9/11 Families Help Rebuild New Orleans

Sixteen-year-old Caitlin Lindsey of Tuesday's Children, a group of children who lost a parent during the Sept. 11 attacks, is among 23 teenagers volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008. (AP Photo/Cheryl Gerber) AP Photo/Cheryl Gerber

Sixteen-year-old Caitlin Leavey remembers people she didn't even know coming to her family's aid with food and comfort after she lost her firefighter father in the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11.

On Wednesday, she and more than a dozen other young people who lost parents in the terrorist attacks were hanging siding on a house in New Orleans - their way of helping a city and its residents recover from the loss inflicted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"It feels so good to be able to give back," Leavey said as she hammered away. "I know what they went through. I know what we went through, and I wanted to give back."

This week, Leavey and the others are working with Habitat for Humanity in the Musicians' Village, a housing initiative launched by New Orleans natives Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis in the Upper 9th Ward to help displaced musicians.

More than 40 candy-colored homes have already been built, and 23 more are under construction, project spokeswoman Aleis Tusa said.

The youth, ranging from 9th- to 12th-graders, arrived in New Orleans on Sunday with the help of Tuesday's Children, an organization that provides support to families affected by the Sept. 11 attacks.

Besides manual labor, the teens took a tour of flood-damaged neighborhoods and learned about the city's levee system. They also visited the Aquarium of the Americas and the French Quarter.

"It helps so much to be here because we're working with people who have been through what we've been through and care just as much as we do," said Thea Trinidad, 17, of Pawcatuck, Conn.

Adult chaperones say the visit goes beyond helping storm victims.

"Helping heals," said Candy Cucharo, program director for Tuesday's Children. "Doing for others, you're no longer viewed as the one needing help. Helping others builds resistance and helps strengthen your mental and emotional well-being."

Leavey was 10 when she lost her father, Joseph G. Leavey, a New York City fire lieutenant who led firefighters from Ladder 15 as high as the 78th floor of the south tower before it collapsed on Sept. 11. She said the New Orleans visit was a rewarding way to honor his memory.

"My dad was always helping people, painting and fixing the firehouse, just doing whatever he could do," Leavey said. He even helped a woman get her cat down from a tree.

"He was great," she said, smiling.
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