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HomeBusiness & CommunityTunnel To Towers Holds 9/11 Event at Tom Varn Park

Tunnel To Towers Holds 9/11 Event at Tom Varn Park

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Last Stop Before Traveling Museum Gets a New Rig

On Saturday, Nov. 18, and Sunday, Nov. 19, the Tunnel to Towers Foundation held its National 9/11 Memorial at Tom Varn Park in Brooksville. The event featured a “5k Run and Walk” that began at 7:00 a.m., a motorcycle bike run, live music by The Embry Brothers and Jam Jones, artisan vendors, food trucks, and a space for children. A check for $60,000 was also presented to the foundation by GMC Brooksville who sponsored the event. Tunnel to Towers was started by the Siller Family in honor of their brother Stephen, a New York City firefighter (FDNY) who made the ultimate sacrifice while saving others. Chris Colon, who co-directed the event alongside Nikki Bell and Atlanta McDonald, noted that this event was a “treat” due to GMC Brooksville’s generosity.

“We were blessed in the sense that we had sponsors who were looking for an event, whereas most times you create events, and you go find sponsors,” Colon said. “So, GMC Brooksville, a new ownership group, came in called Myers group, worked with Hits 106, and said they wanted to work with the military first responders and our partnership with Hits 106. They immediately thought of Tunnel to Towers and all that we do with our first responders and military, both in Pasco and across the nation. It happened very quickly.”

The 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Museum, launched in 2013 in tribute to those who lost their lives on September 11, also made an appearance. According to T2T.org, this 83-foot tractor-trailer can transform into a 1,100-square-foot exhibit used to educate citizens around the nation about that fateful day. Having traveled to nearly every state in the Union and Canada, the mobile museum hosts interactive tours from FDNY firefighters “who provide firsthand accounts of the day and its aftermath.” Last weekend’s festivities are likely to be the vehicle’s last as the foundation is set to unveil a new mobile museum in January. The original could potentially become a “static display” in Pasco County once it is decommissioned.

For Colon and company, an important piece of “Never Forget” is the sickness that has occurred in first responders as a result of working in the wreckage on September 11. Twenty-two years after the disaster, the number of firefighter deaths from these illnesses has now surpassed the 343 firefighters who perished that day. The co-director urges, “If we forget the folks who are dying every day because they served, that’s an injustice.” He does not believe anybody in the foundation would let that happen, though.

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The organization is all about honoring firefighters and other first responders. Over the weekend, the Hernando Fire and Police Departments were represented as they conducted an honor guard together. Colon felt this spoke to the level of respect the departments had for Tunnel to Towers as “outside of honoring a fallen officer, you don’t see that.”

Another unfortunate and unforeseen reality of the attacks was what happened with the excess steel recovered from the rubble. Much of it was sold abroad by steel companies who were told to dispose of it before realizing that these fragments contained the DNA of those who died. Despite this “lost opportunity,” Tunnel to Towers has worked to recover the missing metals and now bequeath pieces of steel to those who receive homes through the foundation’s programs.

The organization recently negotiated for the approval of a 122-building homeless veteran village in the Sarasota area. An apartment complex nearly took its place, but a 7-0 vote by Sarasota-Manatee preserved the plan that would house not just homeless veterans but homeless families of veterans as well. Some of the pushback was originally due to concerns that the land’s use would be more akin to a shelter, but the veterans housed in this village will own their homes. Another housing development Tunnel to Towers helped build was in Houston, where the veterans put forth 30 percent of their salary or benefits to own one of these homes.

These houses are meant to combat the unfortunate reality facing many veterans – homelessness. Whether the reasons be physical, mental, or addiction resulting from trauma, veterans make up a large portion of the homeless population in Hernando and surrounding counties. Colon estimates that the current homeless population, which officially hovers somewhere around 110 people, is roughly ten times that number.

There are four such housing programs led by the organization. Their focuses include the fallen, gold star family members, critically injured veterans, and smart homes. Smart homes are custom homes built for paraplegic and quadriplegic veterans in which the “stove top comes up, cabinets go down, it’s all one solid floor, no thresholds they can get caught up on” and no doors under 36 inches that are all controlled by a smart device.

There are 96 of these homes with a 15 thousand square foot activity center, but there is one catch – the price tag. Totaling between eight and nine hundred thousand dollars each, the foundation could use all the help it can get. With Tunnel to Towers doing everything they can to help veterans live better lives, people can visit T2T.org and click “Donate Now” if they wish to assist the organization monetarily in any way. Events like those over the weekend are helpful as well for raising awareness in the community so citizens never forget the sacrifice that these brave men and women made for our country.

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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