- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

A small group, which gathered on the grounds of the Washington Monument yesterday for a Freedom Fair and celebration of National Civic Participation week, called for positive action in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"September 11 was a day for solemn remembrance and will be from now on. Today is the day to get out of bed and do something about it," said Eric Welch, spokesman for the Participate America Foundation, co-sponsor of the Freedom Fair along with George Washington University.

"It's a day to respond, to do something positive," he said.

Roughly 100 George Washington students and other guests heard speeches by Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican; GWU President Stephen J. Trachtenberg; wrestler Maven of World Wrestling Entertainment; Miss Virginia 2002 Julie Laipply; and John Bridgeland, director of USA Freedom Corps.

Many of the speakers talked about the importance of civic participation and service to one's community.

"[Wednesday] was a day of reflection, emotion, and pain," Mr. Bridgeland told the crowd. "But the greatness of America is that Americans have always responded in great numbers with great courage in times of crisis."

According to the USA Freedom Corps, there are signs of a surge in service participation. Mr. Bridgeland said the number of volunteers for AmeriCorps, a network of national service programs, has risen 95 percent. On September 11, about 4,500 people were referred to nonprofit, community service or other volunteer organizations through USA Freedom Corps, a 400 percent increase from the normal daily rate, a spokesman said.

"If you're really about understanding the values of this country, you've got to step forward and serve," Mr. Bridgeland said.

A Freedom Quilt a patchwork American flag designed by two George Washington sophomores and created by numerous student and university organizations, was unveiled at the end of the ceremony.

George Washington students said they were glad to move on from September 11 remembrances.

"I'm pretty much over it," said Christopher Tai, 21, a senior computer-science student. "The way I see it now is looking forward to the future instead of looking back."

Freshman international-affairs student Sarah Robbins-Penniman said that the events of September 11 and the one-year anniversary deeply affected her. Yesterday, however, she said, "I'm on the way to recovery. I feel like we're really focusing on being resilient and moving on."

Azure O'Neil, another freshman international-relations student, said, "It's sad that it took September 11 to make civic participation such an integral part of our lives, but I'm grateful for the good that came out of [it]."

Mr. Bridgeland said, "We're fighting a 30-year decline in civic engagement in this country, but 9/11 was a reawakening."

In his 2001 State of the Union address, President Bush called on Americans to commit two years of their lives to serving others. The USA Freedom Corps was established to foster a "culture of service and help find opportunities for every American to start volunteering," which is one of Mr. Bush's top priorities, along with prosecuting the war on terror, defending homeland security and strengthening the economy.

There are 415 National Civic Participation Week events across the country this year, said Robert Hansan, president of the Participate America Foundation, which was set up in July 2001 and proposed the creation of the National Civic Participation Week that same month.

The Freedom Fair will continue through Sept. 15 on the Mall.

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