When Delaney Colaio was just 3 years old, her father died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Soon after, her mother moved to the suburbs of New York City, where Colaio, now 19, was raised.
Growing up outside of Manhattan, Colaio was one of three kids in her class who had lost a parent on that day. “I guess they were my sense of community on that topic, but at the same time, we never really wanted to talk about it,” the college student, who recently completed her freshman year, says about finding people to relate to. “It was a weird situation like we knew we had something in common but like we didn’t want to talk about it.” She adds, “It’s not really a group you want to be a part of in the first place, so it’s hard.”
But after being interviewed for a film on a “really tough topic and something that I had went through in my life that was really hard for me,” Colaio came out of the experience feeling inspired “to give all of that pain a purpose for the first time and for something that’s greater than myself.” So she decided to make her own documentary (while still a senior in high school, mind you), about the 3,051 children who lost a parent on 9/11.
A post shared by Delaney Colaio (@delaneycolaio) on Jun 21, 2015 at 8:25pm PDT
First, she contacted Tuesday’s Children, the de facto nonprofit for families affected by the terrorist attacks, to be connected with the thousands of people — greatly ranging in ages from those whose mothers were still pregnant with them on the day of the attack (who’d be teenagers today) to some who are now in their 50s — to be interviewed for the film.
Throughout the process of finding people willing to be interviewed for the film, she unintentionally created the community she had been aching to connect with for years. “Like through this community I’ve created a family and a support system that I don’t know how I grew up without honestly,” she says. “If I did have that community growing up, then I would have never built this one.”
While being a card-carrying member of the Dead Parents Club isn’t something most people like to boast of, bringing the members of the 9/11 group together is actually what Colaio is most proud of having accomplished in her life so far. But she is not stopping with the current 3,051-person roster.
Colaio hopes to use her pain to inspire hope and healing in survivors from all over the world. Recently, she met Naomi Wadler, the 11-year-old who spoke at the March for Our Lives rally in March in Washington, D.C., and traveled to Parkland, Fla. to talk with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students. She’ll also be spending her summer meeting and speaking with members of other survivor communities from Newtown, Barcelona, Manchester, Las Vegas, and elsewhere.
And while talking about trauma and grief is always going to be hard for Colaio, she says, “I think that there is a level of comfort talking to people who understand.” Adding, “I realize that even though all of the things that we went through are not the same, and our survival after what we went through isn’t the same, the pain of losing a loved one and the pain of trauma basically is.”
Name: Delaney Anne Colaio
Favorite app: Instagram. I know that’s so generic, but it really is the one I use the most.
What she does: I’m a documentary filmmaker.
Three words she’d use to define Gen Z: Motivated. Prepared. The future.
here’s proof that you don’t need to be “old enough” to change the world. this 11 year old … is just too inspiring to put into words. #NaomiWadler you have my heart and support. If you haven’t seen her @marchforourlives speech- go watch it now. To everyone at the DoSomething Awards I am so inspired and in awe at all that you do.❤️ proud to be a part of this generation of leaders.
A post shared by Delaney Colaio (@delaneycolaio) on Apr 30, 2018 at 8:08pm PDT
What she wishes older people understood about Gen Z: That we’re capable right now and not that you should listen to us but that you can listen to us. Because even though we’re young, we do have a lot of insight. Even though we’re young, we do have a lot to offer right now and that we’re not really wanting to wait until we get older to do stuff.
How she thinks Gen Z will change the world: Oh my God — in so many ways. I mean it’s a whole new generation of people coming forward into the world and bringing whatever they have to that. So for me it’s the creative arts, but for other people it can be technology or business or whatever it may be, and it’s just a whole new generation. So obviously we’re going to change the world because we’re already here.
today @jesmarie423 and I traveled to Parkland, FL with @tuesdayschldrn to go speak at the MSD Day of Hope and Healing by Bobby’s place. It was an incredible honor to meet some of the Stoneman Douglas students, teachers and parents. nobody should have to go through what they have gone through. but they are some of the strongest humans I have ever met. the journey of recovery is one that is a lifetime, but to know you’re not alone in it is what has gotten me through. the survival of tragedy and how you grieve after a traumatic event like this is different for everyone- but the pain of losing a loved one is the same. so sharing your heart with people who understand and who show true empathy rather than sympathy is crucial. I am grateful to have spent the day with these beautiful people. I have learned so much from them. Today was a huge reminder that I have to continue do everything I can to spread love and compassion and empathy. god knows we can use some of that with everything that has been going on. for anyone who is struggling with grief or trauma, you are not alone. I love you. thank you to the stoneman douglas community for allowing jes and I to learn from you today. ❤️ #msdstrong
A post shared by Delaney Colaio (@delaneycolaio) on May 20, 2018 at 7:21pm PDT
What she sees herself doing in 10 years: I don’t really know. I think that I’m the type of person that kind of takes it day by day and whatever kind of gets thrown at me, I try to take on, so I don’t know. I honestly don’t know where I’m going to be; I just hope that I’m feeling fulfilled in whatever I do. So it could be anything, I don’t know.
And in 20 years: I think that right now we’re really living in a fear-based society. And I hope that in the next decade that decreases and we’re living from a more purpose- and love-driven space than fear.