After the tragic events unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001, Steve Cobb felt powerless to help as so many other Americans did. Cobb, a tennis pro at a suburban country club in the New York City area, thought that there was little he could do to assist the emergency personnel working tirelessly at Ground Zero. Little did he know, he was about to get the experience of a lifetime.
"Within a few days I heard of the loss, or near loss of some club members, neighbors, friends of a friend or complete strangers who lived very similar and nearby lives," recalled Cobb. "I felt shameful that I was somehow immune to the carnage and unable to help. After all, what could a country club tennis pro possibly do to help all those fire, police and recovery workers? Still, it never left my mind that I should do something."
Steve Cobb commends his clients on a wonderful lesson. A tennis teaching pro at a suburban country club in the metropolitan New York City area, Cobb will never forget his work with the American Red Cross following 9/11.
About a week or two after the attacks, Cobb had a tennis lesson with a mother and daughter who were heavily involved in charity work. After being tasked with the daunting job of staffing Red Cross Ground Zero relief efforts, Tara Lynch and her mom Denise told Cobb how good it felt to get some exercise and relieve stress. Hearing about the cruise ship being utilized by the Red Cross as a respite center for emergency workers, Cobb immediately signed on to volunteer his time.
"Hearing her story really struck a chord with me. She explained how the Red Cross volunteer staff concentrated on serving the rescue teams with food, phones, massages, rest, clean clothes and conversation or emotional support. I offered my time immediately, having no idea what I was getting myself in for," said Cobb.
It was afternoon when Cobb began his first 12-hour shift on the NY/NJ Spirit Cruise boat, a unique respite center docked at Ground Zero to support relief workers.
As he waited for the Screamer taxi boat that transported volunteers from the West Side piers to the Spirit, he was impressed by the preparation and training done by the Red Cross. Pallets of water and snacks, boxes of clean socks and underwear and shipments of kitchen supplies were loaded onto the taxi boat by his fellow volunteers. A volunteer kitchen crew checked off cases of food that they would use to create hot meals for the workers that evening.
On this crystal clear afternoon as the Screamer, accompanied by Coast Guard patrol, headed south on the Hudson River, Cobb was surprised at how little he could see besides the cloud of smoke as he approached Ground Zero.
Once aboard the Spirit, Cobb remembers helping a constant stream of relief workers – from young Parks Department workers to firefighters to steel workers - all showing the wear and tear of people who have just seen the worst. Some people were eager to talk while others were too devastated to even look him in the eye. Still, he remained on the boat serving meals and scrubbing tables until 2 a.m. when he was recruited for a different task.
Cobb remembered, “Around 2 a.m., a Red Cross crew chief came looking for able-bodied men to help unload food supplies from a truck, under police escort, to the dry land loading site. In five minutes time, I found myself at the bottom of the huge smoldering pile, staring up at what remained of the two towers. It is an image that will linger in my mind forever.”
At the end of his shift, Cobb boarded the taxi boat once again, pulling away from the site just before dawn. The glowing red aura of Ground Zero that backlit the remaining buildings was both beautiful and horrible to him. Steve Cobb felt a sense of pride knowing he was helping the Red Cross is any way he could.
“I was so impressed with the Red Cross effort in general,” said Cobb. “Volunteers and employees provided excellent preparation, guidance and leadership to so many who knew so little – except that they wanted to lend a helping hand.”
Before he knew it, six months had passed and his tenure as a Red Cross volunteer began to wind down. All volunteers were sent a certificate thanking them for their efforts during the recovery, as well as a lapel pin commemorating the relief operations.
“The certificate and pin mean more to me than any award I have ever received as a student or a professional,” he explained. “Years later, I was devastated when I misplaced my pin one day. Knowing how much it meant to me, Tara Lynch brought me a replacement and I was overjoyed.”
Cobb believes he began volunteering because it was meant to happen. While no one could be ready for the events of September 11, 2019, the Red Cross prepared Cobb for all the tasks he was given.
Cobb said, “I remain tremendously grateful to the American Red Cross for the opportunity to perhaps, in some small way, make the slightest difference.”
All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of thousands of disasters across the country each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to victims of disaster. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster, please do so at the time of your donation. Call 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P. O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.