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Donations for 9/11 groups dry up, but need for services does not

NEW YORK -- Terry Grace Sears knows she still has work to do helping the families of Sept. 11 victims, seeing the proof last week on the faces of kids just beginning to open up about their parents' deaths in the terror attack.

"This year, some kids were able to express things for the first time," Sears said after a summer retreat for the children. "Particularly the young boys were grieving."

But Sears, executive director of a charity called Tuesday's Children, isn't sure how many more kids she will be able to help. Her agency and others like it are struggling to stay afloat as donations dry up nearly seven years after the attack.

Several are closing, some are cutting budgets and others are rethinking their purpose as donors become harder to persuade.

"We fight every day for money," said Sears.

The groups sprang up after Sept. 11, offering families of victims everything from counseling to music lessons. They have relied on funding from an American Red Cross long-term relief fund that distributed more than $1 billion in direct aid and recovery grants to more than 100 organizations.

But on June 30, the Red Cross distributed its last $40 million to 26 groups. Two groups have grants that last a few more months.

"We have no more money to award," said Joan Hernandez, deputy director of the Red Cross Sept. 11 recovery program. The program used to have nearly 300 employees and now has two, she said. "We will be gone at the end of the year."

The last grants included $1.37 million to South Nassau Communities Hospital on Long Island, which shut counseling programs for family members and first responders when Red Cross funding expired.

The nonprofit New York Disaster Interfaith Services is ending its Sept. 11 program on Oct. 31, said Scottie Hill, its director of disaster recovery and advocacy services. The program manages the cases of 300 survivors and first responders, primarily with health issues.

"The public at large really does think . . . why haven't people moved on," Hill said. "There's also a population of people who have been very active in 9/11 recovery that know that this is very real."

Programs treating ground zero workers who were exposed to toxic dust can seek funding from Congress and state and city government; counseling and community programs don't have that option.

"Many donors, in terms of mental health services, begin to ask the question whether the trauma is really related to 9/11 anymore or not," said Melissa Berman, CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, which creates fundraising strategies for many major donors. "I think many donors feel a sense of responsibility to make a one-time response to this kind of disaster, but rarely an ongoing one."

But ongoing is precisely how charities like Tuesday's Children see their mission.

The organization has offered programs to more than 5,000 Sept. 11 family members.

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