Kevin Tuerff was inspired to see people going out of their way to help strangers on 9/11.
On September 11, 2001, Kevin Tuerff was traveling back to the United States after a vacation in Europe. Amid fears of more terrorist attacks, his plane was diverted to Gander, Newfoundland. "It took me seven days to get home, finally, and after that, I continued to be blown away thinking of the kindness and compassion of the people on that island," he told PEOPLE.
At the time, Tuerff was a principal of his own Austin, Texas-based environmental communications firm. That day, over 7,000 air travelers landed in Gander, a town of about 9,000 residents in the Canadian province. People quickly mobilized to help feed, home, and clothe stranded flyers.
"I wasn't sure," he shared. "I like to tell people, if the population of your town nearly doubled in an instant, would you bring people into your home and let them take showers? Total strangers? These people really demonstrated compassion." Tuerff was so moved by their kindness that he began a pay-it-forward initiative at his firm, where he gave money to his employees and granted them time off work so they could go out and complete random acts of goodwill in honor of the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Within two years the effort grow as more businesses and companies joined in to receive the blessing that Tuerff describes as the "helper's high." Fast forward to two decades, Tuerff leads a global initiative, PayItForward911.org, which he claims has sprouted kindness efforts in 46 different states and six countries.
This year, for the 21st anniversary of the terrorist attacks, his group's efforts are expected to surpass hundreds of thousands of people, including Dell Technology employees in 22 countries around the world.
"We are at the point where we can't argue our way with facts and we need to get people to come back together," he noted. "This is one person at a time, and it isn't going to solve everything, but I have seen the ripple effect in action, how people feel when they do something good for someone else, and I think we need that right now."
Cover image source: YouTube Screenshot | Kevin Tuerff