A meeting with two West Linn High School students struck a chord with West Linn resident Dean Suhr, organizer of the "Honoring Those Who Serve" event on Sept. 11.
"They feel like 9/11 is not their event and it would be like an imposition or disrespectful for them to show up at one of these events," Suhr said. "They thought, 'This happened to you, my parents, the previous generation. This didn't' happen to us. We don't want to impose how you remember that or how you respect and honor.'"
Hearing students say this prior to the event at the new Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue Rosemont Station 55 reminded Suhr why he was working to educate and incorporate youth in the event: to bridge the gap between history and what first responders do for the community today.
He saw recruiting student volunteers as a way to include youth.
"I initially wanted to be a part of this event because I was looking to be more involved in the community but after talking to Dean, I realized the real importance of this event," said WLHS junior Kaiden Randall. "It's not just an event to mourn the losses of 9/11. It's an event that turns what was a tragedy into a moment to honor those first responders that risk their lives and work for our safety every day. It's a beautiful thing."
Students dropped off 9/11 event flyers door-to-door, posted them around the community, and helped with guests during the event.
Junior Kaleigh Henderson said it's important for students to get involved so they don't forget the deadliest attack that occurred on United States soil.
"I have learned over the years just what a big deal it was. The country's faith was broken," Henderson said. "We learned to distrust others just because of their color or ethnicity. Even today, Muslims all around the U.S. and around the world are called 'Terrorists' and labeled as 'Dangerous' before they even get the chance to say 'Hi.' It was a day that left a deep scar in the history of the world and it will never heal."
As part of the "Yellow Ribbon Project," students helped Suhr hang about 3,000 ribbons on West A Street on the bridge that overlooks Interstate 205 to represent the 9/11 victims — community members then tied their own ribbons from Sept. 3-11.
This wasn't junior Anya Blankenship's first time hanging ribbons. In middle school she'd watch a 9/11 documentary and walk to the bridge to hang a ribbon.
"It's another moment of reflection for me," Suhr said. "When I take the ribbons down, I think about the families and how they're impacted when I see them."
During the event, TVFR pulled out its new tiller truck housed at Station 55 and raised the ladder to hang a flag. There was also a symbolic bell ringing to represent the people lost during 9/11. Along with other commemorative actions including the creation of four bouquets for the fire halls and police department, Blankenship — who is also involved in the Clackamas County Sheriff's Department Cadet Program that provides first-hand experience for youth interested in law enforcement careers — gave a speech from the perspective of a young person invested in history and the current first-responder force.
"I know many people who work as first responders, in different forms of public service," Blankenship said before the event. "I have the luck of knowing them and get to see the emotional, physical and mental investment that goes into that line of work. Understanding the sacrifices of people who do this work for little personal gain, is how as a society we stand as a unified front built on respect."
Her speech focused on the importance of getting younger generations connected with 9/11 events and engaging with people who serve to protect the community.
"The opportunity to involve youth in this ceremony is a opportunity that we greatly treasure," said Stefan Myers, public affairs officer with TVFR. "Having members of the community and youth means more to the fire department. … There's no better teacher than talking to those that are impacted by these memorial services and experiences. Instead of just reading a book or reading an article online, this is an opportunity to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and face-to-face with those who may have more personal stories."
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