Grieving parents turn pain into purpose

Liz and Steve Alderman lost their son Peter in the 9/11 attacks 15 years ago and have turned their grief into action.

Their son, Peter, was only 25 years old. On September 11, 2001, he was attending a conference at Windows on the World, a venue on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower.

That morning he was murdered, along with 2,976 others in the attacks on New York City, Washington, and outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The enormity of the horror is still hard for anyone to grasp. For Liz and Steve, their beloved child was ripped away from them in an instant. No one can know the pain of a parent who has lost a child if they haven’t lived that hell themselves.

“It is the scene of his death, and I don’t need to be here. I felt as long as I was here, I needed to go, to see and touch his name and that was extraordinarily upsetting. It was like, there it was written in stone.”

But somehow, in the face of the most extraordinary loss, the Aldermans have found purpose helping so many others — all in their son’s name.

“This was done to leave a mark that Peter existed and that the world would be a better place because he lived,” Liz said about the work she and her husband Steve do through the foundation they set up in their son’s name.

They founded The Peter C. Alderman Foundation (PCAF) in 2002 with the mission of helping “one of the world’s most vulnerable populations recover from the emotional wounds of war,” with a focus on mental health rehabilitation for victims of terror and the trauma of war.

Liz and Steve have built the foundation into a $1.5 million-a-year organization operating in Cambodia, Uganda, Kenya and Burundi, and also working in refugee camps. To date, PCAF has treated more than 100,000 survivors of war, Liz said.

“It’s become something important and large and respected and that makes us feel really good,” Liz said. They’ve partnered with the World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University, among others, she said. “You know, on one level, the impetus is emotional but on a second level and probably more important, these people need more than our good wishes,” Steve added.

“We needed to create our own memorial for Peter,” Liz said, citing the millions of people who have experienced torture, terrorism or mass violence and no longer lead functional lives. “… And if in Peter’s name we can return these people to life — there’s no better memorial.”