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Attorney’s Pandemic Experience Fuels Creative Health Initiative

US Army Corps of Engineers
Published May 9, 2023

Tour guide Carolyn Kelly explains the history and significance of St. Paul's Chapel to participants during a lunch-time walking tour in Lower Manhattan.


Monica Coniglio reflects on 9/11 at the Memorial Pools in Lower Manhattan. The pools contain the largest man-made waterfalls in North America, each descending 30 feet into a square basin.


Tour guide Carolyn Kelly (right) walks with Monica Coniglio in Lower Manhattan.


Tour guide Carolyn Kelly (left) points out an item to New York District employees during a walking tour of historic points of interest in Lower Manhattan.


New York District employees tune in as tour guide Carolyn Kelly discusses an item during a points-of-interest walking tour of Lower Manhattan.

Last fall U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New York District Commander Col. Matthew Luzzatto launched an employee health and fitness program to promote well-being for nearly 550 staff. Ten activities ─ developed and coordinated by employees ─ include aerobics and strength training,  meditation and a running club, among others.

Lower Manhattan Walking Tour

One activity, titled, “Points of Interest Walking Tour of Lower Manhattan,” combines exercise with U.S. History and a deeper appreciation for the community and those we serve:

Twice a month, Carolyn Kelly, an attorney in the Office of Counsel, leads employees on a 1.5-mile lunch-hour tour visiting historic points of interest such as the African Burial Ground, Chinatown, Financial District, Western Union building (once the world’s largest telegraph building) and the Brooklyn Bridge (standing since 1883). At each stop she explains their significance.

Reconnecting After COVID-19

The idea was spawned during the pandemic when Kelly, a 15-year New York City resident, avoided public transportation for 16 months ─ biking and walking everywhere. She found a slower pace allowed her to focus more on her surroundings and gain a deeper appreciation for New York City:

“As the District returned to in-person work, I thought it was really important to reconnect. There’s a reason the Army Corps has offices all over the country – we’re responsible for protecting and caring for watersheds, communities and their natural and cultural resources. When we commit to really knowing a place, we care about it more and that reminds us why we chose a public-service career.”

St. Paul’s Chapel

On a bright spring afternoon she led a group of employees to St. Paul’s Chapel on Broadway. Built in 1766, President George Washington attended services there after his inauguration at nearby Federal Hall. The churchyard is also the final resting place of Lt. Col. Stephen Rochfontaine, an Army Corps of Engineers’ captain that Washington appointed as civil engineer in 1794 to fortify the New England coast.   

On Sept. 11, 2001, St. Paul’s became a hub for rescue workers after terrorists crashed two planes into the World Trade Center. Kelly explained that rescue personnel and volunteers ─ exhausted from long hours searching for victims and survivors ─ could rest, enjoy a meal and clean up (dust from the imploded buildings covered much of Lower Manhattan). They were aided by volunteers and health-care professionals working 24/7 to meet their physical and spiritual needs.

Col. Luzzatto stated: “This activity is a 360-degree win: Staff get exercise, a history lesson and reflect on 9/11. I credit Ms. Kelly for this well-thought-out initiative.”

9/11 Memorial

The next stop was the 9/11 Memorial where victims’ names are inscribed in stone around two Memorial Pools with waterfalls inside. Participants reflected on the tragic events that day, imagining what it might have been like during those difficult hours. In close proximity stands the ‘Survivor Tree’ ⎼ a single pear tree that survived the attacks. A symbol of resilience, each year its seedlings are distributed to communities around the world that have endured tragedy or disaster.

The day’s tour concluded with a walk through the Memorial Glade ⎼ a dedicated space within the National September 11 Memorial Plaza memorializing sacrifices made by first responders, rescue and recovery personnel and those lost in the attacks. Dedicated in 2019, it’s lined with six large stone monoliths (13-18 tons) inlaid with World Trade Center steel accompanied by an inscription at each end of the pathway. 

Army Corps Emergency Response

Participants ─ some new to the District ─ also learned about the Army Corps’ response immediately after the attacks: District vessels evacuating survivors to safety, emergency dredging of nearby waters to allow barges to remove debris, using engineering expertise to aid search and rescue efforts, and debris removal.

Link to Mission

In the activity’s online program listing, Kelly linked the tour to the District/Army Corps mission:

“Connecting with the history and cultural resources surrounding our office helps cultivate a culture of care and respect for historic preservation and cultural resources. My hope is that we bring that same lens to our work on civil works projects, regulatory permitting, and everywhere else our decisions may impact cultural resources. It’s what helps us listen with empathy during a public hearing, take inventory of natural and cultural resources, and make thoughtful decisions about permits and projects.”