Between 300 and one-thousand New York City firefighters and other volunteers will spend the week before September 11th this fall helping to rebuild the western Iowa Boy Scout camp that was heavily damaged in a tornado last year. Lloyd Roitstein, executive director of the Omaha-based Mid-America Council of Boy Scouts, says this is the group’s single major volunteer project for the year.
"They started a non-profit organization to give back to the community for all the help they received on Nine Eleven, so every year, they find a place in the United States that had their own challenge," Roitstein says. "They go out there and give back to the community."
The tornado on June 11th of 2008 struck the Little Sioux Scout Ranch in Harrison County, killing four scouts and injuring some four dozen. Three of the boys killed were from Omaha, Nebraska; one was from Eagle Grove, Iowa. Hundreds of trees were toppled in the storm and several camp buildings were flattened. Roitstein says the firefighters and others will be building a chapel on the site of the lodge where the four boys were killed.
"The chapel is going to be built from the lumber from Little Sioux Scout Ranch, so that’s kind of neat," Roitstein says. "They’ll have people there who know how to cut lumber from the logs that’re out there. All the materials will be ready for them to go. They’re bringing their own tools, of course."
The hundreds of volunteers are expected to arrive at the camp in western Iowa around September 3rd and they aim to wrap up their work and head home before September 11th. "We’re lining up how to feed them and how to house them," Roitstein says. "They’re going to be staying, some of them, in tents at Little Sioux but a lot of them in motels around the area and we’ve got all kinds of projects lined up for them." The 18-hundred acre scout camp has been home to as many as five-thousand scouts at one time for so-called camp-o-rees, so Roitstein says space won’t be an issue.
The Nine Eleven anniversary project is being sponsored in part by The New York Says Thank You Foundation . Jeff Parness, president of the foundation, says they’re excited to come to Iowa and get to work. "Our core group of volunteers is going to be made up of about 20 or so New York City firefighters," Parness says. "A number of them are survivors of the World Trade Center as well as Ground Zero construction workers, some Nine Eleven family members, some New York City school kids and a whole bunch of other volunteers from New York."
He says it’s an amazing team that continues to grow. "What makes our trip so special is that each year, we’re joined by disaster survivors from all communities around the United States that we’ve helped on previous anniversaries of Nine Eleven and they continually volunteer with us every year as a way to ‘pay it forward,’" Parness says. They’ll be joined by survivors of the California wildfires, Hurricane Katrina, and tornadoes that have hit Texas, Illinois, Indiana and Kansas.
Parness says the Iowa Boy Scout camp was an excellent choice for their group. He says they met with some of the Iowa families who lost boys in the tornado and others involved in the Scouting organization and they all responded, "Wherever you go next year, we’re going to be there with you." Parness says, "What we try to do is take the Nine Eleven anniversary and celebrate, not just the horror, but to celebrate the humanity we all experienced on Nine Twelve. To have folks from Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota join us wherever we go next year, that’s really a testament to what America’s all about."
Donations to the effort are tax-deductible and can be made via the website: www.NewYorkSaysThankYou.org .