- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2001

Ashley Welch, 16, of Alexandria, Va. may not be able to grab a shovel and help those who searched for the survivors in the rubble under the side of the Pentagon after it was struck Sept. 11 by terrorists who crashed into it with an airliner. But there are other ways of easing the pain of the victims of that suicidal attack. A little soap and water and a caring heart work just as well, in its own way.
She and her three younger sisters started a national carwash campaign: "Wash America: Help Wash Away the Hurt" to give youngsters and teens a way to wear both soap bubbles and patriotism on their sleeves as they help raise money for families who lost loved ones in the attacks.
Yesterday, Ashley, Aubrey, 15, Alana, 14 and Alyssa, 10, rolled up those same sleeves and went to work washing cars with lots of elbow grease, soapy water, hoses, towels and squeegies at the Pinecrest Exxon on Little River Turnpike in Alexandria.
Of course, the girls had called on their girlfriends and others to help raise money for the Red Cross Wash America Fund, the account through which the money passes before reaching those in need.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, even took a day to get wet and wash a variety of vehicles that pulled into the gas station. To help Wash America in its efforts, Kris Raghupathy, the station manager at Pinecrest, lowered gas prices by two cents a gallon to garner more support for the group's humanitarian effort.
"Whew, it's tiring, but very rewarding," said Ashley when she took a breather from cleaning windshields and buffing up chrome hubcaps.
"I know a lot of people who lost family members. There are no words to describe what went on. This is something I can do. They wouldn't let me give blood because of my age. But washing cars is something I can do, my friends can do it and we can have fun in the process. Most importantly, we can raise money to help others," she said.
She credits her mother, Cherrie, for passing on the idea to the family. The entire household rallied behind the idea. Mrs. Welch says she had talked with a friend who lives in Montgomery, Ala., and decided to help out by washing cars. She thought to herself: That's a great idea. We can do that too.
The bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon really hit home for the Welch family in Alexandria. Mrs. Welch says her husband, Air Force Lt. Col. Tracy Welch, had a meeting scheduled at the Pentagon on the morning of Sept. 11. When she heard the news, Mrs. Welch panicked.
"The kids felt helpless and I was in a stupor," she said about her husband's whereabouts on that tragic Tuesday. "He was really the inspiration for Wash America because we knew how close we came to losing him," Mrs. Welch said.
"Before we knew it, four carwashes were scheduled. In five hours, four carwashes were scheduled in different locations. Children ages 8 to 18 joined in and raised $10,000 last weekend," Mrs. Welch said.
At four cars every 10 minutes, starting at 9 a.m., the group had collected close to $4,000 by 3 p.m. at the Pinecrest Exxon alone, and still the cars kept pulling into the station.
Three other Wash America carwashes took place at Annandale Methodist Church, Meadows Farm Nursery and at Springfield Texaco, Mrs. Welch said.
Mrs. Welch believes patriotism is here to stay.
Col. Welch took a break from drying fenders to say he is proud of his daughters, but they're typical teen-age girls. Patriotism starts at home as children look to their parents and other adults for guidance and as an example, he says.
"I sure hope this level of patriotism continues," Mrs. Welch said. "I think, particularly with the children, they see they can and do make a difference with uplifting projects like this one ."
"This has brought our family together. Normally, everyone is going in their own separate direction. Like my own family America has drawn together for the common good, and a common cause," Mrs. Welch says.
Others in the region wielded their wits to help stricken families.
Earlier yesterday, just a dozen miles down the road, in Centreville, youths used bats and gloves to show their patriotism, Twenty coed and 16 all-male softball teams playing in a two-day, double-elimination tournament at Braddock Park raised more than $10,000 for the Pentagon Relief Fund to aid the families of victims. Each team contributed $150 to enter.
The umpires, members of the Fairfax Umpires Association, donated their services.
In another part of the park, teen-agers wrote messages and biblical verses on white sheets of cardboard that is expected to become a Wall of Remembrance, put on permanent display in the county library, said Renee Keener, 29, organizer of the events in Braddock Park.
"My family will not forget the USA! and its patriots,"
wrote Vickie, Nicki and Brian Bowers.
Another message read: "Psalm 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God."
"I'm more patriotic now," said Rebekah Bernat, 17, after affixing her signature. "The [terrorist attacks] made me appreciate this land There are places in the world where people die by the thousands."
"It hit me as if I had a family member [in there]," said LaKeshia Coleman, 24, a beautician from Capitol Heights. "I remember a verse from the Bible that states, 'Those who mourn will be comforted.'"
"Yes, this will bring us together," said Charles Holton, 29, a Metro bus driver living in Suitland. "We, as Americans, aren't invincible. This has brought us back to reality. I hope the patriotism continues."
The idea for the Wall of Remembrance came just a week earlier during a meeting of the Centreville Community Foundation, said Vice President James Parmelee. The idea for the softball tournament came on Wednesday, only two days before the celebration, from Mike Sivak, a diabetic paraplegic who is a commissioner of the softball association.
Shortly after noon, officials announced that more than $6,000 had been raised. Boy Scout Troop 717 marched onto the field carrying the U.S. flag. Spectators joined soloists in singing the Star-Spangled Banner and God Bless America.
Then, a group of teen-agers began loudly chanting, "USA USA USA USA "
For 12 hours yesterday, a telethon from George Mason University asked viewers to support the Prince William Chapter of the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.
Called "Greater Prince William Responds," the participants were people involved in the Pentagon rescue and support effort, who described their experiences over Comcast Channel 3. Beside the testimonials, there was patriotic and spiritual music by churches, schools and community organizations.
"The telethon seemed the best way to include everyone, young and old, from all walks of life," said County Board Supervisor Mary K. Hill.
Virginia was not alone in raising thousands of dollars for victims' families.
In Kensington, members of the Kensington Volunteer Fire Department were out where they have been for the last ten days on Connecticut Avenue holding out boots emblazoned NYFD to hold cash donated by motorists at the stop signals.
"We've raised more than $25,000," said fireman Brandon Twentymon. "We will continue for the next week," to give aid to families of New York firefighters who died or were injured in rescue efforts at the World Trade Center.
And, in Bethesda, visitors continued to go to the Bethesda Unity Wall, an 8-by-24-foot plywood white slab erected three days after the terrorist attacks.
The wall is nearly covered with messages and signatures. Some even overlapped others. On either end were donation barrels from Ronald McDonald and the Red Cross for contributions to help victims and families.

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