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A Race to “Never Forget”

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation honors the memory of fallen service members through local events and charitable programs.

Article by Kaylee Dusang

Photography by Daniel Arizpe | Apollo Productions

Originally published in Cypress Lifestyle

Three years ago, Kim De Lorenzo attended her first local 5K Run & Walk for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation in Southwest Houston. As a New York native who moved to Cypress 11 years ago, the foundation’s mission strikes a chord with De Lorenzo. “I come from a family of service and from a family who has had first-hand experience with 9/11, the tragedy and everything that came along with it,” De Lorenzo said.

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation was established in memory of Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter who sacrificed his life during the September 11 attacks. The name pays tribute to his bravery: after hearing about a plane hitting the North Tower, he drove to the former Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel toward Manhattan only to find it closed. Determined to help save others, he strapped 60 lbs. of gear to his back and raced on foot through the tunnel to the Twin Towers.

Siller’s story resonates with De Lorenzo, and many others who were affected by 9/11. De Lorenzo said she lost several friends on the morning of September 11, 2001. Her mother, who was a survivor in the collapse of the South Tower, passed away from a 9/11-related illness four years ago. “Around 9/11, for some of us, it’s extremely devastating,” De Lorenzo said.

As one of the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11, Siller left behind a family, including a wife and five children. Formed by his family, Tunnel to Towers aims to pay off the mortgages or provide mortgage-free homes to fallen service members who left behind surviving spouses and young children. It also provides programs and resources for homeless veterans and injured first responders and veterans.

After attending the 5K, De Lorenzo knew she wanted to be a part of the mission to serve first responders, law enforcement, military personnel, and their families. But most of all, help others to never forget the tragedy of 9/11. “I think since 9/11 we have lost over 7,000 soldiers in post 9/11 wars,” she said. “There are a lot of families out there that are suffering. If I could just play a little part in helping provide some kind of relief, I’ve done my job.”

Now, as a Volunteer Race Director for Tunnel to Towers, De Lorenzo brings 9/11 awareness and education to her community in Texas and beyond. On September 9, she hosted the second annual Cypress 5K Run and Walk event on behalf of the foundation, which begins with a memorial service that honors the lives lost on 9/11 as well as service members who risk their lives every day.

The foundation’s 5K Run, Walk and Climb series are national events hosted by volunteers across the nation. In New York, the Tower Climb event takes place at One World Observatory. According to their website, climbing the 104 stories symbolizes the “strength, hope and resiliency of the American spirit.”

“The 343 firefighters who died that day and all of our police officers made the ultimate sacrifice,” De Lorenzo said. “That’s something that we want to make sure is never forgotten.”

Along with becoming a national ambassador and speaker for Tunnel to Towers, De Lorenzo has supported its efforts throughout the greater Houston area. Although the foundation is national, she adds that the impact has been significant across Texas. “We have paid off or built homes for 81 families in Texas,” she said. “We have 42 Fallen First Responder families, 19 Gold Star families and 20 Smart Home recipients.”

Most recently, the foundation purchased property in Houston as part of the Homeless Veteran Program. De Lorenzo said the facility will house around 127 homeless veterans and provide them with healthcare, education, and workforce resources. The property will include 17 permanent homes for veterans who need a place to transition to after the programs.

The grand opening is scheduled for November, ahead of Veterans Day.

“There are 30,000 homeless veterans across the United States and there are not enough programs to make sure that they are getting everything that they need so that they are successful in breaking an addiction,” De Lorenzo said. “This is kind of an all in one – it encompasses all of the things that they need to make sure that they are ready to be independent again.”

The foundation also provides educational resources for grades K-12. Until September 2022, De Lorenzo said there were only two states that required a mention of 9/11 in school curriculums. Now, there are 14 states, including Texas, that require teaching the events of 9/11. “We want to make sure that the sacrifices of our first responders and our military are never forgotten,” she said. “That’s something that really isn’t taught very often, and of course we want to teach about 9/11 so that our youth knows.”

De Lorenzo finds that working with her team of volunteers is another meaningful component of her service. Known as “Stephen’s Squad,” she appreciates the opportunity to learn each volunteer’s personal story about what draws them to Tunnel to Towers. “Everyone can remember where they were on 9/11 and everyone can remember the impact that it had on them and their families,” De Lorenzo said. “It wasn’t just the people in New York or at the Pentagon or in Shanksville. It wasn’t just the people on the planes. You are talking about airlines, about people who lost their jobs, soldiers who were deployed, families that missed their loved ones. It impacted every industry across the United States and being able to bring people together and to share what their reason is to do good really means a lot to me.”

T2T.org

  • Each of our 5k series of events across the states takes the time to carefully assemble these reflection tags for our participants in remembrance of each of the
  • Stephen Siller
  • Kim De Lorenzo, Volunteer Race Director, 5k Cypress speaks at the podium
  • Each of our 5k series of events across the states takes the time to carefully assemble these reflection tags for our participants in remembrance of each of the
  • Home program recipients Houston Fire Department Arson Investigator Lemuel Bruce's family
  • Kim De Lorenzo

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