NYC Rotary president speaks to county clubs
When Helen Reisler looks up at the New York City skyline these days, an eerie thing happens to the Rotary Club president.
“I can still see the outline” of the World Trade Center towers that came crashing down Sept. 11, 2001, she says.
On 9/11 this year, the first female leader of the city’s largest Rotary chapter found herself speaking to Nevada County’s collective clubs, instead of joining somber events at home.
She was here because one of the thousands of e-mails she received in the last year touched her deeply. It was from 49er Breakfast Club President Sandy Conlee, asking her to speak here on Sept. 11.
“She was really passionate,” Reisler said Wednesday. Although Reisler’s husband and daughter are ill, she came west because she felt the need to share her story outside of New York City.
Last year, Reisler was dressing in her Brooklyn home for her weekly Rotary meeting when her daughter called, insisting Reisler turn on the television. She did just in time to see the first tower aflame and the second plane plunge into the other.
Brooklyn is an island, and Reisler was stranded when bridges and roads were locked down for security. Realizing she couldn’t make the meeting, but needing to do something about the disaster, Reisler remembered her computer.
“My whole screen was covered with e-mails from Rotary presidents from all over the world,” she said. “I realized, ‘I’m not alone.’ They all wanted to help.”
The next day, checks began pouring in, and she turned to her local Rotary Foundation to set up a disaster relief fund. Reisler realized the fund could disperse money only after personal interviews, maintaining records and obtaining proof of need. She’s glad she took those precautions, because others didn’t and suffered a public relations nightmare.
The fact that Reisler is a PR consultant helped. Having Rotary members with expertise didn’t hurt, either.
One Rotarian with a courier service ferried food and water “to the pit, because that’s what it was, and at that time we were calling it the pit. Now it’s Ground Zero,” she said.
A member with the city’s lung association sent “5,000 masks and gloves” to the scene. An 82-year-old Rotarian “was there on the third day and stayed for months serving meals with the Salvation Army.”
And the checks kept pouring in, $1.4 million worth and counting.
After initially helping the families affected by Ground Zero deaths, “we’re now helping the rescue workers and firefighters,” Reisler said. “We’re sending them on vacations because they deserve it and need it.”
That’s because “we were in a war,” with all its ramifications. “It’s still going on. We’re just coming to grips with what happened. We still have work to do,” she said.
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