- Associated Press - Friday, May 25, 2012

PHILADELPHIA — The charity for troubled youths started by Jerry Sandusky more than three decades ago — and through which the retired Penn State assistant football coach met the boys he is charged with sexually abusing — said Friday it is seeking court approval to shut down and transfer its programs to a Texas-based youth ministry that serves abused and neglected children.

The Second Mile said it has been financially crippled by the child-sex abuse scandal involving its founder and onetime public face and concluded after a six-month internal review that it had no other option but to close.

The State College-based charity began the legal process of dissolving itself Friday, submitting a plan to Centre County Court that would transfer its programs and millions of dollars in assets to Arrow Child & Family Ministries Inc., a $36 million charity that operates in Texas, Pennsylvania, Maryland, California and Honduras.

“While we are sad that the Second Mile will not continue running programs, we are heartened that the important work of helping children — and their families — reach their full potential will go on,” the charity’s interim president and chief executive, David Woodle, said in a statement.

The announcement was widely expected after Sandusky’s November arrest plunged the Second Mile into crisis. Donations dried up, volunteers fled and organizations that once referred children to the Second Mile said they no longer would.

Prosecutors allege that Sandusky found his victims through the charity he started in 1977 and committed many of his offenses inside Penn State football buildings. He has pleaded innocent to more than 50 counts of sexual abuse involving 10 alleged victims and awaits a June trial.

The Second Mile said in its petition Friday that “it became immediately apparent that the allegation against Sandusky, especially as they focused on child sexual abuse, jeopardized the very existence” of the nonprofit.

The Second Mile considered attempting to restructure itself as a smaller organization — or discontinuing its programs entirely — but settled on a third option that Woodle said was the “most attractive in that the programs will be continuing and the kids who need those services” will continue to get them.

One popular program, Summer Challenge Camp, teaches life skills, conflict resolution and goal-setting to 300 to 400 troubled children each year. Arrow plans to maintain the camp, along with mentoring programs, an institute to promote leadership skills, and support for foster families.

“We got many, many emails that said, ‘You’ve got to keep those programs,’” Woodle told The Associated Press.

From its beginnings as a home for foster children, the Second Mile grew to become one of the largest providers of youth social services in Pennsylvania. The nonprofit thrived because of Sandusky’s prominence as a defensive coach at Penn State, its close ties to university donors and leaders, and its use of Penn State’s athletic fields for its camps serving at-risk children. The late coach Joe Paterno often served as master of ceremonies at the Second Mile fundraisers.

But its longtime CEO, Jack Raykovitz, came under fire for failing to inform the charity’s board about 2001 and 2008 abuse allegations against the retired coach. Infuriated board members told the AP in December that had they been kept in the loop, they could have taken steps to better protect children a decade ago.

With the Second Mile’s name irreversibly tarnished by the Sandusky scandal, donors informed the charity that while they still supported the programs, they would no longer contribute money.

“We got very little” donor support, “and it trailed off over time,” Woodle told AP. “We’re really down to hardly any. Our recommendation now to people is if you want to support these programs, support Arrow.”

Arrow was founded in 1992 by Mark Tennant, who grew up in Washington, Pa., and was himself severely abused as a child. The charity expanded into Pennsylvania in 2004 and now serves 300 children in seven counties from its base in Altoona. If a judge approves the Second Mile’s petition, Arrow plans to open additional offices in State College and in the Harrisburg and Philadelphia areas.

“I grew up not far from Penn State and the hurt created by these shocking circumstances affected me personally,” Tennant, who earned a divinity degree from Oral Roberts University, said in a statement Friday. “I felt the need to turn my heart home and be a part of the healing process.”

Court approval is expected to take several months. The Second Mile said it would remain a legal entity even after it dissolves and continue to “cooperate fully with any investigations.”

Tennant said in an interview Friday that since Arrow is merely taking over some of the Second Mile’s programs — not merging with or acquiring the charity — his organization has been assured it will be shielded from any potential liability from civil lawsuits brought by Sandusky’s accusers.

Asked why he wanted to get involved, Tennant said he viewed it as an opportunity to repay the kindness that his Pennsylvania foster family had shown him many years ago.

“It’s about a heart decision for me. Our organization had been operating kind of quietly in Pennsylvania, but we exist in Pennsylvania solely because of the intervention that was brought to my life as a child, a victim of abuse and neglect. It was an opportunity to give back to the community that had given so much to me,” he said. “It was an opportunity to run toward the story, not away from it.”

Rubinkam reported from Allentown, Pa.

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