Hope Helps Sonia Agron and Her Family Cope in the Aftermath of 9/11

Sonia and Joe Agron embrace while seated at an event. Joe is in a formal NYPD uniform.
Sonia and Joe Agron.

I first met Sonia Agron in 2014 during training for the opening of the 9/11 Memorial Museum. We were both preparing to be part of the Museum’s Education team, she as a docent and I as an Interpretive Guide. 

The first time I heard her speak, I recognized in her voice the cadence and directness of a born-and-raised New Yorker but also the tenderness of a nurturing grandmother. The former was confirmed soon after when she shared her 9/11 story. The latter would be confirmed years later at a meeting where she spoke to a group of high school Museum Ambassadors; upon learning that one of the students was from the Bronx, she offered her a ride home. She also offered to bake a cheesecake flan for the Ambassador graduation.

Agron first worked in emergency medical services (EMS) as an instructor in 1984 but soon realized she didn’t feel comfortable teaching something she’d never practiced herself. That was when she decided to become an emergency medical technician (EMT). She continued in the field for several years before an accident on the job made it physically difficult for her to continue work as a technician. She returned to teaching EMS courses. 

On 9/11, even though Sonia retired from her role as a first responder, the urge to serve remained; “that first responder stuff doesn’t leave you,” she said.

She promised her husband Joe, an NYPD officer who responded to the World Trade Center on 9/11, that she wouldn’t go to the site following the attacks to help. She kept her promise for as long as she could but ultimately felt compelled to volunteer at Ground Zero as a recovery worker on overnight shifts with the American Red Cross. As a first responder family, the Agrons lost many close friends on 9/11. For Sonia, coming to Ground Zero started to restore her faith in humanity following the horrors of 9/11.

Sonia Agron speaks at a podium that reads 9/11 Memorial.
Sonia Agron speaks at the 9/11 Memorial plaza.

In addition to grieving their losses, the Agrons would soon begin to deal with various health effects brought on by exposure to hazards and toxins at Ground Zero. Shortly after their time spent volunteering, both Sonia and her husband started to show various symptoms that resembled allergic reactions. Sonia experienced flu-like body aches, stomach issues, and rashes. Initially she did not connect her symptoms to her time at Ground Zero, instead using her age as an explanation for these pervasive ailments. It wasn’t until 2009, when she started volunteering at the 9/11 Tribute Center, that she met others experiencing similar symptoms. Through those volunteers, she learned about the possibility that toxins in the air around the site in the aftermath of 9/11 had made people ill.

The road to accepting that they needed help and receiving that help was not an easy one for Sonia and her husband. Sonia credits her daughter—who invoked a family motto “without hope, we cannot cope”—for helping her stay positive.

She also believes that her time spent at the 9/11 Memorial Museum as a docent has helped her heal. 

"This was the best decision I could have made,” Sonia said. “I realize this is a place I need to be, sharing this story as we continue to heal.”

Sonia has told her story to visitors of the 9/11 Memorial Museum hundreds of times, but this year she will share it with a community that she feels deeply passionate about: students. 

On September 11, 2020, Sonia and five others will share their stories as part of this year’s fifth annual Anniversary in the Schools webinar. Register for this free program here.

The webinar is made possible thanks to generous support from The New York Life Foundation.

By Eduardo Quezada, Education Specialist

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