The investment banking firm Sandler O’Neill & Partners was hard-hit by the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers: 66 out of the 83 employees in its office that day were killed after terrorists hijacked a plane and crashed it into the building, causing its collapse. The victims, among them, had 76 children, The Oregonian reports.
In remembering those murdered on Sept. 11, 2001, we often overlook those they left behind.
Following the attack, Sandler O’Neill made a series of important decisions relating to the company and benefits to be provided to the families of its deceased employees. But it made the greatest impact with its decision to establish a foundation to subsidize the college tuition of its murdered employees’ children.
So far, the Sandler O’Neill Foundation has funded the college educations of 54 young men and women, and will cover the tuition of the remaining 22 teens if they go on to pursue a higher education. The young adults can attend any school they wish; it doesn’t matter if it’s a top-tier university or a technical institute.
People have donated millions to the foundation, which provides no salaries to those running it and has no expenses besides the routine fees required for it to remain active. It will fade out of existence once the youngest eligible child, who is 13, graduates from college.
Understandably, it wasn’t easy for companies directly affected by the 9/11 attacks to get back on their feet and cope with losses. But Sandler O’Neill tried not to waste any time.
“We were up and running by the end of the first week,” Andy Armstrong, one of the founders of the organization, told The Oregonian. “We wanted the families of the lost to know that we would always remember, that the passing years would never sweep this under the rug.”
“Yes, I know most of the children who went to college,” he later added. “You wouldn’t believe some of the letters they have written in appreciation. I think they particularly appreciate that we remember their mom or dad this way. Many of them hardly knew their moms and dads.”
Armstrong didn’t work for the firm but was a close acquaintance of Sandler O’Neill’s surviving partner, Jimmy Dunne.
It’s a given companies will take care of their employees’ families if and when disaster strikes, but never are they expected to pay for children’s college tuition. Why did Sandler O’Neill go the extra step?
“Because there was a moment in time to stand up,” says Dunne. “Because we believed that what we did would echo for a hundred years in the families of our people, their kids and their grandkids. Because how we conducted ourselves in those first few hours and days would define who we really were and what we were about.”
We can’t call the 76 children of Sandler employees who died on 9/11 lucky; nothing can make up for the undue loss of a parent. But at least they can find comfort in knowing someone is remembering their murdered parents by looking out for them.
One can only hope the same applies to the other 2,924 children who also lost a parent on that tragic day.
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