As a way to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11, First Interstate Bank employees and AmeriCorps members spent Wednesday working on various community service projects in Central Oregon.

The anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks has been designated a National Day of Service and Remembrance, when people across the country volunteer in their local communities to honor the national tragedy 18 years ago.

First Interstate Bank closed its branches Wednesday nationwide but paid its employees to spend the afternoon giving back through community service projects.

Across Central Oregon, more than 150 bank employees worked at 15 locations, including the Bethlehem Inn, Habitat for Humanity and school gardens. FoodCorps service members, part of the AmeriCorp program, were at Three Rivers School in Sunriver to spruce up the school’s outdoor garden.

Andrea Zechmann, a branch manager in Bend, arrived at Realms Middle School in Bend with three other bank employees to work on the school’s garden. The bank employees sanded and stained a picnic table and a workbench, and they removed a pile of yard debris.

Zechmann said she appreciates her company allowing the employees to take the day off from work so they can give back to the community on the 9/11 anniversary.

“It has become a day where communities band together to help each other,” she said.

Amy Anderson, an administrator at Realms who oversees the school’s garden, said she is grateful for the help maintaining the garden. Students plant flowers and vegetables and learn from the garden, but larger upkeep projects pile up, Anderson said.

“I would never have time to do this with the kids,” she said. “It really gives the garden a boost.”

Realms is part of the Garden For Every School Program, created by the Environmental Center, a Bend-based sustainability organization. The program raises money to support gardens in schools across Central Oregon.

Denise Rowcroft, program manager at the Environmental Center, said she hopes to include more school gardens in the National Day of Service on Sept. 11 in future years.

“I envision using this as an opportunity to get more work done in school gardens across the region on this day by getting more schools involved as the years go on,” she said.

On Wednesday, the Environmental Center hosted six First Interstate Bank employees at its Learning Garden on Kansas Avenue, which is used by local students throughout the year.

The employees repaired picnic tables and workbenches and trimmed dried up sunflowers that were blocking the walkways.

Robert McCullar, an underwriter at First Interstate Bank, said it was rewarding to spend the day out of the office and help clean up the Environmental Center’s garden.

“Anytime you get to step out and do something good for the community, it’s amazing,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820,