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Empty Sky: NJ State 9/11 Memorial
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Ivan Delgado is a child psychiatrist in Iowa. Nitza Hollinger is a lawyer in Alaska. Judith Cruz is a surgery technician in upstate New York. Pedro Garcia is a policeman in Washington, D.C.
All of them grew up in Spanish Harlem.
None of them would be where they are, they said, if not for Isaias Rivera. Mr. Rivera, then in his early 20s, taught teens the Bible and clean living at Hispana Pentecostal Church.
"Those were mean streets, man," Hollinger said. "To see a good, clean teen just kind of says I don't have to go the route of everybody else in Harlem. And we did it, we made it -- so many of us."
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 -- when the 51-year-old Mr. Rivera was at work as a maintenance engineer at the CBS transmitter on the 110th floor of One World Trade Center -- former students poured into his Perth Amboy house from across the country.
"We call ourselves Isaias' children," said Cruz, now 39.
Cruz became a magnet for the wrong boys in her early teens. Her school attendance became shaky. Mr. Rivera was a relentless nag.
"He kept on me and on me. He always said that I was made for great things, that even though I was Spanish and I was a minority, in God's eyes there are no minorities," Cruz said. "He was annoying."
Now Cruz has a home, a husband, two kids and a good job.
"Isaias knew me as little Judy, always in trouble," she said, gently weeping. "Well you know what, little Judy grew up okay."
Among young Delgado's weaknesses were drugs. Then 15, he joined an informal group of teens that would hang out in Mr. Rivera's apartment after church, eat bread and coffee, talk religion and laugh a lot.
Delgado straightened out and set off on a path that would lead through the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.
He ran into Mr. Rivera at a church service a few months after graduating.
"You're a doctor now!" his mentor said, sporting that familiar, infectious smile and bursting with pride.
Mr. Rivera used to say he had a vision -- all his students under his roof at once, together with each other, with God.
It happened after his death. They packed the house, hundreds strong, their own children in tow.
"His dream came true," Cruz said. "All the young people he had ministered to were in his house. But he wasn't there."