Come From Away’s Kevin Tuerff Kicks Off Pay It Forward 9/11 Campaign This Week

Listen to “Humanitarianism, Faith, and Paying It Forward” on Spreaker.

The horrific images of September 11, 2001, are forever burned in the hearts of a free country forever changed.

But in the wake of 9/11, came stories of compassion, including the story of the “plane people” who landed in Gander, Newfoundland after the U.S. airspace was closed. Over 6,500 passengers on 38 planes were diverted to Gander nearly doubling the town’s population. In the course of four days, foreigners became friends and found solace in the kindness of strangers.

“The people of Gander, if they wanted just to have kindness and empathy for the people on the planes, they could have sent thoughts and prayers and some boxes of pizza,” said Kevin Tuerff. “But when I interviewed the Mayor, he said, ‘we weren’t going to let you rot on those planes,’ and so there was no question. They were going to let us into their country and into their town, people from 90 countries, and they took a chance.”

Tuerff and his partner were on a flight from Paris to New York when they were diverted to Gander. Like many “come from aways” who landed there, he returned to Newfoundland on the tenth anniversary of the attacks. That’s when he first met Irene Sankoff and David Hein, who had an idea for a new musical based on what happened in Gander over the week following 9/11.

“I had been a fan of musical theater, so I wanted to support them in whatever way,” he said. “I wanted to tell the story to anybody who would listen.”

After an initial interview in person and a couple more via Skype, Tuerff says he got a call from Sankoff and Hein who told him they had not only written a musical but that he was in it.

Come From Away opened in 2017 on Broadway and since launched its North American tour. The Broadway cast will take their final bows at the beginning of October.

“You would think that a musical about what happened there would be all based on just the people who did all the wonderful, good deeds,” he said. “But they needed to tell the story through the eyes of some of the passengers, the come from aways, and so, my ex-partner and I were among those who were honored, I guess.”

Tuerff says the experience of seeing his story reenacted onstage has been surreal and hopes that the entire country will learn about the goodwill of the people of Gander. It’s his hope that Gander’s altruism will be contagious.

In fact, Tuerff started his Pay It Forward movement a year after the World Trade Center attacks to inspire people all over the world to do random acts of kindness. This year, he hopes to inspire 22,000 good deeds in honor of the lives lost.

“My hope is that people, no matter where they are, will really take the time to study up on compassion,” he said. “We were meant to live in community, and we were meant to help each other.”

People can participate in the Pay It Forward 9/11 movement by registering on Tuerff’s website, downloading the tool kits, and making a pledge. For more information visit https://www.payitforward911.org/.

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