Joey Rizzolo was six years old when he watched the events of September 11th 2001 on the news, while folding laundry with his grandma in his living room. At the time, Joey didn't understand the larger meaning of what was happening, other than planes hitting buildings. Even though he had no personal connection to 9/11, at the age of 11 Joey decided to initiate a Freedom Walk to help residents of his town, Paramus, NJ, remember and honor the victims of 9/11. Joey organizes the event with a committee of teenagers, who carry out all the fundraising, organizing, and publicity. Last year's Freedom Walk drew almost 1,000 people.
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NEWSCLIP: A 15-year-old boy is taking on a massive mission.
NARRATION: I’ve been all over the news.
NEWSCLIP: Joey Rizzolo loves his country so much.
NEWSCLIP: Bergen country teen is on a mission to thank the troops serving overseas.
NARRATION:I started the first freedom walk in New Jersey. It’s a candle light walk to remember September 11th.
(SINGING: Stand beside her)
NARRATION:Because the walk is a lot of work, and I’ve gotten a lot of attention from the news, my family and my friends, September 11 is now 95 percent of who I am…
NEWSCLIP: It’s refreshing to know we have youth of America.
NARRATION: Okay maybe 60 percent.
JOEY: Hi this is Joey Rizzolo, I am in my room right now with my mom, Rosa Rizzolo. Now, what was my reaction on 9/11 ‘01. MOM: Well you were here with your grandmother. You were supposed to get your cast off that day so grandma decided she was gonna turn on news.
NEWSCLIP: We have a breaking story.
NARRATION: On the TV screen I saw black smoke and people yelling.
NEWSCLIP: Both World Trade Center buildings have collapsed.
NARRATION: It was really scary. Later that night, there were pictures of Osama bin Laden all over the news.
NEWSCLIP: Osama bin laden
NARRATION: My mom says, the next day I did not want to go to school.
MOM: I actually took you to school that day, I didn’t let you take the bus.
NARRATION: I was only in the first grade, so I thought any man wearing a turban was bin Laden -- including this dad who was just dropping off his kid at school.
MOM: I mean you started screaming that there was the guy who killed all the people. The principal had to take you and calm you down and you’re like, “There’s the killer!”
NARRATION: Hearing about it now, is embarrassing.
MOM: Because this poor guy just had this look on his face. Like I must’ve apologized to him a million times.
NARRATION: I can’t believe I would do anything like that because, I’m a nice kid.
JOEY: This is Joey Rizzolo in our dining room with Mrs. Jane Cosco my old teacher. Um… MRS. COSCO: Old teacher? (chuckles)…former teacher. JOEY: My former teacher.
NARRATION: Mrs. Cosco’s class was fun. It was a computer arts class I had in 6th grade. MRS. COSCO: I remember you being very shy.
NARRATION: She inspired me to do this Walk because of her work with Operation Goody Bag.
MRS. COSCO: Coloring brown lunch bags, putting five pieces of candy and a personal letter of thanks and a patriotic poem inside each one.
NARRATION: In four years, students from my school were able to pack 50,000 goodie bags to send to our troops and first responders. We were even listed on a website for a Department of Defense program that helped soldiers and veterans! When I went on the computer and looked up the site I saw videos from their Freedom Walk in Washington DC.
NEWSCLIP: It was just one of over 100 Freedom Walks.
NARRATION: A crowd of over 11,000 people walking near the Pentagon. I was amazed. Ever since September 11th I had worried about terrorism. I was always with my mom and didn’t leave her side. Seeing the video made me feel like, “We don’t have to be afraid and hide from terrorists.” Then I thought, wow we can do this in Paramus.
MRS. COSCO: And I said, “Joey, I have a lot to do with operation goodie bag, if you want to have a freedom walk, you can have a freedom walk.” And you did!
JOEY: Welcome to the second annual Paramus Freedom walk.
MRS. COSCO: We were expecting six kids around the track at the school but it worked out to be much bigger than that.
NARRATION: We had about 400 people the first year and five years later, we’re getting about a thousand!
JOEY: Hi this is Joey Rizzolo with my sister Christina in the dining room. Would you have ever expected me to do the walk? CHRISTINA: No. Cause it kind of just came out of nowhere at that time. You met the president (laughs). That was pretty cool.
NARRATION: I still can’t believe I met President Bush! I know, I don’t sound excited but trust me I am.
CHRISTINA: Now you know how to handle people, you know how to handle situations a lot better than before.
NARRATION: Like organizing a committee that helps plan the walk every year.
JOEY: We get Anthony’s Jeep and stick two flyers on the side, duct tape them.
JOEY: Now, what was your opinion on food? MEMBER: Popcorn in the cooler.
NARRATION: We’re like a little league baseball team, having fun, and making jokes in the dug out. Not many people believe we are the ones doing it.
(Laughs) (SINGING: God Bless America)
NARRATION: Last year, we dedicated our walk to a local Marine from the next town over who died in Afghanistan. I know some people think the wars we’re fighting overseas makes us more of a target, but I think the soldiers are making me feel less afraid. I even have my email address as Freedomrocks! This year’s walk will be focused on the victims of 9/11.
MRS. PANDOLFO: My name is Barbara Pandolfo.
NARRATION: Two years ago, I met Mrs. Pandolfo at the walk. She gave me a special lapel pin with the Twin Towers and a black ribbon and said, “this is for you.” Then I found out her daughter was killed on 9/11.
JOEY: So what do you usually think about while you’re walking?
MRS. PANDOLFO: I think about my daughter. She was 27 when she died and it’s a very great loss for me, she was my only child. And I just feel you were doing so much to remember 9/11 that I wanted you to have the pin as a remembrance of Dominique, and me, and our participation in the walk JOEY: I’d like to say thank you for it. It really means a lot.
NARRATION: Most people who are involved in organizing 9/11 programs have been personally affected by this tragedy, even though I wasn’t I chose to make it a part of me. And there’s always more work to do -- we still have to buy 800 hamburgers, 800 hotdogs, 40 cases of water bottles, we have to pick up the grills, and buy 1,000 candles.
JOEY: John and Ed’ll definitely do it for me.
MEMBER: They can probably do it for free.
JOEY: They’ll flip burgers all day.
For WNYC, I’m Rookie Reporter Joey Rizzolo.
MOM: Free hamburgers and hot dogs for the first thousand.