Law Firm Follows Lawyers Volunteer Attitude on 9/11

September 15, 2011

50 employees of Holland & Knight LLP, remembered Sept. 11 by volunteering and cooking meals for the families at the Ronald McDonald House locations in Lincoln Park and Maywood


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When the planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, Glenn Winuk could have fled.

But, he went to help.

A partner at the Manhattan office of Holland & Knight LLP, Winuk also volunteered as a firefighter and emergency medical technician in his Long Island community.

When the chaos on Sept. 11, 2001 spurred his first-responder instincts, he rushed a little more than a block from his law office to the burning south tower.

The tower fell with Winuk inside.

Six months later, authorities found his partial remains. Winuk, 40, had surgical gloves on his hands, a stethoscope around his neck and a medic kit by his side.

“I can’t believe my little brother’s been gone 10 years,” Jay Winuk said. “There’s nothing normal about this kind of death. We all suffer tragedies; there was something different here about this. My brother was killed by mass murderers in a terrorist attack in the city we love. Just going to work like everybody else.”

Coping with his brother’s death, Jay Winuk helped form MyGoodDeed Inc., a nonprofit that started the federally-recognized 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance.

The annual event encourages people to commit to community service on and around Sept. 11 to revive the spirit of giving that swept the nation after the terrorist attacks.

“As you go around the country and you talk to people as 9/11 approaches, people want to mark the day somehow but they don’t have answers to the question, ‘What am I supposed to do with 9/11?’ This observance provides them with an answer because it is a proper tribute,” Jay Winuk said.

“It just seems right to mark the day by helping people and communities in need. It’s both an appropriate tribute looking back and a path forward to try to give people an opportunity to make the world a better place.”

Of all the event’s corporate sponsors, Holland & Knight is the only law firm serving as one. Lawyers and staff throughout the firm’s 18 offices will volunteer in various ways.

The Chicago office is sending about 50 employees to cook meals for hospitalized children and their families at the Ronald McDonald House locations in the Lincoln Park neighborhood and suburban Maywood.

“With this anniversary of 9/11, we thought it would be a great opportunity to find a way to give back and find a way to bring all of our offices together,” said Elisa M. Westapher, a Holland & Knight associate who coordinates the firm’s volunteer effort.

“It’s a tribute to those who passed, but it’s also a tribute to the spirit ofcommunity service that arose on that day.”

The Ronald McDonald House tries to provide dinners every night through its “Meals from the Heart” program, said Mary Agnes Laguatan, the charity’s senior director of programs and services.

“It gives the volunteers the chance to meet the families they help, but most importantly, it gives families a break from the hospital, a sense of home and kind of a sense of normalcy before having to go back and face the many stressful decisions they have to make at a hospital,” Laguatan said.

The firm’s 9/11 connection to the volunteer work is also fitting, Laguatan said. This is what ‘Meals from the Heart’ is — a community response to people in need,” Laguatan said. “There’s a great parallel there, and I’m glad they picked us.”

Jay Winuk, who runs a public relations firm, said he’s reminded of his brother’s death every day.

He said he finds the volunteer work therapeutic.

“People — 20, 30, 50 years from now — need to understand how people stepped forward and got New York City and the nation back on its feet. And that’s very valuable,” Winuk said.

“So we want decades from now, people to wake up on 9/11, this is what you do on 9/11. This is a day for acts of kindness as a way to pay tribute for those that
were lost.”