Column: One small way to help heal after 9/11

Posing for a photo nearly 20 years ago, the young members of Girl Scout Troop 731 proudly held up a quilt they worked together to create. The red quilt with an American flag border featured 12 unique patches.

Megan Penney, seated in the center on the floor as her fellow Scouts displayed the quilt behind her, held a sign that read: “In memory of those who lost their lives September 11, 2001. May they rest in peace.”

For the 11 members of Troop 731, the devastating tragedy that unfolded on Sept. 11 occurred at a unique moment in their lives. They were just children, not young enough to be shielded from the horror, yet also not old enough to process what it all meant.

“Being 10 years old, they were sort of aware of what was going on, so they wanted to do something, but they didn’t know what,” said Bernadette Taplin of Southold, who was the troop leader along with Loriann Plock of Southold.

They decided on a quilt. The patches the Scouts designed featured patriotic symbols, many included the American flag and the words “God Bless America.” Some featured the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

The quilt was completed a few months after the terrorist attacks, and was even featured in The Suffolk Times. As the years passed, the quilt ended up in storage at Ms. Taplin’s home, until she recently rediscovered it packed away in a box safely wrapped in plastic ahead of the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

“When I took it out, I was like ‘wow, this is like when they first made it 20 years ago,’ ” she said.

The quilt created in the months after 9/11 by members of Girl Scout Troop 731, who were all about 10 years old. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

Ms. Taplin’s daughter, Rachel, who helped create the quilt, was a Girl Scout in fifth grade at the time.

“It was such a big thing in our lives,” Rachel said of 9/11. “We were [about 10] when it happened so we thought, what can we do to give back? What can we do to express our feelings, too?”

Rebecca Plock, another Scout from Troop 731, recalled the troop leaders talking about what had happened and wanting to honor the victims.

“A lot of the patches we made were definitely symbolic of what we were feeling at the time,” she said. “We were opening up our hearts. I think I remember the feeling more than the act of making the quilt. That kind of heavy somberness, which is definitely something difficult to process.”

Rachel Taplin-Epée said at the time, the hope was to send the quilt overseas or possibly be part of a memorial in New York City. They may not have realized at the time, but working on the quilt proved a therapeutic way for the kids to process the overwhelming tragedy.

“I don’t think that was the main purpose of it, but as an educator sort of looking back at it, I think that was probably the most important thing that it achieved,” she said.

Now 30, Ms. Taplin-Epée lives outside Montreal with her husband and their 1-year-old son. She had met her husband in France where she lived for about four years after college. She knew she wanted to be a French teacher and accepted a position teaching English in France as a way to improve her own language skills. She ended up completing a master’s program that included a year in Paris. She and her husband eventually found job opportunities in Canada, where they’ve now settled.

The Girl Scouts pose with the quilt created “in memory of those who lost their lives September 11, 2001.” (Courtesy photo)

Most of the girls from Troop 731 are now scattered all around. Ms. Plock, who’s also now 30, lives in Brooklyn and works as a faculty librarian at St. Joseph’s College New York. She recalled hearing church bells play “God Bless America” in unison last year on the 19th anniversary of 9/11.

“Just hearing that was kind of eerie,” she said.

Before moving to Brooklyn, she had lived near Wall Street in downtown Manhattan, not far from where the towers once stood.
“Walking past the memorial all the time and seeing everyone putting roses, it was really a powerful experience, especially during this time of the year.” 

Reflecting back on her time as a Girl Scout, Ms. Plock said community service was an important part of their role as well as working on artistic projects such as the quilt. At a time after 9/11 when kindness, compassion and selflessness was so prevalent, so many people sought to make an impact in any way possible.

Even the Girl Scouts in Troop 731.

“We were just playing whatever small part we could,” Ms. Plock said.