- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2001

If you're still alive LIVE! No simpler but sounder words could embody the life-affirming sentiments that should be taken to heart by those of us who survived the kamikazes and tornadoes of these turbulent times.

A fellow Leadership Washington board member, Howard Ross of Cook Ross Inc. in Silver Spring, tells of this bold banner stripped across a wall in the temporary headquarters of his clients, Landmark Education Corp. The words do more than simply welcome employees who survived the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, where their offices had been on the 15th floor.

The unmistakable message to these employees and to each of us is to get on with the business of living by making the most of the rest of your life.

If we didn't know it before, we all know now just how fragile and fleeting that life can be.

Whether sitting at your desk one morning or driving a car across campus one afternoon like University of Maryland students Colleen and Erin Marlatt, who were killed in Monday's tornado we've all witnessed that you could just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And what of the victims who did not suffer a direct hit? Countless workers today are standing in unemployment lines as a result of the tragic events of the last two weeks. Countless businesses are being forced to close up shop.

Another Leadership Washington board member, Linda Burke of Aspen Executive Search of Silver Spring, lost several friends in the bombings. She is more metaphysical in her musings. She wonders aloud about "our individual purpose in life." Why are we here? Why were we spared?

Humanity's search for the meaning of life or a more meaningful life is not new. During uncertain times like these, a little soul-searching might serve well.

Maybe, as Ms. Burke suggests, we shouldn't rush to get back to "normal." Maybe "normal," when we hurried here and there barely taking a breather, was not so good after all. Maybe "normal," when we appeared oblivious to the trials and tribulations of all around us, was not so good either.

Ms. Burke's hope, like mine, is that the not-so-normal outpouring of support and generosity will continue and "make us a better nation."

Perhaps the American philanthropic spirit that rose above the ashes will serve as a real "eye-opener to the problems that were already here the injustices, the racism, the economic disparities," she said.

Perhaps we'll open our hearts and our pocketbooks to our neighbors in need as well as to the deserving victims and survivors of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon attacks.

We can do more than hope. We can give. Give our time. Give our money. Give our love. Give all joyously and generously.

The tons of money collected by the Red Cross and the Salvation Army upward of $160 million in 10 days and to the victim-relief funds have been a heartwarming sign.

But I'll tell you what those in the nonprofit sector are afraid to say out loud. We need to look beyond the most obvious and immediate needs to spread the well-being around, especially now as we are just beginning to experience the economic ripple effects of these disasters.

"It's like we had an earthquake with the bombings, and now we're experiencing the aftershocks," said Robert Egger, director of the D.C. Central Kitchen.

An estimated 50,000 people have been laid off in the Washington region as a direct or indirect result of cutbacks on travel and tourism alone. Someone is going to have to step up to the plate and provide social services for all those secondary victims.

Those human needs will fall undoubtedly on the nonprofit organizations that will be called on to do more with less.

Fear of the future? As many as 30 percent of the providers in the nonprofit sector are worried that they may not survive the downturn themselves as more corporations tighten their donation dollars and private donors send their checks to organizations directly involved with victim-relief efforts.

As one nonprofit provider said privately, "The children who were hungry in Southeast on September 10 are still hungry today."

If you don't know where to begin, keep in mind that the United Way campaign began Aug. 24 and runs through Dec. 6. Those dollars are allocated to more than 1,100 organizations that do everything from feeding the homeless to providing emergency assistance to grief counseling.

In speaking of the resources needed for disaster victims and survivors as well as those of the less-fortunate in our area whose needs did not go away Sept. 11, Tony DeCristofaro, spokesman for the United Way, said, "This is not an either-or decision. We need to do both."

Mr. Egger said his agency, which trains the welfare-to-work population as well as feeding the hungry and homeless, is "trying to keep people afloat until they can go back to their jobs." He is pulling together joint ventures whereby the unemployed can help other unemployed people by taking turns cooking for one another, for example.

He pointed out that restaurant donations have dwindled as a result of the economic fallout of the disasters at the same time as their workers are being laid off.

"There's a real powerful need out there. I know we've been generous, but we need to do more," Mr. Egger said.

Betsy Johnson, executive director of the Washington Council of Agencies, agrees: "The nonprofits have been there every single day helping people in every way, and it's important that nonprofits stay healthy and ready for the fallout of these disasters."

The biggest disaster we face is allowing our fears to overpower our acts. We've got to get back to the important business of living and giving.

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