The students, who came from as far away as suburban Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, exchanged silly handshakes, each time finding a new partner. They shared with one another how they’d spend $640 million if they had won last week’s Mega Millions jackpot and their dream vacation spot.
The get-to-know-you session was the start of The Second Mile’s four-day Leadership Institute, a program for high school-age students. The turnout, which included students from high schools in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Lebanon and York, shows the embattled charity is still functioning despite the scandal involving its founder, Jerry Sandusky.
Now, about six months after the scandal unfolded, The Second Mile hasn’t cut any programs despite a reduced staff, a loss of donor support and questions surrounding its former leaders and what they knew or didn’t know about Sandusky, awaiting trial on 52 criminal counts for alleged sexual abuse of children, allegations he denies.
At the same time, fundraising is at a standstill, the well-known annual golf tournament won’t happen this year and plans for the annual summer camp are still unsettled.
Whether all that means The Second Mile will continue, be downsized and farmed out to other charities or shut down altogether still remains to be seen. Charity officials are working on a plan that will address its future and questions that surround the charity in the context of the Sandusky case.
The plan, started in November, is expected to be in the works for a few more months, it seems, said Second Mile board vice chairman Dave Woodle.
“Our primary goal is to keep serving the kids we serve with our programs. We are looking for the best way to make that happen,” he said.
It’s for “the kids that we have supported for as long as we have,” he said, adding: “we have got an outpouring of people saying (we) ‘have to keep these programs going, my child needs to keep that.’”
Since Sandusky was charged, the attendance of the children who participate in the programs has been down slightly, Woodle said.
While programs have provided the most consistency to the charity since November, the most noticeable change has been the makeup of the leadership and staffing.
Some staff were phased out at the end of 2011. That’s evident inside the headquarters in State College, where some rooms sit empty and the main reception area is no longer staffed.
Woodle said the number of employees is based on what’s needed to run the programs.
The charity is absent an executive administrator worked at the charity for 28 years, for input as recently as the past two weeks.
“I still work with him on things because he has a lot of history in that,” Woodle said.
The attorney general’s office has alleged Sandusky met the boys he is accused of molesting through The Second Mile.
Sandusky has vehemently denied the abuse and is awaiting trial in June.
Sandusky’s idea for The Second Mile came from his upbringing, as he was raised in a recreation center in Washington, Pa., that his parents ran.
“It always bothered me that some children had more opportunities than others, that they weren’t blessed with the same guidance, structure and discipline in their lives,” Sandusky said in 1999 when he announced his retirement as the defensive coordinator for the Nittany Lions.
Sandusky didn’t attend the programs but rather made appearances at special events like picnics and banquets.
At the Leadership Institute this week at the Ramada Conference Center, students will participate in exercises that stress team-building, skill-building and community service. They’ll develop a project they’ll see through with a faculty adviser from their school.
For example, two years ago at the Leadership Institute, a central Pennsylvania high school group made a plan to clean up a community park. When they returned to the institute the next year, they came up with a plan to renovate their school’s bathrooms and even raised money to pay for the work and fixtures.
“There are a lot of life lessons given to the kids,” Woodle said Sunday, stopping by as the conference got started.
Woodle asked that Leadership Institute participants not be interviewed as a way to protect their privacy.
About 160 children participated two weekends ago in the charity’s Friend program, in which youngsters meet with college students in the hope of fostering role-model relationships. The program is at six sites statewide, with one in State College that involves Penn State students.
The program has a few more activities left before the end of Penn State’s academic year. In State College, the program will take a hiatus over the summer.
Another program, Friend Fitness, continues twice a week. It’s open to teens who are paired with adults to be workout partners and consultants for achieving goals. The purpose is for the teens to feel better about themselves, do well in school and make positive changes in their lives.
Woodle said parents continue to refer their children into the programs. Those children often refer their siblings, he said, and guidance counselors are another source of referrals, too.
Donations still provide the funding to run The Second Mile’s programs, cover the salaries of the staff and pay for the use of facilities and other logistical needs.
But because of the layoffs, there isn’t anyone whose job it is to raise money these days. Links on the charity’s website to donate don’t work and Woodle said fundraising is on hold right now.
“To really actively go ask people to support us, I think we owe them a plan before we do that,” Woodle said.
The charity won’t see the more than $100,000 it got annually from its golf tournament. Woodle said last week the tournament for 2012 has been canceled.
One question mark surrounding the programming is the status of The Second Mile’s annual summer camp. Woodle isn’t sure yet if there will be one.
The Centre County Youth Service Bureau will offer its own summer camp, the first time it’s offered that program. The two-week program will serve as many as 80 children from Centre, Clinton, Mifflin and Juniata counties.
Youth Service Bureau Executive Director Andrea Boyles said she thinks there’s enough need to sustain two summer camps even if The Second Mile holds one.
Woodle said anything the organization “can do to help is great.”
Previously, the Youth Service Bureau had considered taking over some of The Second Mile’s programs, but Boyles said it wasn’t in the organization’s best interests at the time.
While Second Mile officials are figuring out whether to hand off programs to other agencies like the Youth Service Bureau, another behind-the- scenes Second Mile evaluation continues, too.
The Second Mile hired Lynne Abraham, a former Philadelphia prosecutor, to conduct a third-party review of the charity’s policies and procedures in light of the Sandusky allegations. The review began in November and was expected to be finished by the end of 2011, but it is still ongoing, Woodle said.
An expert in nonprofit governance who analyzed the charity’s board and wrote about several “departures from best practice,” South Dakota attorney Michael Wyland said the scope of the review was too large for a year-end deadline.
“I’m glad that they’re taking a deliberate approach,” Wyland said of the review. “As far as the mechanics of it, I would hope that the first thing they did was an internal assessment of what paper trail, what records, in terms of policy and procedures” led to the allegations.
Whether The Second Mile is the subject of any state or federal investigations remains unknown.
The charity has received subpoenas, but Woodle said that’s not always indicative of an investigation.
Woodle said the charity’s future plan could address how openly he could talk about investigations, and he declined to talk about any individual investigation.
“We cooperate with all investigations,” he said. “We just give the data we’re asked for.”
Woodle said the future plan also will likely address questions of whether the alleged victims will be compensated as well as a question of files that were missing from The Second Mile. He declined to address those issues.
Information from: Centre Daily Times, http://www.centredaily.com