- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

The images of destruction that horrified millions of Americans on September 11 had 15-year-old Ashley Welch of Annandale scared. She knew that her father, Lt. Col. Tracy Welch, was scheduled to have a meeting that morning in the wing of the Pentagon that had just been struck by American Airlines Flight 77.
"It was really hard that day. I am very close to my father, and we couldn't imagine what life would be like without him," said Ashley, fighting back tears five months later. Those tense moments in the wake of the attacks shook Ashley and her three sisters: Aubrey, 15; Alana, 14, and Alyssa, 10. "We didn't know if he was alive or dead."
But on a day when so many stories had tragic endings, the Welch family was spared. Col. Welch's meeting had been postponed, a delay that probably saved the Air Force officer's life.
"Had the plane hit 30 or 45 minutes later than it did, I wouldn't be here today," Col. Welch said.
Touched by the enormity of what happened on September 11 and aware of how close their family had come to being a part of the tragedy, the four Virginia sisters were determined to find a way to give back and give thanks.
When the Red Cross told the sisters they were too young to give blood, they found another way to help: "Wash America: Help Wash Away the Hurt." Cheerleading squads and marching bands everywhere had washed cars to pay for trips and supplies. Why not ask American teens to put the sponges to work in a nationwide campaign for the victims of the terrorist attacks?
The sisters' efforts, which picked up steam across the country after The Washington Times and other news organizations reported about it, paid off yesterday, when the girls presented a check to the American Red Cross for $84,000.
The girls and several of their friends from Annandale High School and other schools in Northern Virginia raised $10,000 in several car washes in September.
The girls later partnered their project with the September 11 Fund of the American Red Cross, which set up an account specifically for their campaign through its youth-volunteer department.
Seven weekends, 79 car washes and 31 states later, the girls had raised more than $80,000.
The Welch sisters urged school-age children across the country to participate by organizing car washes with the aid of their teachers and communities.
"We did thousands of e-mails and phone calls, and it paid off," said the girl's mother, Cherrie Welch.
"I thought we would raise a couple hundred bucks, and what good would that do?" Ashley said.
A lot of good, as it turned out.
Houston-based Compaq Computer Corp., which lost five employees who were installing computers in the Pentagon during the attack, soon joined the campaign, promoting the car washes and giving the youngsters more incentive.
The high-tech giant donated 10 computers to the top two schools: Annandale High School and Beckford Avenue School in Los Angeles.
Parklawn Elementary School, where Alyssa is a student, also received computers.
Michael Capellas, Compaq chairman and CEO, said his company got on board with the Wash America campaign after his sister Tessie Wilson, a member of the Fairfax County School Board, told him about what the four Welch sisters were doing.
The Red Cross gladly accepted the donation from the campaign and thanked the thousands of children who participated.
"Their spirit ignited a whole movement of young people across the nation," said Red Cross interim CEO Harold Decker.
Col. Welch, who watched with pride as his daughters presented the $84,000 check to the Red Cross during yesterday's ceremony, said words could not describe his emotions.
"They're normal girls with normal problems," he said. "I think they just represent all of the children involved in this, and I'm proud of all of them."

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