by Stuart Goldschen
The search for Jacob Wetterling is very much alive these days, thanks largely to the generous monetary donations of groups and individuals throughout the United States.
Funds are dwindling, however, as public attention begins to wane nearly six months after Jacob’s abduction, and a call is out for additional support to sustain the search.
The Jacob Wetterling Foundation is spearheading the drive for money and hopes to have $900,000 by the end of the year, according to Ron Marotte, the foundation’s chief executive officer.
Organized in early January by Jerry and Patty Wetterling and advisors, the foundation is a clearing house for funds to support the national search for Jacob and other missing children.
Monies from the foundation are used to sustain and expand efforts at the Friends of Jacob office in St. Joseph, the operational headquarters of volunteers for Jacob and missing children in general where Marotte works full time as director.
Marotte said office volunteers have sent out more than 100 million fliers about Jacob and other missing children across the nation and have reached every sheriff’s office and police station in the country.
Foundation funds make that possible, Marotte said, and support other activities that promote search efforts and educational programs on child abduction.
Marotte said donated monies are used for public service announcements on safety issues for kids and adults, seminars and workshops on child safety, media coordination and operations expenses.
He said an “unprecedented” public service announcement is now being developed under license for Walt Disney’s World on Ice show, using Disney characters from Peter Pan. In the announcement, Wendy, Captain Hook and Peter Pan talk about safety issues for kids and adults.
Foundation monies have also supported the mailing of informational packets on Jacob’s abduction to noted public figures and entertainment celebrities. Written responses have recently been received at the Friends office from associates of Meryl Streep, Dick Clark and Pam Dawber. Charlton Heston’s secretary called on March 29 to wish the volunteers well.
Recently, some foundation monies have been given to the Wetterling family to help defer their costs directly related to the search for Jacob or general promotion of child-safety education, Marotte said. Those costs include telephone contact with crime investigators, transportation to invitational public forums and other expenses directly related to Jacob’s or other children’s abductions.
“The foundation has recognized the severe financial stress put on the Wetterling family to pursue the rescue effort for Jacob, and has seen fit to reimburse them for some of their expenses over and above normal living expenses,” Marotte said. “It only makes sense now that we help them cover some of those costs.”
Jerry and Patty Wetterling are members of the foundation’s board of directors, but they have no direct access to or control over the funds, he said.
Marotte said he could not specify the current amount of funds in the foundation’s coffers because there is “some discrepancy” on just what it is. He said he would “talk more directly about specific amounts” when a thorough audit is made soon and legal liability issues of taxation are determined.
“People have a right to know, but I don’t want to give out misinformation until I have accurate figures,” he said. “News will be released in the near future.”
Marotte said the foundation is now in the process of finalizing legal procedures to obtain status as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. That will allow it to solicit funds from other foundations, corporations and individuals.
The legal process is closely supervised by the state attorney general’s office and the internal Revenue Service, Marotte said.
Marotte himself oversees all of the foundation’s activities and directs the operation of the Friends office. He is the only full-time paid employee in the office.
Owner of a St. Cloud marketing agency and a graduate of St. Cloud State University, Marotte, 36, is a native of Little Falls and a long-time friend of the Wetterling family. He has put his business on hold to work for Jacob.