Editor's Note: The following story was submitted to the Basking Ridge Patch by Juliana Tobin, a Ridge High School junior who also is features editor of The Devil's Advocate school newspaper. She said she previously was part of a 9/11 Student Journalism Project at Rutger's University, and had an opportunity to interview family members of 9/11 victims. Below is her article:
On September 11, 2001, Herb and Todd Ouida, father and son, left for train station and headed toward the World Trade Center, where they worked every day.
Spontaneously, due to the fair weather, Herb had chosen to take the ferry instead of the train tht morning; he and his son had gone separate ways to the office. “Have a great day sweetheart”, he said, not knowing that those were the last words that he would ever say to his son.
Herb and Andrea Ouida, residents of River Edge, NJ, lost their son 25-year-old son in the North Tower of the World Trade Center later that morning. Todd was in his second year of his career as a currency broker for Cantor Fitzgerald; he worked on the 105th floor. Herb Ouida, the Vice President of the World Trade Center Association, was able to escape from the 77th floor. Todd’s brother Jordan, who also worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, was in London, England at the time being.
At 8:46 a.m., after the hijacking of American Airlines flight 11, and first plane crash in the North Tower, instantaneously killing all of the passengers aboard, and an undetermined number of people inside; it took Herb Ouida almost an hour to get down the stairs. He was confident at the time that his young strong son would be able to escape, not knowing that the stairs were destroyed above the 90th floor, and that there was no way out.
Immediately after the crash, Andrea Ouida received a phone call from her son, telling her to remain calm, and that she would hear there was a plane crash at the World Trade Center. Todd told his mother that he was heading for he stairs and had just talked with his father; he was fine. But in truth, Todd had not spoken with his father; he was just compelled to comfort his mother during this time of tragedy. As a child, Todd Ouida had suffered from panic attacks and depression. For two and a half years Todd was homes-chooled, too afraid to go to school. He had a therapist with whom he met with four times per week and through his help, and that of his family, as well as his own courage, Todd was able to successfully overcome his fear. He went on to become an honors student, wrestler, and football player at River Dell High School, and eventually graduate from the University of Michigan. That one phone call he made to his mother was evidence of his growth and ability to rise above his fear, a true indication of his bravery, especially in such a chaotic and precarious situation.
Reflecting on that painful memory, Herb says that in the aftermath, he had to face the fact that his son didn’t survive. However, he insisted on contacting all of the hospitals and placing posters all over the area, hoping that perhaps he had amnesia, or that someone had found him. To this day the Ouida family has not been able to pack away Todd’s belongings; Herb still wears his son’s belt and ties, bringing him just a bit closer to his son.
At Todd’s funeral, the Ouida family made sure to only invite those who knew Todd, wanting to make the ceremony more personal and on a heartfelt level. One man who spoke was Todd’s therapist; Dr. Donson, who helped Todd when his was a young boy in the fourth grade. His therapist spoke of how Todd’s transformation into such a brave young man had truly inspired him. He had given his work a whole new meaning, and provided him with motivation that he could continue to be successful at helping other children.
On that very day, the Ouida family was given an idea to create a children’s foundation in honor of Todd, to help children who are currently suffering from the same anxiety that Todd had endured and surpassed. Todd’s friends and family wanted to be able to write a check to his name, and shortly after that the Ouida family established the foundation "My Buddy Todd." Not only did the creation of the organization help keep Todd’s memory alive and help children who suffered similarly, it also helped those he was close with to cope with their tremendous loss of a son, brother, uncle, godfather, friend, and esteemed colleague.
Since its establishment, "My Buddy Todd" has raised over a million dollars in donations to help children with similar conditions to those Todd faced as a child. Donating to countless organizations and charities, the aim of the foundation is to help children with depression, emotional anxiety, and to overcome their fears and grievances. One of the programs that "My Buddy Todd" launched is "Zippy’s Friends," which focuses on helping children express their feelings, methodically come to terms with their problems, to communicate, and most importantly to prevent depression. By starting with school children at a very young age, the program is able to help enforce skills that will stay with the children through adulthood.
Annually, "My Buddy Todd" publishes a newsletter that has over one thousand readers, summarizing the year’s success for the foundation. Additionally, the Ouida family hosts a birthday celebration to commemorate Todd. For the first observance, on May 1, 2002, 600 people were in attendance. On June fifth, 2011, the Ouida family with host the tenth anniversary birthday celebration at River Dell High School, where Todd had attended.
Although the organization has been a tremendous success, nothing can fully heal the pain that Ouida family endures on a daily basis. Todd’s sister, Amy, has not been able to participate in the foundation this year; a sign of the emotional toll that his family suffers with.
In his college application to the University of Michigan, Todd wrote, “I suffered for two and a half years, but in those two and a half years I learned more than most people learn in a lifetime. I realized that the time a person wants to give up is the time when it is imperative for that person to fight the hardest. I learned that with family a person could overcome anything. And I discovered that no matter how big the person is on the outside (for I am only 5’5” tall) the size of the heart is always going to be more important.” Through his bittersweet words, Todd’s legacy lives on.