Rebuilding Across America

A group from New York helps an Iowa town rebuild after a deadly tornado.

Sept. 11, 2009 — -- Jeff Parness, the founder of New York Says Thank You, recently headed to Iowa to lend a hand at the Little Sioux Scout Ranch, which was destroyed last summer by a tornado that left four boys dead.

"New Yorkers would never forget what people from small towns all across the country did for us in our time of need," he said last week. "So every year on the 9/11 anniversary we show up somewhere in the country where there's been a disaster and help folks rebuild."

Charlie Vitchers, a construction superintendent, supervised the recovery effort at Ground Zero. He's now supervising the building of the boy scout camp's new chapel, using trees felled by the tornado.

"What it's giving me is a great sense of satisfaction that I'm not the only one in the world who wants to get out there and help other people get back a little hope from a disaster that has occurred in their life," Vitchers said.

Brian Fitzpatrick has been with New York Says Thank You for six years. He is a New York City firefighter who was at Ground Zero when the World Trade Center towers fell.

"Any time there is a tragedy, whether natural or man-made, you know, it's still a tragedy," he said. "The way people help themselves heal is through things like this."

Christian Jones, one of the teenage scouts who survived the deadly tornado that swept through Iowa last June, watched his friend die.

"It means healing," Jones said of his return. "It means looking to the future. It's a very good thing for me to be able to say, 'Yeah, I was here, I helped build this chapel and this chapel has helped me to kinda come to terms with what happened.'"

Every year, the projects get bigger as people from previous builds volunteer for the next one.

"You wouldn't believe it," Fitzpatrick said. "It was probably 30 people on the first trip and you look around, [I'd] dare to say there are probably 500, 600 people here. ... So it's great. It just keeps building."

"I'll be at wherever they go next year," added Jones.

"As long as I am capable physically and mentally to continue doing this, I will," said Vitchers. "It's an experience that I wish I could live all year long."

After the work was completed in Iowa, a piece of the World Trade Center was nailed to the frame -- and the new chapel was dedicated.

"When the storm left, it left a valley of tears," said Arnelle Petrzilka, whose son Ben was killed by the tornado.

"It left a lot of sorrow," she added. "This chapel is now a place to catch those tears."

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