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Charity program The Second Mile may not survive Sandusky scandal

STATE COLLEGE, PA — Guidance counselors in the State College Area schools have stopped referring students to The Second Mile’s early intervention youth programs.

Educators in the Bald Eagle Area, for now at least, don’t plan to hand out trading cards, with positive messages and the images of Penn State football players, that the organization distributes.

And whether a significant number of schools will continue to participate in the nonprofit’s leadership conferences is one of many uncertainties.

“We don’t know the status of that organization going forward,” said Dena Cipriano, spokeswoman for the Philipsburg- Osceola Area School District.

The future of The Second Mile has come into question since the Attorney General’s Office released a grand jury report Saturday, alleging that the organization’s founder,

Jerry Sandusky, sexually abused eight boys over 15 years. The report said he was introduced to the boys through The Second Mile programs.

Some educators said they felt betrayed by the news.

“I have been a public school teacher for 23 years. During that time I have referred many children to The Second Mile,” Bellefonte resident Susan Munnell wrote in a letter to the Centre Daily Times. “It makes me sick to now know that I could have been throwing them to the wolves — wolves that prey on innocent, at-risk children seeking acceptance and positive role models.”

Others cautioned against punishing an entire organization because of accusations against one person.

“We’re not going to paint everyone with the same brush,” said Penns Valley Area School District Superintendent Brian Griffith.

Through his attorney, Sandusky has maintained his innocence. Second Mile executives and employees have declined to comment outside of two written statements issued since Friday.

“The newly released details and the breadth of the allegations from the Attorney General’s Office bring shock, sadness and concern from The Second Mile organization,” read a statement released Monday.

However, the statement also noted: “To our knowledge, all the alleged incidents occurred outside of our programs and events.”

Earlier this week, a reporter who knocked on the door of the nonprofit’s president, Jack Raykovitz, was told by a woman there that Raykovitz wasn’t interest in talking with him. Employees have told reporters who have gone to the Second Mile office in State College that Second Mile can’t comment further because they don’t want to jeopardize the investigation.

Supporters of the program say they hope it continues to serve at-risk youth throughout Pennsylvania.

“I urge our community at large to stand behind and support the program; because regardless of the actions of its founder, the youth need this program!” 17-year-old Trevor Daher wrote to the Centre Daily Times. “I know I did.”

Daher graduated from State College Area High School in June and is currently living in Brazil, studying abroad as part of a Rotary Youth Exchange program.

When he was in elementary school, a counselor in the State College Area School District referred him to The Second Mile. He participated in small activities through the program at State College middle schools. He went with large groups of other students to football games.

But the weeks he spent at football camps had the biggest influence.

“I had always had a problem with authority ... and interacting with social groups my age — both of which were resolved through people taking an interest in what it was that was bothering me,” he said in an e-mail, “and trying to help me through it by showing me that there was something good out there for me.”

Statewide, schools have had different levels of interactions with The Second Mile.

The nonprofit’s website lists about 250 high schools across Pennsylvania that have participated in the Leadership Institute, a program aimed to build student leadership teams in schools.

But it’s not clear how recent that information is.

Daniel Trimmer has been superintendent at the Conewago Valley School District in Adams County for seven years, and the high school there was listed as one of the participants. But said he wasn’t aware of the Leadership Institute. Teachers there have distributed curriculum materials provided by The Second Mile, such as the Nittany Lion Tips.

The cards, distributed in the fall and winter, feature Penn State football players, as well as wrestlers, gymnasts and basketball players. The cards also offer advice on what children should do if they’re in a difficult situation, such as the divorce of parents, death of a loved one, dealing with a suicidal friend, or finding a gun in the home.

“If they came out right now — I’m not sure when they come out — it might be something that we would hold off on distributing,” said Trimmer.

The Centre Daily Times contacted leaders from more than dozen other school districts listed as partners of The Second Mile on Thursday.

Some didn’t respond immediately, some said they weren’t aware of the details of partnership, and Gettysburg Area School District Larry Redding said, “I have no information really to share with you at this time. It would be premature for us to comment about our continuing involvement. ...That’s all I’m going to say.”

In Centre County, there has been also varying levels of participation.

“We haven’t had a whole lot of involvement with Second Mile in recent years,” said Cipriano, of Philipsburg- Osceola. “In the past we have referred kids to the summer camp program, but that hasn’t occurred in the last five years.”

At Bald Eagle Area High School, Principal David Reichelderfer said students haven’t actively participated in the Leadership Institute in more than 10 years.

Penns Valley Area High School students have participated in the Leadership Institute more recently, and Principal Jacque Martin said the program’s had a positive impact on the entire school’s culture.

“As long as The Second Mile is in operations, we would continue to refer students to the program,” Martin said, adding that students and parents could choose whether to participate. “We’ve had a positive experience in the past and hope to in the future.”

In State College, spokeswoman Julie Miller said “our district’s next step will be to arrange a face-to-face meeting with officials from the Second Mile, to evaluate the current situation and any future involvement the district has with Second Mile.”

No meetings have been scheduled yet, Miller said.

Students at Grace Prep High School in Ferguson Township have participated in the Leadership Institute and they’ve organized activities for children in The Second Mile program.

“It has been disheartening to me to see this affecting The Second Mile the way it has,” Principal Patrick Sullivan said in an e-mail. “I have some good friends who work for The Second Mile and I have witnessed how lives have been transformed by the work of The Second Mile.”

Sullivan said he wouldn’t have a problem continuing to partner with the program. But he also was critical of the “men in positions of leadership in several capacities at Penn State and The Second Mile” who he didn’t feel lived up to their responsibilities.

“It was disheartening to see this happen and to think about the impact it has had and will continue to have on Penn State, The Second Mile, and most importantly on the lives of young people these entities were entrusted to protect,” he said.

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