 Commission’s final report is released, proposing forty-one reforms to intelligence agencies. Senator Joe Lieberman introduces a national intelligence bill based on the report, and Mary testifies before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on behalf of it. President Bush signs the bill into law in December. Mary’s tireless efforts are again recognized when she receives the Connecticut Hero Award. “Mary Fetchet and other survivors of September 11th just got involved–a small group of committed people—and they changed the world,” says Lieberman.
Following the Beslan school hostage crisis in Russia, VOICES sends 350 teddy bears to the families of the victims. The outreach draws even more support for the VOICES Building Bridges Project, designed to foster support for all those affected by terrorism internationally. It’s also a reminder that VOICES was founded by a person who spent years listening to people who needed, more than anything, someone to talk to. “My background as a clinical social worker has guided the organization,” says Mary, who goes on to receive an American Red Cross Award.
VOICES launches the 9/11 Living Memorial Project, an online digital archive that chronicles the lives lost and documents the inspirational stories of rescue workers and survivors. The project will become the organization’s main focus for the next five years as VOICES connects with families and survivors around the world. “Over ninety countries lost citizens on 9/11,” says Mary. “Giving them a chance to tell their stories documents history and validates the experience they went through. That in itself is a healing process.”
President Bush signs into law the Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007, which applies the remaining reforms recommended by the 9/11 Commission. In October VOICES moves to 161 Cherry Street in New Canaan, its current location.
VOICES hosts its first annual Always Remember Gala at the Greenwich Country Club with New Canaan resident Brian Williams as master of ceremonies and the Harlem Gospel Choir as entertainment. The event generates funds that are crucial to the organization’s work.
VOICES partners with Clinton Global Initiatives, a foundation created to inspire, connect and empower global leaders to forge solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. VOICES also receives a federal grant of $285,000 for the 9/11 Living Memorial project. “I can’t tell you how important [the project] is for history,” says former president Bill Clinton. “Look, one hundred years from now, this will matter.” VOICES opens a satellite office in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to provide services to many 9/11 families, rescue workers and survivors living in that state. The organization mourns the loss of VOICES cofounder Beverly Eckert, who dies in a plane crash.
Mary receives a leadership award from the National Network for Social Work Managers. The Living Memorial grows to an extensive collection of more than 60,000 photos, written materials and personal keepsakes. The project is slated to be a core component of the exhibits at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City.
In the ten years since its founding, VOICES has provided support for more than 11,000 members, and the work continues. In addition to a staff of social workers, there are many volunteers in its ranks, including Frank Fetchet, Mary’s husband (shown above), who retired from IBM after thirty-five years to devote himself full time to the organization. Says Mary, “Every day we hear from someone who is calling us for the first time.”