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AmeriCorps Alum Donald Trantow: Serving at Ground Zero

by Kate Enos

In the wake of chaos following the September 11th tragedy, AmeriCorps members from the National Preparedness and Response Corps of the Atlanta Red Cross were deployed to Ground Zero. Among those who served was then-70-year-old Donald Trantow.

After retiring as a manager from AARP, Trantow wanted to give back and so he joined AmeriCorps, a program that typically has members who are several decades his junior. He began his term with AmeriCorps less than a month before September 11, 2001.

Like many Americans, Trantow remembers where he was when the tragedy unfolded. September 11, 2001 began like any other day. He was giving a presentation about emergency preparedness at an elementary school when he heard about the attacks on the radio. He rushed back to the Fulton County American Red Cross, where people were shouting, “Where can I give blood? Where can I send donations?”

American Red Cross branches from across the country deployed AmeriCorps members and volunteers to New York and New Jersey, including the AmeriCorps members of the Atlanta Red Cross.

Trantow flew to New York in late October and worked as an Assistant Coordinator for three weeks at the American Red Cross Family Services Center on Canal Street, near Ground Zero.

“I was caught up in the tragedy of it all when I first got there – I was in awe, seeing the destruction and how many people perished,” said Trantow. “On the other hand, I was in a position I knew would be helping people and it made me feel good.”

Trantow helped manage the services center to ensure that victims got the assistance they needed including vouchers and checks to pay for basic necessities, rent, utility bills, and groceries.

“A lot of people were displaced and their jobs were gone. We worked hard to help those affected by the tragedy received support to put food on the table for their families and help pay for a new apartment for the displaced,” said Trantow.

Although he didn't have direct contact with the victims, Trantow empathized with the other volunteers who heard hundreds of tragic stories every day.

“The caseworkers had the toughest job, and some became extremely distraught from hearing the stories. The American Red Cross understood the emotional toll the tragedy had on volunteers and had mental health workers assigned to staff at the Red Cross. They would only allow us to work three weeks at a time to avoid burnout.”

Trantow returned to Atlanta in November, but came back for a second stint as a volunteer in January at the same Red Cross service center on Canal Street. More than four months after the attacks, the service center was still averaging more than 200 clients each day.

Donald Trantow is currently enjoying retirement in Buford, GA.

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