By Stephanie Slepian Staten Island Advance
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Stephen would be proud.
Not because his story is still told a decade later, but because of the good it is still doing since the morning he strapped his gear to his back and ran through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center.
“He was just so into everything he did, the energy he gave to people wherever he was,” said his brother, Frank Siller. “He lifted people, he was willing to do anything for anybody.”
That’s now the philosophy guiding the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Let Us Do Good Foundation, which was founded by the 34-year-old West Brighton firefighter’s six older siblings in their darkest moments with a single run to replicate his footsteps.
There were 2,000 runners in September 2002, the one-year anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attack. This past September, the 10-year anniversary, there were 25,000.
To date, the foundation has raised $15 million.
“The story is nothing less than miraculous,” Siller said. “It’s how everything else came about.”
Stephen Siller’s name has now become legendary, not just locally, but nationally.
Staten Island foundation goes national building homes for amputees Frank Siller, who heads up the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, talks about his firefighter brother’s legacy, the vast support received for helping troops and the national presence that has grown from the tragedy of the September 11 attacks. Watch video
There are Siller runs in more than 70 cities, including one last year in Afghanistan organized by a platoon leader from Westerleigh, and “smart homes” for troops with the most severe injuries are under construction around the country.
Those are built in conjunction with the Gary Sinise Foundation, the beloved Lt. Dan from “Forrest Gump” and star of “CSI: NY.”
Two are already complete, including the first in Prince’s Bay for Brendan Marrocco, the Army specialist who lost his arms and legs in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq in 2009.
Four more are expected by year’s end.
The homes are equipped with things like elevators, systems that operate doors, lights and music on verbal cues, levers and hooks instead of handles on doors and cabinets, controlled temperature zones, emergency buttons and intercoms — each tailored for the individual veteran’s needs.
Marine Cpl. Todd Nicely received the keys to his home in June. He lost all four limbs in March 2010 when he stepped on an explosive device in Afghanistan.
Nicely said he was “taken aback” when he was visited by members of the foundation who were handing out Halloween baskets in October 2010 while he was in therapy at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
He was even more taken when he saw the finished home with his wife, Crystal, also a Marine.
“It was quite amazing, the fact that you walk into a home made especially for you,” said Nicely, 28, who also served in a tour in Iraq and led last year’s Tunnel to Towers Run.
“You name it, it has it — all the bells and whistles. I lived in non-ADA homes for the last two years. This is 10 times easier. It gives you more than a sense of independence.”
Nicely has no regrets.
“I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat,” he said, sounding very much like all the men and women who fought the nation’s wars since September 11. “Stephen Siller was the greatest. He was the true hero.”
And though “Building for America’s Bravest” may get the most media attention, the foundation’s stamp can be found in so many places.
There’s Stephen’s House of the New York Foundling in Stapleton; support given to the New York Firefighters Burn Center Foundation and the Staten Island University Hospital Burn Center; the creation of the National Burn Center Program called Brother to Brother, and scholarships offered to parish schools associated with the Siller family and to the Seaman’s Society for children who have lost a parent.
The foundation also inspired an annual toy drive for the children of Hurricane Katrina and helped rebuild a firehouse in New Orleans and an orphanage devastated by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
“It’s lifted us as a family,” Siller said. “You’re allowed to mourn, you’re allowed to be upset, but you can’t stay there. You’ve got to do something good and this is good.”