Tunnel to Towers Chairman to Receive Christopher Leadership Award


Frank Siller will receive the Christopher Leadership Award for the assistance he brings to catastrophically injured veterans, first responders and Gold Star families as chairman and CEO of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. He founded the charity with his siblings in honor of their late brother Stephen, a New York City firefighter killed on 9/11.

The Christopher Leadership Award recognizes individuals whose work, actions, and example serve as a guiding light to others. The award will be presented Thursday, May 23, during the 70th annual Christopher Awards ceremony in Manhattan.

On Sept. 11, 2001, firefighter Stephen Siller got the call that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Stationed in Brooklyn, he drove the truck to the Battery Tunnel to get into Manhattan, only to find the tunnel shut down for security reasons. Stephen strapped 60 pounds of gear to his back and ran through the tunnel to join rescue efforts at the Trade Center. The husband and father of five was killed when the Towers collapsed.

His six siblings were determined to keep his memory alive in a way that would help others. In 2002, they created the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation initially as a New York City charity run that retraced Stephen’s steps on 9/11. Under Frank Siller’s leadership, the foundation has grown into a national force for good that builds specially adapted smart homes for catastrophically injured members of the military who have lost arms and legs, and pays off mortgages for families of first responders who have been killed in the line of duty and for Gold Star families whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country and supports community programs around the country.

Siller said his family’s willingness to help others stems from the example they saw set by their parents. “My parents had seven kids,” he said. “We were very poor, but we were never too poor to do something good for our neighbors.”

The films “Instant Family” and “Paul, Apostle of Christ” were named winners of Christopher Awards. Other winners were the Lifetime biopic “Faith Under Fire: The Antoinette Tuff Story” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”—the documentary about “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” host and creator Fred Rogers.

“Instant Family” delivered a message strongly in favor of foster parenting. In “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” St. Paul and the evangelist St. Luke courageously struggle to live out the Gospel in ways that model forgiveness and love that stems from a divine source as the early Christians are being persecuted by Roman emperor Nero.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” highlighted the lessons of kindness, empathy and respect that Rogers embodied and passed on to children through his PBS series. “Faith Under Fire” tells the true story of the bookkeeper at a Georgia school who used kindness to convince an armed, mentally ill young man who entered the school in 2013 and threatened to kill all the children to instead surrender peacefully.

Another feature film winner was “Ben Is Back,” which chronicles a mother’s unyielding commitment to saving her 19-year-old son from the scourge of opioid addiction when he returns home from rehab despite unexpected temptations and dark elements of his past.

Other TV and cable winners were:

— PBS’ “The Mayo Clinic: Faith, Hope, Science,” which detailed the partnership between the Mayo family and the Sisters of St. Francis in 1883 that led to the creation of an institution world-renowned for medicine, compassion and spirituality.

— “One Way Out: Thailand Cave Rescue,” from ABC’s “20/20,” on the successful effort to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped in a network of flooded caves.

— PBS’ “The Homeless Chorus Speaks” profiling San Diego musicians Nina Deering and Steph Johnson, who formed a choir made up of homeless people, giving them a sense of fellowship and hope.

— Facebook Watch’s “Returning the Favor,” featuring Mike Rowe, who rewards volunteers working to change their communities in positive ways.

Winners in the Books for Adults category were “Everything Happens for a Reason: and Other Lies I’ve Loved” by Kate Bowler; “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” by David W. Blight; “One Beautiful Dream” by Jennifer Fulwiler; “The Strange Case of Dr. Couney” by Dawn Raffel; and “The Sun Does Shine” by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin.

Winners in the Books for Young People category, by age group: “Eraser” by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant, preschool and up; “The World Is Awake” by Linsey Davis with Joseph Bottum, illustrated by Lucy Fleming, kindergarten and up; “Rescue and Jessica,” co-authored by Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, illustrated by Scott Magoon, ages 6 and up; “The Ostrich and Other Lost Things” by Beth Hautala, ages 8 and up; “To the Moon” by Jeffrey Kluger with Ruby Shamir, ages 10 and up; and “Tight” by Torrey Maldonado, young adults.

The Christophers, founded in 1945 by Maryknoll Father James Keller, is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition of service to God and humanity.