“I’m 26 years old and embarrassed that my story is typical of much of my generation,” says Scott Yates, a senior account executive in the Sacramento office of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. “As a high school student I never removed my hat during the national anthem. Our generation never had a cause or a mission to unite us. We had a war, but our view was very cynical. We viewed the Persian Gulf War as a battle over oil fought on a land far away. We watched it on television.”
Yates recalls a conversation with his parents soon after he turned 18. The conversation turned to Vietnam and his parents spoke of heroes who had fought and died for freedom and democracy. “I would never go to war,” he told them. “I would have gone straight to Canada or to Mexico. Why would I fight for this country?”
He still remembers the disappointment in his father’s eyes.
“On September 11, 2001, I finally understood why my father had been disappointed in me,” Yates says now. “Like other members of my generation I’ve taken it all for granted. I never had to question my faiths—my faith in my country, my freedom, my neighbors or my God. On September 11, 2001, I was forced to question everything.”
On October 8, Yates will leave Los Angeles, along with his father, brother and sister, and ride his bike across the country to show his support for victims of the recent terrorist attacks and to raise money for the Twin Towers Orphan Fund. He plans to arrive in Manhattan on Veteran’s Day, November11, to present the Mayor of New York with a check for the money he and his family raised along the way and a scrapbook of photos and letters from individuals on his route, communicating their words of hope and encouragement to the victims of these tragedies.
“It’s the best way I know how to say thank you to the brave souls who lost their lives in the tragic attacks,” he says. “We wanted to do something to help provide for the children who have to spend this holiday season and the rest of their lives without their mothers and fathers.”
The team will split the route in sections. General Motors has donated the use of a Pontiac Aztek that will serve as the “chase vehicle” throughout the cross-country trek, and FreeCar Media has wrapped the vehicle in red, white and blue to symbolize the patriotism of this effort.
People will be able to follow the Yates family as they ride across the county on their web site http://www.freedomrideusa.org/  Daily updates and photos will be provided on the site, along with information on how to donate to the Twin Towers Orphan Fund, a charity created by a group of 35 individual public relations practitioners and agencies nationwide.
In the public relations industry, as in America as a whole, people are contributing in any way they can.
Liz Savery may not be the only public relations person who has taken a flight over the rubble that used to be the twin towers of the World Trade Center, but she’s certainly in a minority. In her role as a member of the Civil Air Patrol—an auxiliary of the United States Air Force that flies inland search and rescue missions—she has soared above the site, taking photographs for use by the emergency services involved in the recovery effort.
The CAP provides emergency services, specifically inland search and rescue; helps educate people about air and space topics; and has an active cadet programs, working with young people.
Savery, a senior vice president in the New York office of Access Communications, got involved 10 years ago when she started training for her pilot’s license. “The New York flying community is a small community, and if you take flying lessons in this area someone is going to talk to you about the Civil Air Patrol. I saw it as a way to give something back to the community. In my opinion it’s the coolest community service there is.”
Savery is a certified scanner and observer, which means that while someone else flies the plane she focuses on looking out for lost people and downed aircraft, while also assisting in navigation. She is also a ground team leader, which means she occasionally leads ground search and rescue efforts that are coordinated with the air patrols.
In peacetime, the CAP works closely with FEMA and with the American Red Cross. “We have worked hurricanes, floods, and fires. We worked during the ice storm that hit upstate New York several years ago and we were involved when TWA’s flight 800 went down. In this instance we have taken a back seat because there are so many organizations involved in the recovery effort, but we have flown photo missions over ground zero.”
That has given her a new perspective on the devastation. “Whatever you see on the ground, looking at it from the air gives you a very different perspective. When you see it from the air you can begin to imagine how long it is going to take to get things back to normal.”
The commitment to homeland defense is likely to include an expanded role for the Civil Air Patrol, and Savery—who has been working at Access during the day and with the CAP at nights and at weekends—is ready.
Meanwhile, employees at Washington, D.C., PR firm Stanton Communications have been working with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a non-profit Veterans Service Organization which provides emotional support to families and friends who have lost a loved one
in the Armed Forces.
The firm learned of the organization through a client, Condor Technology Solutions, and together the two companies offered their services—web-enabled call center technology from Condor and public relations and fund-raising assistance from Stanton—to help TAPS raise money for the families of those killed in the attack on the Pentagon.
“Because TAPS is the only organization specifically geared toward meeting the needs of military families, it is largely unknown outside the military,” says Stanton’s Lori Russo. “So TAPS is often overlooked by those making charitable contributions. While the Red Cross has received hundreds of millions of dollars in donations, TAPS is in dire need of funding.
“Our work with TAPS has given Stanton Communications and Condor Technology Solutions a sense of peace during this difficult time.  But more importantly, our work has helped those who are providing comfort to the military families affected by this tragedy.