When Brady Howell was in third grade, he wrote a letter to President Ronald Reagan volunteering his service as a detective. Reading stories about spies and secrets made him believe he could escape the potato fields of Sugar City, Idaho.
He was pursuing the career he dreamed of, working in Navy intelligence at the Pentagon, when he was killed on Sept. 11, 2001.
His sister, Camille Mortensen, will be reading to schoolchildren in Ogden this week, sharing his story and teaching them that life's possibilities await. She'll be among hundreds of Utahns transforming the memory of a horrific event into an opportunity to give to the community.
Mortensen, who rushed to the nation's capital with her 6-month-old daughter after her brother was killed, vividly remembers the country's mood in the days after the attacks.
"That really good feeling of people lining up to give blood and caring for their neighbor," said Mortensen, who now lives in Ogden. "I loved the images from Washington, D.C., where there was no partisanship, everyone was just one nation."
Much has changed since her 26-year-old brother died, but she wonders if the anniversary of Sept. 11 could be a time to reclaim that spirit.
"I'm not delusional; I know we won't get that again," she said. "But on the National Day of Service, why can't we do that for one day?"
She will go to the classrooms of her two children on Friday, as part of a volunteer reading program launched by United Way of Northern Utah. Volunteers will read books such as 14 Cows for America, the true story of an African tribe that gave 14 cows to a U.S. embassy after the terrorist attacks.
"The message is there is no country too big or too powerful that it can't be hurt," Mortensen said. "But there's no nation too small it can't care."
More volunteer readers are needed to participate in the program, geared toward elementary-age children and featuring books inspired by emergency responders and the military. United Way officials hope veterans and first responders will be among those reading books such as Boo Boo Bear's Mission, about a teddy bear sent to Iraq in a care package.
All the books will include a tribute to Howell, describing his skill as a speed-reader and the three books he wrote in elementary school. He later graduated from Utah State University.
The reading program is one of many volunteer efforts seeking help during the next few days and weeks. The Utah Commission on Volunteers is asking residents to participate in big or small ways, from writing a letter to a soldier to giving time at a retirement home. Organizations ranging from housing authorities to Habitat for Humanity need help. Some are specifically looking for assistance this weekend, during Sunday's National Day of Service.
Volunteers are needed to assist with a veterans and military family trail ride in Settlement Canyon, offered through Camp Kostopulos. The Utah Veterans Cemetery is looking for help with replacing flags and pruning. Other volunteer opportunities are listed on the commission's website.
"It's just a way for volunteers across the nation to say, 'thank you,' " said Susan Hayward, training and outreach manager at the commission.
Laura Traum will be one of the volunteer readers next week at Ogden's Oasis Market on Monroe Avenue, which is visited by many of the low-income families who live nearby. Utah's growing minority population is not always welcomed in this state, she noted.
"So I believe this is crossing a bridge that will help that multiculturalism and diversity be more acceptable," she said. "I really believe [intolerance] is part of what caused 9/11."
I To join volunteer efforts, go to volunteers.utah.gov or call 211.
To see a list of community services and 9/11 commemorative events in Utah, visit sltrib.com.