A Mesa family’s trip across the United States to honor heroes from the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks has ended early far from their destination.

Ann and Jeff Petersen had planned to make a cross-country trip with their three children in a Fleetwood RV, beginning in San Diego on July 2 and arriving at Ground Zero by Sept. 11, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. With a goal of stopping in 58 cities in 72 days, they had hoped to raise $911,000 to donate to service groups once they reached New York.

But now that two corporate sponsors, who initially said they would help, have decided not to fund their project, the Petersens have put the brakes on “Journey to Remember.”

The Petersens and their three kids — Bailey Amato, 19; Jack, 14; and Lillian, 11 — had spent about half of the $30,000 in donations they received before deciding last Saturday in Flagstaff to call the trip quits. They said they will give the remaining $12,000 to the service groups they had planned to donate to.

“It’s disappointing,” said Ann Petersen, a real estate agent for the Keller-Williams Realty Group. “We were receiving a lot of media exposure along the way, and in most of the places we stopped, most people realized what we were doing. We were receiving a lot of help along the way, and gaining a lot of momentum. You live and you learn. You should always have the money in hand first before you embark on a project like this, but we trusted the corporate groups and were waiting for their red tape to clear for the financial support.”

The Petersens declined to name the corporate groups that bowed out of the project.

Donations that came from individuals, including many the family encountered on their trip as well as the Keller-Williams Realty Group and the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, will be donated to Wings for Warriors, which helps wounded servicemen; the National Public Safety Foundation; and to the children of Martin Apolinaro, a green beret from the Valley who recently was killed in Afghanistan.

“We didn’t want to spend all of our money making the trip and not have any money to donate to the groups when we got to New York,” Petersen said. “It was a very tough decision to say the least. The point was, that we were a regular family traveling to support the ones who helped during 9/11 and in the wake of it. We still appreciate what they’re doing. They are not forgotten.”

The Petersens have been blogging about their trip on eastvalleytribune.com and also have their own website, journeytoremember.org, as well as a Facebook page. They were mailing postcards from the cities they were in to donors of $200 or more to report the progress of their trip as they visited 9/11 and veterans memorials.

Dale Kabrick, a family friend, drove the RV through the first eight states — California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Arizona.

They stopped in 11 cities, including San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, among others.

Jeff Petersen, a self-employed contractor who installs cell phone towers, had planned to drive the RV from Arizona to New York.

But the Petersens aren’t giving up on the project just yet.

Ann Petersen said if other corporate sponsors come forward to help, they would resume their trip and make fewer stops on the route to New York. If they don’t do the trip this year, they may try again in the next year or two.

But for now, they are returning the Fleetwood RV that Bill Kowallek of Peoria provided for their project at a discounted rate.

Ann Petersen said the idea for such a trip was conceived through somewhat of an atonement.

Earlier this year when she and her husband were in Sedona, they saw a van with a “God Bless America” slogan on it.

“My husband said, ‘Do you realize it’s been 10 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks?’ ” Petersen said. “I didn’t even realize that. I was ashamed of myself. A lot of these people are still out there doing these jobs to protect us, and it’s a small sacrifice for us to give up two-and-a-half months of our summer to make a trip like this. It’s for such a good cause.”  

 • Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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