Amid the chaos following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Alice Fitzpatrick awaited word on her friend and their daughter. Ruth McCourt, 45, of Pequot Ave., was planning on taking her 4-year-old daughter Juliana Valentine McCourt to Disneyland. Also flying out to California on that day was 46-year-old Paige Farley-Hackel, a close friend of Ruth’s from Newton, Mass.
“There was a long period of time where we didn’t know if Ruth and Juliana were on that plane,” said Fitzpatrick, the president of the . “There was no information for the longest time that day.”
Eventually, the tragic news came that both Ruth and Juliana had been aboard United Airlines Flight 175, which had been hijacked and crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Farley-Hackel had changed flights in order to use frequent flyer miles, but had taken a seat on American Airlines Flight 11. She too had died after that flight was hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center’s north tower.
Only a week after her death, the Community Foundation began administering a fund dedicated to Juliana’s memory. On Sept. 18, 2001, the Juliana Valentine McCourt Children’s Education Fund began with the mission “to educate young people everywhere in the virtues of generosity, kindness, and the acceptance of differences among cultures, races, and religions.” After six months, the fund had accumulated about $100,000.
“We were inundated with gifts from around the world,” said Fitzpatrick.
Since 2002, the unions of the and have been actively supporting the fund. Each year since 2002, firefighters and police officers put on a benefit softball game to remember the events of 9/11 and to raise funds for the McCourt fund. On Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the attacks, the game will take place at 11 a.m. at Veterans Field in Waterford.
Deputy Chief Marshall Segar of the New London Police Department, whose daughter went to school with Juliana, estimated that the departments have raised $10,000 to $15,000 over the years through donations by players and spectators. He said Ruth’s husband, David McCourt, attends every game to make a speech.
“Even as difficult as the remembrance is for him, he’s very, very grateful that the police and firefighters turn out to remember his daughter,” said Segar.
Firefighter Joe Nott said the police and fire departments had played softball games for fun before 9/11, and were looking for a fund to donate to after the attacks.
“It started with the police and firefighters right off the bat,” he said.
He said the departments also helped build the McCourt Memorial Garden at the . More recently, they helped clean up the site after Hurricane Irene.
“They’ve really been wonderful about keeping this memory alive,” said Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick said about $100,000 of the fund was given to two non-profit organizations in New York City in 2002. Operation Respect works toward creating learning environments free of bullying or violence. Mentoring USA creates mentor relationships to improve children’s self-esteem, and includes specialized programs for foster children and English language learners.
After that initial donation, the Community Foundation decided to keep the fund in an endowment and give out about $2,500 each year to local organizations. It now has about $62,000 and has given to organization such as the Rotary Club of New London, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern Connecticut, the Connecticut Storytelling Center, the , the , and the Boys and Girls Club.