GENOA – Travis Hughes remembers exactly where he was and what he was doing when he first learned about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.
His first thought was of his dad, a pilot for American Airlines, who was flying that day. Luckily, his dad was safe, but his airplane required grounding.
Eighteen years later, Hughes believes it is important to remember the lives lost during 9/11.
Hughes, who describes himself as “an engaged citizen and self-proclaimed Genoa and Jesus lover,” is helping organize a 9/11 Memorial Ceremony in Genoa.
The ceremony, free and open to all members of the public, will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 11 at Genoa-Kingston Middle School. Weather-permitting, the event will feature an outdoor candlelight ceremony around an American flag painted in the grass.
Hughes met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss the 9/11 Memorial Ceremony and the importance of volunteering and helping out in the community.
Milton: Why did you get involved in the 9/11 Memorial Ceremony?
Hughes: I’m from Genoa, I went to Genoa schools K through 12. I’ve always had a deep love and appreciation for my community and the way they look back at the past and look to the future to propel us forward. One of my favorite quotes is by Winston Churchill: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I think that quote really encompasses what our community is about. We are extremely forward thinking and we understand that the past is important.
Milton: Have you attended the 9/11 Memorial Ceremony before?
Hughes: Growing up in Genoa, I remember attending the Sept. 11 memorial ceremony every year. It really had a profound effect on me because of my love of history. It was great to see the entire community come together. It was difficult, yes, but it caused us to remember the importance of history and who we are as a nation. It showed we all love each other, care about each other and want the best for each other.
Milton: When did you first become involved in the ceremony?
Hughes: My junior year in high school, I became a volunteer with the fire department. It was humbling to help with the ceremony at the school. It’s very cool and sentimental to me to be able to go back again this year and help. Carol Hencken, my middle school [reading] teacher, helps lead the event, and it’s nice to see her again. It will be nice to see familiar faces and make new friends.
Milton: Why did you decide to volunteer this year?
Hughes: After I graduated high school, I moved away to Wyoming to attend college. I just finished graduate school and moved back to the area and wanted to be involved in the community again. I want to assist in any way that I can. I have always loved attending the ceremony with the community, I appreciate everything everyone has done in my life to make me who I am today.
Milton: Tell me more about the 9/11 Memorial Ceremony.
Hughes: The fire department will be there in their dress uniforms. An American flag will be painted on the grass and there will be a candle ceremony around the flag. We ask that people bring their own candles – tealights – because there might not be enough to go around. The ceremony is an opportunity for people to reflect verbally and silently. It’s a solemn atmosphere that allows people to reflect on where we were and where we’re going.
Milton: Where were you on Sept. 11?
Hughes: I was in elementary school. My dad works for American airlines as a pilot, and he was actually working that day. He was in the air and they had to ground his airplane. I remember my mom praying. She prays often, that’s a common thing. I remember her putting her hope in the Lord. She prayed, “I don’t know what’s going on right now, but I know you have a plan beyond my understanding.” It taught me the importance of living out “love your neighbors.” Mark 12:30-31 says, “You shall love the Lord with all your heart … and love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
Milton: What do you think the reactions were to 9/11?
Hughes: Some people were scared, angry confused. There were mixed emotions. Some wanted to fight, cry, be comforted, comfort others. I think 9/11 helped people realize that there is a time for everything and we want to live that out. Ecclesiastes 3:8 says there is “a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”
Milton: What other projects are you working on?
Hughes: I’m working on a project called “Blessing Boxes.” Our goal is to be done with them by the end of September. They are boxes full of nonperishable goods filled by community members wanting to help the cause. The purpose is to help end the hunger epidemic in our youth so that they can be engaged in the classroom and eventually become productive members of society. Dave Wright built the wooden boxes, the Dold family will allow a box to be placed in their yard by the middle school and an anonymous donor paid for the supplies to build one of the boxes. We are looking for a location by the elementary schools and the high school and help funding the building of the boxes.
To volunteer or help with the 9/11 Memorial Ceremony or the Blessing Boxes project, contact Travis Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org.