More than 1,000 volunteers will clean Houston National Cemetery in remembrance of 9/11


More than 1,000 volunteers are expected to help spruce up the Houston National Cemetery as part of JustServe.orgof the National Day of Service Project.

JustServe is affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including churches in the Houston area that serve approximately 70,000 members. The JustServe website is a national resource for people looking for volunteer opportunities in their area.

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The group organized the cemetery cleanup event, which will take place Sept. 10 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 10410 Veterans Memorial Dr. in northwest Houston. The project is carried out in collaboration with the September 11 National Day of Service, or 9/11 Daya federally recognized day created to encourage acts of community service to “rekindle the spirit of unity that arose in America in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.”

People from Houston and all walks of life will gather to paint fences and other structures in the cemetery, clean and straighten headstones, and clean up debris. Families and people of all ages are welcome.

Mary Mercado, Houston Metro media specialist for the church, said this was the first year JustServe has held 9/11 events.

“The idea came from our church leadership,” Mercado said. “They asked us to make an effort to show our commitment to our community.

She said she was blown away not only by the interest from volunteers, but also by the many groups the church partnered with to make the event a reality.

JustServe has partnered with the City of Houston as well as Carry the Load, a veterans charity, to recruit volunteers. The Houston ToolBank is ready to provide the necessary tools and other supplies, and Clear Channel Outdoor is promoting the event on its billboards throughout the city. Congressman Troy Nehls is also expected to appear.

Nearby Sam Houston Race Park has offered volunteers and event organizers use of its parking lot, and a local bus company will transport people from there to the cemetery. Finally, members of a military honors funeral team will be on hand for a flag ceremony.

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Mercado said volunteers will be greeted with cheers as they enter the cemetery. They will then take part in a ceremony of remembrance at 11 a.m., including the flag ceremony and the playing of the national anthem.

“People are going to see two fire trucks with big American flags and young people waving at them, so there will be a patriotic vibe, but we come to work and get things done,” she said.

Kris Booker, a church member who lives in Conroe but was in Manhattan the day the Twin Towers fell, will speak during the ceremony.

Booker plans to talk about how she saw the people of New York coming together to help and serve each other the best they could. She remembers seeing shopkeepers in the town helping people covered in blood and ashes during the attack.

“Every morning the shopkeepers would hose down the area in front of their stores, but that day they were hosed down on people,” Booker said. “That was the first act of service I’ve seen.”

The good deeds continued, with members of his church – nurses, doctors, emergency medical technicians and others – working to serve those affected by the tragedy. Some members have even picked up air travelers stranded at nearby airports and offered them home-cooked meals and laundry service until they can travel again.

Booker said she couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate those first responders on 9/11 than with National Day of Service.

“What were those first responders doing that day? They were literally running through burning buildings in service to their fellow human beings, so having this day is the best way to honor them,” she said.

Jana Humphreys, assistant director of Metro Houston communications for the church, said she and her team were thrilled with the interest in the cemetery cleanup event.

“I think the reason it was adopted is that people are excited to have a big unified group for a common project,” she said. “It’s also a family project, so anyone can come and we’ll have a job for them.”

Humphreys said there are plans to expand the event and make it an annual project.

“We talked about it at the cemetery and they want it to happen,” she said. “Next year we hope to host an Air Force flyover and we want to invite other groups to partner with us and get even more funding.”

Several other National Service Day projects will take place around Houston, including weeding and painting at Unity Park in Magnolia; prepare bags of food for assisted living facilities; and moving furniture and assembling food boxes at Northwest Helping Ministries.

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