Survivors Turn Loss Into Gain
By George James


THE 1,100 invitations have been sent. Many of the prizes for the silent auction are stacked in the center of their son's old bedroom in the comfortable Tudor-style house on Clarendon Court where for several years he struggled with the anxiety attacks that kept him out of school.

So far, 250 people have said they will attend the second annual Todd Ouida Birthday Celebration. Most will be family members and friends who recall how he triumphed over panic disorder. But others will be people who did not know him -- but who also suffered the loss of a loved one the day the World Trade Center came crashing down.

''It's really important to us they come,'' says Todd's father, Herbert Ouida, ''because in a way we share with each other and support each other.''

Offering support, emotional and financial, is what the event next Sunday is all about. Aside from being an opportunity to ''celebrate'' Todd Ouida's life, it is also a fund-raiser for the Todd Ouida Children's Foundation, which has distributed $350,000 to organizations that offer psychological services for children of needy families.

The foundation is one of a number of such organizations that families and friends organized after Sept. 11, 2001, in memory of lost family members and friends.

The family of Scott Hazelcorn, 29, a trader of long-term Treasury bonds at Cantor Fitzgerald, created a foundation that sponsors a week-long summer camp for children who lost a loved one in the attack. The family and friends of Christopher Ingrassia, 28, a trader who played football at Princeton, started a foundation at the university and holds an annual charity golf outing.

Last year, the first Todd Quida birthday event, which raised $40,000, took place in nearby Oradell on the grounds of River Dell Regional High School, where the energetic 5-foot-5 boy was a defensive back on the varsity football team. This year it will be held at the Spring Lake Day Camp in Ringwood, where as a teenager Todd Ouida was a lifeguard and his older sister, Amy, and older brother, Jordan, were counselors.

Each day, Todd and Herbert Ouida traveled together to the north tower of the World Trade Center, where the son was a foreign currency option trader for Cantor and the father was executive vice president of the World Trade Centers Association.

On Sept. 11, when the building shook, the elder Mr. Ouida did not know a plane had smashed into it, but he remembered his experience in the 1993 terrorist bombing and hurried to the stairs. It took an hour to descend 78 floors.

As he did, his son was trapped on the 105th floor, cut off by tangled steel, collapsed stairwells and intense flames. Whether Todd Ouida knew that he had no hope of escape when he called his mother, Andrea, will never be known, but he told her he had talked to his father, who was all right.

''He hadn't spoken to me,'' Mr. Ouida now says, ''but he was trying to comfort her.''

Todd was 25. At a memorial service at the Central Unitarian Church in Paramus, people asked where they could make donations in his name. The idea for a nonprofit, charitable, tax-deductible foundation took root. The Ouidas then arranged for the nonprofit Community Foundation of New Jersey in Morristown to administer the fund.

Mrs. Ouida, who retired as director of the River Vale Library in April 2001, spent time on foundation business and responding to shopping bags full of notes of condolence. Mr. Ouida retired last December to give the organization his full attention.

''The truth is, we have to do this, as much for ourselves as for the people we're helping,'' he said one recent morning, as he and his wife sat at the dining room table that serves as the foundation office. ''And when people respond to us, it's almost like they're responding to Todd. Because they're responding to what we're saying about his life and what we're doing in his name.''

For those who created them, the foundations have taken on layers of significance.

''You feel a strong connection to the person you lost, because the essence of who they were is living on through the good you do for people,'' said Janice Hazelcorn of Berkeley Heights, Scott's mother and now executive director of the Scott Hazelcorn Memorial Children's Foundation.

The foundation created Camp Haze, a one-week program that was attended last summer by 47 children who lost loved ones in the terrorist attack. This year, she hopes about 75 children will attend the camp, in Monticello, N.Y., from Aug. 18 to 24.

Gloria Ingrassia of Watchung said she sees the Christopher N. Ingrassia Memorial Organization named after her son as a chance ''to do something constructive, to have something positive come out of the most horrific situation.''

Two former classmates from Princeton suggested the idea of a foundation and organized the Chris Classic, a golf outing last year, which, according to one of them, Dennis O'Dowd, raised $40,000. Specifics for this year's tourney have to be worked out.

Todd's foundation has made donations to both organizations. In fact, Christopher Ingrassia, a close friend of Todd's brother, Jordan, stayed with him briefly when both men worked in the London office of Cantor Fitzgerald. Last June, Jordan and his wife named their newborn son Christopher Todd.

Mrs Hazelcorn said time spent on foundation work took the mind off the pain of loss. ''The more you can focus on something positive, you get through the day better,'' she said.

Not everyone feels that way, however. Andrea Ouida said of her foundation work: ''It's important to me but I feel sometimes that it's very difficult to spend so much time on something that's about having lost Todd. And I feel sometimes that I need to do something else that's not focused on Todd.''

Mr. Ouida sees it as fighting evil with good. ''There has to be more than a military answer to Sept. 11,'' he said. ''You have to meet the evil, I think, with acts of generosity and love. Otherwise, what kind of world is it when it's over.''

Love and generosity are what saved Todd, they say, as he overcame the panic attacks that began in the fourth grade and lasted through the sixth.

He said in his application to the University of Michigan that he awoke one day afraid to go to school. ''My stomach was tight,'' he wrote. ''And I, for a reason that will most likely never be explained, was terrified.''

A psychiatrist treated him with medication. After a year the family turned to Dr. Nathaniel Donson, a child psychiatrist in Englewood. The school provided tutoring and a reduced class schedule and, eventually, he was able to begin middle school.

''I realized that the time a person wants to give up is the time when it is imperative for that person to fight the hardest,'' Todd wrote. ''I learned that with family, a person can overcome anything.''

He graduated from Michigan with a major in psychology. The Ouida foundation donated $250,000 in his name to the university's medical school for research in childhood anxiety and depression. It has also made donations to a score of local and national organizations that include as the Association for Child Psychoanalysis and the Children's Aid and Family Services.

Dr. Donson said the Ouidas have been extraordinary, both in having supported Todd through the disruption of his illness at great financial and emotional expense and in setting up a foundation personifying someone who overcame adversity with a ''sense of purpose and spirit of generosity.''

''This memory of his overcoming his malady sort of sets the stage for this particular foundation to help children,'' Dr. Donson said, ''It shows that there's a wonderful outcome that's possible or a wonderful way of proceeding through this tragedy, of mastering this just as Todd mastered his anxiety.''

Images: Photos: Herbert and Andrea Ouida created a foundation in memory of their son, Todd, below, who died in the World Trade Center attack. (Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times)

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company