A Resurrection of Courage and Compassion: River Dell Graduate Todd Ouida Lives on in Memorial Foundation
By Kristin Colella
Editor in Chief

June 3, 2003 - Sometimes a smile speaks a thousand words. Todd's smile, the one his family simply calls "that smile," tells the story of a boy who overcame the challenges life dealt him and grew into a compassionate and accomplished young man. River Dell High School graduate Todd Ouida, Class of 1994, inspired friends, family and everyone around him throughout his twenty-five years of life. A victim of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, Todd's memory lives on in the philanthropic efforts of his family, who have raised thousands of dollars for a myriad of charities through the Todd Ouida Children's Foundation.

Although his path through life was short, Todd Ouida left no stone unturned. Todd was born on May 18, 1976, and raised in River Edge, NJ. The youngest of Herbert and Andrea Ouida's three children, Todd was a loving brother and son. Intelligent and athletic, Todd excelled at River Dell as an honors student, wrestler and defensive back for the Golden Hawks varsity football team. He was well liked by students and teachers for his compassion and witty sense of humor.

Mr. John Piekielek, Todd's high school physics teacher, recalled, "Todd was the type of student every teacher enjoys having in class. He always looked forward to learning something new everyday, and his enthusiasm contributed to a positive classroom environment."

After high school, Todd attended the University of Michigan and graduated with a degree in psychology. Todd then went on to become a foreign currency options trader for the financial firm Cantor Fitzgerald.

Todd's road to success wasn't always smooth, however. As a child, he struggled with an anxiety disorder that prevented him from attending elementary school from the fourth through sixth grades. With the help of a child psychiatrist and the unflagging support of his family, Todd overcame his obstacle and flourished as a teenager and young man. Although he endured hard times, Todd felt that his triumph over his anxiety disorder was character building. In his University of Michigan application, Todd wrote:

Many people have life-changing experiences every day, and they don't even know it. My life-changing experience lasted two and a half years, and I remember it vividly. Am I lucky? Maybe. I suffered for two and a half years, but in those two and a half years I learned more than most people learn in a lifetime… I discovered no matter how big the person is on the outside (for I am only 5'5" tall) that the size of the heart is always going to be more important.

Inspired by Todd's childhood struggle, the Ouidas established the Todd Joseph Ouida Memorial Children's Fund shortly after his death to "financially support psychological services for children of families in need." Although they recently changed the name to the Todd Ouida Children's Foundation, their heroic mission remains the same.

Just as Todd began to pave his way in the world, he lost his life on one of the most tragic days in American history. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Todd was working on the 105th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center when United Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the building. The plane had been highjacked by Al Qaeda terrorist operatives as a deliberate attack on the United States. Shortly after he felt the impact of the crash, Todd phoned his mother and reassured her that he and his father, who worked on the 78th floor, were all right. In reality, Todd had not spoken to his father since they arrived together at work earlier that morning. Whether Todd really thought he and his father would live or was just comforting his mother will never be known. Mr. Ouida, executive vice president of the World Trade Centers Association, did miraculously manage to climb down 78 floors before escaping the burning building. Tragically, Todd was too high up to escape and never made it to safety. He died that morning at the age of twenty-five.

In the days and weeks after Todd's death, the Ouida family received an outpouring of condolences from relatives, friends, members of the local community and even strangers. Todd was paid tribute in the Portraits of Grief section of the November 11, 2001 issue of The New York Times. He was also memorialized in local churches and candlelight vigils, one of which took place at River Dell High School. Amid their grief, Todd's family and friends found solace in knowing Todd's memory burned brightly in the hearts of the lives he touched. During many of Todd's memorial services, people began to ask the Ouidas if they could donate money in Todd's name. Inspired by these requests, Todd's family began to develop a concept for a nonprofit charity organization to help people in need.

Transforming their sadness into generosity, the Ouidas established the enormously successful Todd Ouida Children's Foundation. To date, the organization has distributed over $100,000 to various charities, most of which benefit children with psychological disorders. The list of charities is long and awe-inspiring, as thousands of dollars have been donated to scores of charities in just over one year. Todd's foundation has donated the largest amounts of money to the Association for Child Psychoanalysis, Healthy Families of Bergen County and the Institute for Infant and Preschool Mental Health. And, knowing that sometimes the little things make a big difference in a child's life, Todd's foundation sent a busload of children from the Holly Child Care and Developmental Center in Hackensack to a New York Yankees game, and donated a swing set to the Eva's Village Family Shelter in Paterson.

The Ouidas also recently endowed $250,000 to Todd's alma mater, the University of Michigan, to go toward research and awareness of childhood anxiety disorders. With the generous endowment, the University of Michigan will establish the Todd Ouida Clinical Scholars Award and annual Lecture in Childhood Anxiety and Depression.

On Sunday, May 18, Todd's family held the Second Annual Birthday Event in honor of what would have been Todd's 27th birthday. According to the Ouidas, Todd loved birthdays. Rather than be sad on May 18, Todd would have wanted his friends and family to celebrate and enjoy his special day. Last year, the First Annual Birthday Event, held at the River Dell High School football field, raised $40,000 for charity. This year, the event took place at the Spring Lake Day Camp in Ringwood, NJ where Todd worked as a lifeguard during his teenage years. Titled "Camp Todd," the birthday event was attended by 500 guests and included a silent auction, activities, food and festivities. In total, "Camp Todd" raised approximately $50,000 for charity.

The Ouidas' generosity is truly endless. On June 3, Todd's family will present a $1,000 scholarship to a River Dell senior at the high school's Annual Awards Night. The recipient of this award will be a student who has overcome an obstacle and persevered in the face of adversity.

The Todd Ouida Children's Foundation has received extensive coverage from the local and national media. On May 11, 2003, exactly one year and a half after it published its first tribute to Todd, The New York Times printed a story in the New Jersey Communities section about the Ouidas' charity work entitled "Survivors Turn Loss into Gain."

Today, the Ouidas continue to work tirelessly to carry out a mission of generosity in the spirit of their brother and son. Even with thousands of dollars already raised, they do not intend to slow down their charitable efforts. Each day without Todd continues to inspire them to turn tragedy into grace, as they resurrect Todd's virtues of courage and compassion by breathing hope into the hearts of children in need. And through it all, the Ouidas believe, Todd is looking down on them, smiling.

For more information, visit Todd's website at www.mybuddytodd.org. Donations can be sent to the Todd Ouida Children's Foundation; 591 Clarendon Court; River Edge, NJ 07661.