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Nonprofit to help Somerset Co.'s Flight 93 Memorial drive

| Thursday, May 3, 2012, 8:13 p.m.

Organizers of the Flight 93 Memorial in Somerset County are turning to a private fundraising partner of the National Park Service for help.

Stung by criticism that they are substantially short of their goal, organizers say the nonprofit National Park Foundation will spearhead the drive to collect the $19 million still needed to reach the $30 million goal set two years ago.

Patrick White, vice president of Families of Flight 93, said Saturday the group's current fundraising counsel, Ketchum of Pittsburgh, has been "a significant partner" but as funding efforts evolve the National Park Foundation becomes a better fit.

Joanne Hanley, National Park Service superintendent, said the foundation was "well established and well respected. Its got a stellar president and CEO, and it understands and is committed to the National Park Service."

A working relationship is expected to be in place in 60 to 90 days, White said after a meeting of the Flight 93 Task Force and Advisory Commission, which was held in San Francisco and linked via teleconference with members attending in Somerset County.

About $11 million has been raised to date for the memorial that will honor the 40 passengers and crew who were aboard Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001. The airliner was en route to San Francisco from Newark, N.J., when hijackers commandeered the flight over Ohio. The plane crashed near Shanksville in Somerset County, short of the hijackers' target of Washington, D.C., as passengers were rushing the cockpit.

The National Park Foundation grants more than $31 million annually in cash, services or in-kind contributions to the park service and its partners, according to the foundation's Web site.

The foundation is expected to expand the scope of the fundraising appeal. Ketchum was oriented toward major donors.

An Associated Press story yesterday on a fundraising shortfall seems to have raised the ire of organizers of the Flight 93 Memorial.

"I don't know how (a negative) conclusion was reached," Hanley said. "We've raised $1.2 million in just the last three months. It's been phenomenal."

She said the fundraising was "neither behind schedule or ahead of schedule." Hanley noted progress is being made on three fronts: land acquisition for the memorial, design and fundraising.

White said the public response to the Flight 93 saga remains strong and compelling. If anyone doubts that, he said, they should read the notes that are left every day at the temporary memorial in Shanksville. The message of Flight 93 will not "diminish over time," White said.

The next task force and commission meeting will return to Somerset in July.

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