Future of Second Mile in doubt as supporters back away

Jerry Sandusky in 2004 at Penn State's 150th anniversary. Gov. Corbett wants to know when the board of the charity he started knew of allegations.
Jerry Sandusky in 2004 at Penn State's 150th anniversary. Gov. Corbett wants to know when the board of the charity he started knew of allegations. (Centre Daily Times)
Posted: November 13, 2011

For more than three decades, former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was the face of the Second Mile.

What he began in 1977 as a small group home for troubled boys in Centre County has grown into one of the largest charities in central Pennsylvania. Today, it boasts $9 million in assets, a roster of celebrity endorsers, and a list of more than 100,000 youths served each year.

But now - with Sandusky mired in a sexual-abuse scandal that has brought down Pennsylvania State University's president and legendary football coach Joe Paterno - Sandusky may also be responsible for its demise.

In recent days, Second Mile donors, school districts, and even some of the charity's superstar board members have moved to distance themselves from the organization.

The development comes amid a growing realization that key charity officials knew of abuse allegations against its founder in the years before his arrest, yet continued to let him work with children.

"For an organization with a responsibility for children not to be able to protect them, it's hard to justify an existence," said Pat Sullivan, principal of Grace Preparatory High School in State College. Sullivan said Friday that his campus would review its long-standing relationship with the charity.

Gov. Corbett - who started the Sandusky investigation as attorney general in 2008 - urged state authorities to go further Thursday, calling for an investigation into the organization's response.

"I need to know what the charity - what the board members - knew," he said. "I think that's a determination that people should be looking into."

State prosecutors allege that Sandusky used the Second Mile for "access to hundreds of boys, many of whom were vulnerable due to their social situation" during his work with the organization.

Specifically, he stands accused of molesting at least eight boys he met through the charity between 1994 and 2009. He has denied all charges through his attorney.

Second Mile officials have so far declined interview requests, speaking only through statements posted on the door of their offices, housed in a nondescript strip mall in State College.

In one statement, Second Mile president Jack Raykovitz said that Penn State officials first informed him in 2002 of reports that Sandusky was spotted showering with a Second Mile youth in the football locker room.

Raykovitz maintained he was not told the full extent of the allegation as described to the grand jury - that a graduate assistant had seen Sandusky anally raping the boy.

He allowed Sandusky to continue his work with Second Mile until 2008, when the coach informed the charity's board of another abuse accusation made against him by a Clinton County youth.

(Sandusky resigned from Second Mile altogether in 2010, saying he hoped to focus on his family and personal issues.)

But according to prosecutors, at least one other Second Mile executive knew of even earlier accusations.

In 1998, Penn State police opened a case involving two other boys who claimed Sandusky molested them. No charges were ever filed, but Wendell Courtney - then serving as counsel to Penn State and the Second Mile - reviewed the case report, the grand jury presentment said.

Neither Courtney nor Raykovitz is accused of failing to report firsthand knowledge of abuse, but records suggest both allowed Sandusky to continue to work with the Second Mile for years in violation of its stated policies.

Documents included in the organization's tax filings state that all staff members and volunteers must undergo criminal-background checks and sign waivers affirming they have never been accused of child abuse. It remains unclear whether Sandusky submitted to such verifications.

For Sullivan, the principal at State College's Grace Prep, it is hard to separate his outrage over the charity's apparent failure to act sooner from the good work Second Mile has done for his students.

The school has sent dozens of students to the charity's camps over the years and referred some for counseling services.

"I've seen students transformed from their experience with Second Mile," he said.

From its offices in State College, King of Prussia, and Camp Hill, Second Mile offers thousands of children services each year through counseling, football and leadership camps, and the distribution of trading cards featuring Penn State players with motivational messages.

In the Philadelphia region, the organization provided more than 80,000 youngsters with services last year, according to its 2010 annual report. Schools in Philadelphia, Lower Merion, and New Hope have all sent students through its programs.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush honored the group, commending it as a "shining example" of community-oriented work.

"We've continually tried to reach out to thousands of young people and tried to do more for them," Sandusky wrote in his autobiography, Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story.

And far from serving as a remote figurehead, Sandusky took an active role in operations up until his retirement from the charity last year. According to the grand jury report, he invited boys over for sleepovers at his house, introduced them to Penn State players, and bestowed on them gifts of sneakers, athletic and electronic equipment, and cash.

Behind the scenes, he drew on his association with the Penn State football program and his own reputation to bring in six-figure donations and celebrity endorsements.

The list of its honorary board members serves as a who's who of Pennsylvania sports luminaries, including Eagles head coach Andy Reid, the team's former coach Dick Vermeil, and former Penn State player and ESPN analyst Matt Millen, who in 2009 and 2010 was also listed as one of the organization's directors.

(Reid said last week that he was unaware he was listed as an honorary board member.)

But even after he left the organization last year, Sandusky continued to act as one of the Second Mile's major boosters, serving in a role - as one board member described it - as Second Mile's unofficial "fund-raiser-in-chief."

In recent days, that disparity has prompted many who stood by the charity's work to begin to question their association with the Second Mile.

Former Notre Dame head football coach Lou Holtz and former Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. have both asked to be removed from the charity's honorary board. On Friday, the organization took down the list of honorary board members from its website.

State Sen. Jake Corman, a Republican state senator for Centre County who served on the charity's state board and has donated $1,000 in campaign funds to the group since 2007, said in an interview last week that he had never been told of any previous abuse allegations against Sandusky.

Even those who have received the most benefit from the Second Mile have taken a step back.

"Obviously, we're very concerned that we understand our relationship with the Second Mile as well as possible," said Robert O'Donnell, superintendent of the State College Area School District.

For now, the school system has stopped referring students to the organization for counseling services and has set up a meeting with charity executives this week to discuss their future.

The Youth Mentoring Partnership - a Paoli-based fitness and sports program that got its start as a Second Mile offshoot - sent out a letter last week assuring parents that the relationship had been severed long ago.

"At no time did Mr. Sandusky visit or have contact with students," it read.

And the Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District has gone so far as to stop distributing Penn State player trading cards distributed by the charity.

"Obviously, we're following the news, and we don't know the status of that organization," district spokeswoman Dena Cipriano said. "We just thought it best not to distribute them in the future."

Meanwhile, Sullivan, the Grace Prep principal, harbors reservations about severing his link to Second Mile. For now, though, he said, few other options exist.

"I feel bad for the people on the ground there who were actually doing good work," he said. "Now, they're being shunned because the people higher up didn't deal with it. But we have to protect our kids."

Contact staff writer Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218, jroebuck@phillynews.com, or @inqmontco on Twitter. Read his blog, "MontCo Memo," at www.philly.com/montcomemo

Staff writers Dan Hardy, Jeff Gammage, and John P. Martin contributed to this article.


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