Olivia Graesser arrived in the world just as it radically changed, and she's been trying to improve it for most of her short life.
Her mother, Marsha Graesser, was induced the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. She watched the twin towers fall while in the delivery room. By the time Olivia was born around 7 p.m., the attacks were over but the aftermath had just begun.
“It's a hard day to celebrate because it's not a celebration for a lot of people,” Marsha said.
Marsha's 9/11 baby grew up in Bellevue to be a loving girl who's always worried about how others are doing.
“There's so many people that need help,” Olivia said.
Marsha wasn't surprised when Olivia decided at age 9 that she didn't need birthday presents as much as the homeless shelter needed food. Instead of presents at her birthday party, she collected cans.
At age 10, she collected a few hundred dollars for the Nebraska Humane Society.
The next year it was a collection for vaccines and other necessities for Kenyans, where her mother's boss had taken a volunteer trip.
This year, on the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and of Olivia's birth, it was veterans' turn.
The Graessers called the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home and discovered that some of the residents can't afford the weekly lunch outings. They also host an occasional Huskers pizza watch party.
Marsha thought Olivia could raise about $200. The staff member said that would cover a pizza party.
She raised $670.
“I wanted them to have both,” Olivia said.
The veterans home administrator, Jeff Smith, called Olivia “a true 9/11 child that's making a difference and helping others, and I'm just thrilled. What a role model.
“Certainly I wasn't thinking of that when I was 12.”
Olivia will be the guest of honor at the pizza party next month, but the bulk of the money will fund lunch outings for those who can't afford them.
When she's not raising hundreds of dollars for those who need it, Olivia attends St. Matthew Catholic School in Bellevue. She plays volleyball, basketball, violin and piano, and she likes to swim and wakeboard.
Every week she goes to swim class with her grandma and to lunch after. She's the only child in the class, and she likes it like that.
“I love hanging out with people who are really kind and welcoming,” she said.
Olivia is an only child, and that's how she likes it.
When the planes hit the twin towers Marsha worried about bringing a child into the world — though she didn't have much choice at that point.
But Olivia is so kind, so compassionate.
“She is continuing to prove she's the best thing that happened that day,” Marsha said.