Desert Vista ceramics teacher Mark Honaker

Desert Vista ceramics teacher Mark Honaker includes concrete from the World Trade Center in these bowls he makes in honor of the estimated 2,000 first responders who have died since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Mark Honaker has been busy ahead of next Wednesday with a special tribute he’s making for the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The Desert Vista High School ceramics teacher has been arriving early at school to make 200 bowls he will display on Sept. 11 in honor of the first responders who have died from toxic-air-related illnesses they sustained during the rescue and recovery operations after the attacks that leveled the World Trade Center.

Though the 200 bowls represent a fraction of the estimated 2,000 first responders who have so far died of those illnesses, Honaker hopes the bowls and a mural of photographs he has erected in his classroom will inspire students to reflect on their sacrifices.

“My brother Brook was a fire captain in Tempe and I was always fascinated by the bravery of the first responders,” Honaker explained. “While everyone was running away, they ran the opposite direction.”

It takes Honaker around three minutes to make each bowl, which is swirled with a piece of concrete from the World Trade Center.

His students act as “clay-runners,” bringing him clay and displaying the newly made bowls in the classroom. 

Honaker makes and donates the bowls throughout the year to various Valley charities, which in turn sell them to the public. Some make their way to the Tempe Empty Bowls charity event in February, where their $10 purchase price raises funds for United Food Bank and Tempe Community Action Agency.

Honaker said his annual tradition on Sept. 11 was inspired by a Newsweek article titled “We are Here for Andrea,” in which author Anna Quindlen reflects on the memory of victim Andrea Haberman — whom she didn’t know. The story suggested that 9/11 could be more than a day of remembrance.

“It could be a day on which millions of Americans give blood, or deliver canned goods to soup kitchens or bring new books to schools and libraries. It could be a day of service on which every American asks and answers the question that united so many on that first September 11: How can I help?” Quindlen wrote.

In September 2001, Honaker was an English teacher at Marcos De Niza High School in Tempe.

“I just remember going down to the front office, where everyone was huddled around the TV,” he recalled. “I went back to class and put on the news for my students. I remember everyone sitting in silence.”

Honaker also hopes students will be inspired to look on Sept. 11 as a day of service.

Other area commemorations also are stressing community service. The Desert Vista Key Club is holding a blood drive Sept. 17 from 7:45-11:45 a.m. Donors can email desertvistakeyclub@gmail.com for information.

The city of Mesa is hosting a letter-writing campaign, asking people to write thank-you notes to first responders, active military, veterans, wounded warriors and their caregivers. Information: operationgratitude.com/express-your-thanks/write-letters

People also can check volunteermatch.org and type in “Phoenix” for other opportunities.

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