After 9/11, St. Clare Outreach Program Guided Staten Island Survivors ‘Where to Turn’


The St. Clare World Trade Center Outreach Program on Staten Island guided grieving survivors of those who died in the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11.

They needed to know “where to turn,” said Dennis McKeon, a member of St. Clare parish who was asked by the pastor at the time to head a committee that created the program.

McKeon, now 64, said he is proud of the work the committee did. “It really showed how people can come together and help people that are going through really bad situations.”

As reported in a CNY article in April 2002, St. Clare WTC Outreach committee members notified victims’ families about the program and its purpose: to provide hands-on help immediately. Early on, McKeon visited the WTC Relief Web page, which listed more than 200 organizations and agencies that helped victims, including Catholic Charities, the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He contacted each and obtained information and application forms.

The committee put together an information packet and a checklist. Volunteers showed survivors what they needed to do to get help and guided them through the process. 

Help included a bereavement support group held at St. Clare’s, transportation to doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping and general assistance around the house that ranged from mowing lawns and shoveling snow to consulting on financial matters.

“We reached out to the entire parish and asked anybody who could provide any type of services,” McKeon told CNY last week. “We got a tremendous response from the parishioners...basically everything the lost loved one had done for the families.”

Nicole Petrocelli LaMorte, whose late husband Mark Petrocelli had a meeting the morning of Sept. 11 on the 92nd Floor of Tower 1, looks back at the St. Clare outreach group with gratitude. The early days following 9/11 were “pure chaos,” she told CNY last week. Then a member of St. Clare’s, she attended the parish’s bereavement support group. 

The St. Clare outreach group “quickly evolved to a full service support for families,” she said.

McKeon, she added, “emerged so early on” and “jumped right in to help. He came to our homes with all the necessary paperwork that we needed to fill out.”

He and the St. Clare outreach group, she said, “were able to bring order to the chaos for us. There was so much information to process. They were so helpful. I don’t know what we would have done without them.”

Although her late husband did not work at the World Trade Center—he was a trader on the commodities exchange a few blocks away and had just become a broker six days before the scheduled meeting with a number of other brokers. The meeting was supposed to end at 8:30 a.m., his widow said. His birthday was two days later, on Sept. 13; he would have turned 29.

Ms. Petrocelli LaMorte, now 47, is remarried and a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel parish on Staten Island. “If I didn’t have my Catholic faith, I don’t know where I would be,” she said.

Denise Matuza, 54, then and now a parishioner of St. Clare’s, is also appreciative of the St. Clare outreach group. She lost her husband, Walter Matuza, a computer analyst who worked on the 92nd Floor of Tower 1, on 9/11. They had three young sons, and she would have to raise them without him. 

“When it first happened, we were all in the dark,” she said of herself and numerous others who lost loved ones that day. “We didn’t know what to do, where to go or where to turn.”

The St. Clare outreach group “helped us in a lot of different ways,” Ms. Matuza said, including finishing painting her house that her late husband had been in the process of painting. 

“The bereavement group was very helpful,” she added. “We became one. Over time, it was all of us together.”

“They said they would never leave us,” Ms. Matuza said. “Now it’s been 20 years; up to this day, we can still call them.”

St. Clare’s WTC Outreach Program “laid the groundwork for Where to Turn,” McKeon told CNY last week of the name of  the 503c nonprofit organization on Staten Island of which he is executive director. 

“We still help the 9/11 families,” including by providing free bus service to and from the solemn ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial on the anniversary of the terrorist attack.

Where to Turn, according to its website,, offers crisis relief services for victims of any kind of tragedy by aiding them in obtaining the help they need during the recovery process.

Where to Turn’s annual Christmas toy drive on Staten Island, now under way, will include a delivery to families impacted by Hurricane Ida in Louisiana last month.

“It amazes me how time has passed,” McKeon told CNY, “and unfortunately how many people we have lost since 2001—people dying from not only 9/11-related diseases but people just passing on.”

He also marveled at the passage of time for children whose parents perished on 9/11 who “are now grown into 25, 26-year-old adults.” 

“It’s good to see that they have been able to get through, with the help of friends and family, the tragic day of Sept. 11, 2001.”