(Newsroom America) -- Cindy McGinty, who lost her husband Mike in the 9/11 attacks, says that for many years she would "struggle to find a place" on the anniversary of 9/11 to commemorate her husband's life and find peace for her family.
"Some years it was harder than others," McGinty says. "I tried many things - we went to New York City and another year to Boston for the commemoration ceremonies. We have gone out of town and tried to ignore the day. Nothing seemed quite right, and I was always left feeling empty and alone; raw, exhausted and full of emotion."
Today she feels differently, now that 9/11 has evolved into the nation's largest day of service.
"The fact that so many people around the country dedicate time on 9/11 to helping others has helped me, and I'm sure many others as well, deal with what is an unspeakably difficult day," McGinty says.
Alice Hoagland, a former flight attendant who lost her son Mark Bingham on United flight #93, agrees. "Although 9/11 will forever be very sad, the goodness that has arisen from the tragedy has been inspirational for me, and made the anniversaries of that bitter day a little easier."
This 9/11 anniversary will be the fourth since the day was formally established in 2009 by Congress and the president as a National Day of Service and Remembrance ("9/11 Day") under bi-partisan federal law and Presidential Proclamation.
David Paine and Jay Winuk, co-founders of the 9/11 Day Observance, say they expect more than 35 million Americans to participate this year, along with others from throughout the world, the largest turnout to date.
In fact, 9/11 is now the largest annual day of charitable engagement in U.S. history. To commemorate this milestone, Jay and David, along with Alice Hoagland, have been invited to "Ring The Bell" at the NYSE on the morning of September 11.
The idea first took root in 2002 when Paine and Winuk, a 9/11 family member whose brother Glenn died in the line of duty that day, began urging others to join them in paying tribute each 9/11 anniversary by engaging in good deeds.
They launched a small website and co-founded a nonprofit, now called MyGoodDeed, the organization that continues as the caretaker of the national observance. The notion blossomed, eventually catching the attention of U.S. Congressman Peter King from Long Island, along with U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Together they and other Congressional leaders began championing the notion that 9/11 should be permanently established as a day of charitable service. It finally happened with passage of the ServeAmerica Act in 2009.
"Service as a way to pay tribute each anniversary is an idea that has really resonated within the 9/11 community," Winuk said. "The observance certainly gives my family and me a measure of peace, and in many ways I think it has done the same thing for the nation. This observance has become both a healing event and one that is very forward looking and helpful to many people and communities in need."
Added Paine, "We wanted something good to come from the tragedy, to keep alive at least once a year the spirit of unity that brought our country together in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 in tribute to those lost and the many who rose in service in response to the attacks. It's good to see that vision become a reality after all these years."
This 9/11 will be marked by millions of good deeds, literally. Many are being shared online at the group's Facebook page (facebook.com/911day), and its website, 911day.org, where individuals can make pledges (at no cost) to do good deeds in observance of 9/11, post their good deed plans if they know them, and even dedicate their good deeds to 9/11 victims by name, thanks to the organization's partnership with the September 11 National Memorial and Museum in New York.
In schools across the country, students in more than 40,000 classrooms are also expected to learn about 9/11 by engaging in good deed projects. MyGoodDeed is working with Scholastic to provide free lesson plans, videos and other teaching tools to more than half a million educators, available at 911day.org and scholastic.com/911day.
Across the nation, thousands of volunteer service projects are also being organized around the country. Many prominent national nonprofits are also marking this day with service, from Habitat to Humanity and local United Way affiliates to HandsOn Network and the American Red Cross.
Major media organizations have pledged their support as well. ABC, Fox, CBS, Viacom, CNN, AOL, Clear Channel and the National Association of Broadcasters all have committed to airing public service messages about 9/11 Day.