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One On 1 Profile: Tunnel To Towers Chairman Frank Siller Steps Up For Staten Island Following Hurricane Sandy

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TWC News: One On 1 Profile: Tunnel To Towers Chairman Frank Siller Steps Up For Staten Island Following Hurricane Sandy
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For the next few weeks, the One on 1 profiles will be connected to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, to profile New Yorkers involved with getting the city back on its feet. This special series begins with the Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Foundation, which is especially well-known on Staten Island, and its chairman, Frank Siller. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following One On 1 profile.

Frank Siller and the Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Foundation are in the "helping" business, delivering food and clothing, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, providing shelter.

"These people's lives are changed forever," Siller says.

His organization fixes Staten Islanders' homes by pumping out water, gutting the houses and eventually helping to rebuild.

Be it at his office, the foundation's makeshift distribution center in New Dorp, the home of a fellow Staten Islander or a Sandy news conference, Siller's inspiration is clear.

"Our foundation will be there. We've been here since 9/11 when it was started in honor of my brother, a firefighter who ran through Brooklyn Battery Tunnel with his gear and gave up his life," he says.

The story of Siller's youngest brother, firefighter Stephen Siller, one of 343 killed on September 11th, is well-known in New York and around the country. The annual Tunnel To Towers Run, first held in New York, is now held in cities across the United States and in London. when Sandy hit, the foundation was ready.

"We have organizational skills because we do the Tunnels To Towers Run every year. We have 2,500 volunteers, so I knew early on that the foundation could handle a relief effort not just here in Staten Island, but in many parts of New York City," says Siller.

Tunnel To Towers has helped the relief effort in the Rockaways in Queens, Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn and parts of New Jersey. But the foundation is, in its heart and soul, a Staten Island thing.

As he told one Staten Islander, "Tunnels To Towers is not going anywhere. We'll be around for the long haul."

"This is my community. These are my friends," Siller says. "My friend almost drowned to death in his house. They had to get out in a boat. His next door neighbor, the water went over the top of the house where the elderly couple died. So yes, this is a responsibility."

Siller has a furrier business but he spends all of his time at the foundation. He says neither he nor any other member of the Siller family make any money from Tunnel To Towers.

The foundation supports a variety of programs for children, firefighters and now the Sandy relief effort.

Many Staten Islanders point with particular pride to the foundation's involvement in the home built for Brendan Marrocco, the first quadruple amputee from the war in Iraq. But Siller says the entire borough deserved the credit.

"The Staten Island community stepped up, just like this, and made sure that it got done," says Siller.

He says the example of helping others started early with his mother and his father.

"When we were kids, my father found out there was a neighbor next door who had no turkey, literally took our turkey off the table and went to the neighbor and gave it to them," he says. "We had no Thanksgiving dinner but it was one of best Thanksgivings we ever had."

Siller's parents died when he was in his 20s, but the lessons he learned from them continued to serve him well, especially after his brother was killed on September 11th.

"The whole process is different for everybody so I’m not going to say 'You should mourn this way, you should do that.' I’m not judging anybody that handles things a certain way but for myself and my family I will say that we learned the quicker you get out of yourself and do for others, the better you feel," Siller says. "There's no question about it, you're allowed to mourn, you are allowed to be upset, you are allowed to get angry but eventually you have to do something good."

The foundation's focus is understandably New York, but Siller says the foundation sent more than $2 million to the Gulf Coast region after Hurricane Katrina and learned some lessons from their colleagues in that relief effort.

"We feed people inside 'cause people don't want to leave. We found that out from them, to go to the people," Siller says. "Just don't have the people come to you to go into the communities -- go block by block, house by house, which we did."

Tunnel To Towers has 10 full-time employees, and its projects and clout are growing. Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani serves as the chairman of the annual run, which in 2012 fielded 25,000 runners in New York.

Truckloads of items for Sandy relief come into and leave the foundation's warehouse on Hylan Boulevard every day. There's also a million-dollar project to relocate 30 Staten Island families to New Milford, Conn., to live in modular homes on a property given by a local church, for as long as necessary.

The plans are increasingly complex but the spirit behind it all remains quite simple.

"For me it is very personal to do this and to see the good work," says Siller. "Eleven years ago, Stephen died saving people. Today, because of what he did, he's changing people's lives."

Siller says there has been a good response to the offer of housing in Connecticut for displaced Staten Island families, and the 30 slots will likely be filled. Anyone interested can contact the Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Foundation at 1-718-987-1931.

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