On Sept. 11, 2001, investment banking firm Sandler O’Neill & Partners, situated on the 104th floor of the doomed World Trade Center's south tower, lost 66 of its 83 employees.
Executives at the company had some major decisions to make in coming up with a plan on how to resurrect the firm as well as helping the families of employees who had just lose their loved ones.
They did all that, but it wasn’t all. They came up with a brilliant way to give back to their workers by paying the college tuition for their children.
Sandler O’Neil & Partners so far has sent approximately 54 young men and women to college and paid for their tuition in whole. There are 22 others who haven’t yet reached college age, but they won’t be left out. The young adults have been able to attend some of the best colleges around, including Notre Dame, Stanford and a few community colleges too.
The Sandler O’Neil Foundation set up for these students will perform its last activity when it sees the youngest child of those eligible graduate from college.
"We were up and running by the end of the first week. We wanted the families of the lost to know that we would always remember, that the passing years would never sweep this under the rug," One of the founders of the foundation, Andy Armstrong, says. "People donated many millions of dollars to set up the foundation. We have no salaries and no expenses except fees to stay extant.
"Yes, I know most of the children who went to college. You wouldn't believe some of the letters they have written in appreciation. I think they particularly appreciate that we remember their mom or dad this way. Many of them hardly knew their moms and dads."
When asked why he went the extra mile to help the families of employees, Jimmy Dunne, another member of the foundation, said, "Because there was a moment in time to stand up."
"Because we believed that what we did would echo for a hundred years in the families of our people, their kids and their grandkids. Because how we conducted ourselves in those first few hours and days would define who we really were and what we were about. Because I knew that if we were not honorable, then we stood for nothing. I remember staring at bin Laden's smirking face on television, on Sept. 11, and concluding immediately that we would not be intimidated, we would not go out of business, we will come back stronger than ever, and be an example of people who worked and lived with honor.
"And that meant taking care of our people and their children with respect and reverence. So we did that. We figured what we did and how we did it was our way of fighting idiots like bin Laden. You want us to fall apart? Then we will survive and flourish. You want to destroy us? Then we will insist even more on acting with honor. That's what the foundation was for, is for. We want our defiance and reverence to echo for a century, so that the grandchildren of our people will know we stood for something, and acted honorably when it really counted."
Fourteen years after the devastating Sept. 11 attacks, people still live on with memories of the victims and hope of making the world a better place.