By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 10, 2009 - Families who lost loved ones during the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon plan to mark the first anniversary of the Pentagon Memorial by introducing a new docent program – and they're looking for volunteers to help. Lisa Dolan, whose husband, Navy Capt. Robert E. Dolan, died in the attack, is the prime organizer of the effort. Her goal, she told American Forces Press Service, is to personalize the memorial for visitors so they can better understand the human impact of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Dolan is a teacher and high-energy volunteer who helped found the Pentagon Memorial Fund and continues to serve on its board. Once the group raised the money needed to build the memorial, dedicated Sept. 11, 2008, she began turning her sights to educating the public about the memorial and the 184 people it honors.
Nobody, she said, could do that quite as personally as the families who lost a family member in the attacks.
So she reached out to them first, quickly getting 50 volunteers who live near enough to participate in the docent program. "I was really, really surprised by the response," she said. "There was a real outpouring."
Each docent will receive training, including "a fairly hefty manual" of information, to prep them for the job. But Dolan said most family members already know the facts about 9/11 and the Pentagon Memorial by heart. "They've lived this for the past eight years," she said. "For them, it's all very personal."
After an initial pilot program expected to begin after tomorrow morning's wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial, Dolan hopes to expand the docent program to post a volunteer at the site from about 9 a.m. to 3 or 6 p.m., seven days a week.
She hopes to tap volunteers from the Pentagon -- military members, civilian employees, contractors -- able to share their own firsthand accounts of the 9/11 attacks. "The people who work at the Pentagon have been really supportive of the memorial, so I knew that would be a really good place to pull from," she said.
Depending on how many Pentagon employees volunteer, Dolan also may approach first responders from Arlington, Va. They were the first to arrive on the scene to offer assistance on 9/11.
Ultimately, Dolan estimates she'll need 84 volunteer docents to pull three-hour shifts talking with visitors to the memorial.
In addition to giving visitors a deeper appreciation for its symbolism, Dolan said she hopes the docent program serves as a healing force for those who experienced the losses of 9/11 personally.
Dolan said she finds comfort when she visits the memorial, which she considers "an extension of my home."
She's already gotten a sense of what the docents will experience during the several times she's taken people through the memorial, explaining its design and sharing her own personal story.
This summer, for example, Dolan walked an 11-year-old girl who had been in her preschool class on 9/11 to the memorial. Of all that Dolan showed her as they walked through the two-acre memorial park, nothing touched the young girl so much as seeing the cantilevered bench that pays tribute to the youngest victim of the 9/11 attack, 3-year-old Dana Falkenberg.
"That made it personal and made it possible for this 11-year-old girl to feel the connection," Dolan said.
Dolan hopes the docent program will help more visitors experience this connection.
Tomorrow, the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and her husband's death, will be "a difficult day," she conceded.
"But it's helpful," she said, "knowing that we will be able to take our tears and sadness and turn it into something fabulous."
For more information about the docent program or to volunteer, contact Dolan by e-mail at LDolan@pentagonmemorial.net or visit the Pentagon Memorial Fund Web site at http://www.pentagonmemorial.net/.