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Ten Years Later: A Q&A With Gordon J. Campbell, President/CEO, United Way of New York City

September 07, 2011

For most Americans, New Yorkers in particular, September 11, 2001, is a day they will never forget. As the towers burned, then collapsed, and as we waited -- hopefully but helplessly -- for survivors to emerge from the rubble, many took it as a given that everything had changed. In the months that followed, PND interviewed dozens of thought leaders from philanthropy and the civil society space about the philanthropic response to the attacks and the meaning of 9/11. Those interviews subsequently were collected in two volumes and made available as downloadable PDFs on the Foundation Center's Web site.

Gordon_campbell_UWNYC Ten years later, we know that 9/11 didn't change everything -- although it changed much. With the ten-year anniversary of the attacks approaching, PND reached out to some of the people we interviewed back then -- and a few we didn't -- to ask them what had, and hadn't, changed in the ten years since that terrible day.

On September 11, 2001, Gordon Campbell was chief executive of Safe Horizon, the largest victims' services agency in the United States and -- through the September 11th Fund -- the first organization to issue emergency-relief checks to 9/11 families on a same-day basis. In July 2007, Campbell was named president and CEO of the United Way of New York City, another critical provider of short- and long-term services after the attacks. Check back throughout the week for additional 9/11 Q&As.

Philanthropy News Digest: Did 9/11 change the way human service organizations in the city work together?

Gordon J. Campbell: I have long felt that the Family Assistance Center set up on Pier 94 represented "best in class" from a social services perspective. Federal, state and city agencies, along with local human service organizations were co-located under one roof -- providing victims and family members with a "one-stop shopping" experience in meeting their immediate needs. It was not about one organization, but many organizations collaborating in a client-focused, results-oriented way. Just imagine the progress we could make if we could use that model in helping everyday New Yorkers access the benefits, supports, and assistance they need to lead safe, healthy, and productive lives.

PND: Did the United Way of New York City change the way it does its business as a result of 9/11?

GJC: On the day of the attacks, United Way of New York City joined the New York Community Trust in establishing the September 11th Fund to meet both the immediate and longer-term needs of victims, families, and communities that were affected. Time has shown that the Trust and United Way made the right decision when they kept the fund's mission broad and recognized that mental health and other needs created by the tragedy would last for many years.

God forbid New York City should have another disaster on that level, but if that were to happen, United Way would be prepared to step up and create a similar fund to channel the world's generosity to where it is needed most. I think we also learned a great deal about harnessing the skills and in-kind resources made available by corporate America. IBM, JPMorgan Chase, and McKinsey & Company are just some of the corporate partners whose pro-bono assistance was crucial, especially during the early days of the fund.

PND: Did 9/11 create needs in the greater New York area that have not been addressed? Is the United Way doing anything to address those needs?

GJC: We now know that first responders, day laborers, and volunteers who were part of the rescue and recovery effort in Lower Manhattan were exposed to hazardous environmental conditions, as were residents and workers who fled the area. The effects of that exposure are really coming to the fore ten years later, as more and more of these people are diagnosed with cancer and devastating lung ailments.

A little over a year ago, United Way of New York City awarded a one-time grant of almost $750,000 to the WTC Health Program at Mount Sinai Medical Center to provide a comprehensive range of treatment services to responders to the 9/11 attacks who lack adequate health insurance and require treatment for life-threatening conditions not covered by federal funding. Truth be told, we all recognize that this is a relative drop in the bucket compared to the medical needs that will inevitably crop up in the years ahead.

PND: Are social service organizations in the city better prepared to respond to a disaster of the magnitude of 9/11 than they were on September 10, 2001?

GJC: Before 9/11 there was no single go-to organization when it came to coordinating post-disaster services, ensuring consistent case management, tracking clients, and the like. The September 11th Fund supported the 9/11 United Services Group, an organization created to maintain a database of victims and coordinate the efforts of forty charities. USG ensured that agencies talked to each other so people in need would not fall between the cracks. USG is now dormant, housed by the Human Services Council; however, should a similar disaster occur, the organization would be in an excellent position to take a leadership role. Unfortunately, there hasn't been funding to support the kind of disaster planning that would ensure that the city's nonprofit sector would be fully prepared to respond.

-- The Editors
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