STATE COLLEGE — Wednesday morning shone sunny and still over Fraser Street before the days bustle of passers-by.
A half-dozen already had stopped by a subtle wooden table against a brick wall on the west side of the street, supported by garden boxes of grass and asking, What is one question you are afraid to ask as we move forward?
New Leaf Initiative first placed the Lend Your Voice table on Tuesday. The nonprofit incubator for local project ideas plans to ask daily questions to inspire dialogue and expression, allowing people to write their answers.
The table invitation is one of a few bottom-up efforts seeking the voice of people on the street residents, students, alumni, business owners and others.
Organizers want to offer an outlet for stories not filtered through public relations representatives and attorneys, following recent
events including Jerry Sanduskys conviction on child sex abuse charges, the release of the Louis Freeh report condemning Penn State administrators for allegedly covering up Sanduskys actions, and the NCAAs unprecedented sanctions against the university.
What weve found (is) any time youre dealing with these complex and systemic issues, its not about the solutions you put forward, its about asking really powerful questions, said New Leaf Executive Director Spud Marshall. On one hand, we want to hear peoples responses. On the other, we want to hear people asking more powerful questions.
New Leaf already is hearing both. Tuesdays prompt asked people to complete the phrase We are ... and at least two-dozen people offered responses such as grateful, misguided and picking up the pieces.
Marshall hopes the table is a starting point. His staff also is collecting comments to submit to GOOD, an online collaboration that produces a magazine, videos and events. New Leaf will submit to the GOOD Maker, a tool on which groups can offer a community challenge, and community members can submit ideas and vote on the best solution, which receives an award.
Marshall said local ideas could include how to address the football culture, or leadership issues.
We can pull from that and say, if we move forward with all of them together, we might actually make some institutional change here, he said.
Another idea for this fall is to link a projector to a program allowing students to text responses to questions about sexual abuse, and create a community event on campus.
Its so easy to point fingers in the story of Penn State right now, Marshall said. At the end of the day, all of us resonate with some aspect of it. So were trying to make sure people have that outlet to share that.
Affinity Connection, of State College, is providing another outlet, by way of an online survey that seeks input from local residents, Penn State alumni, students, parents and faculty/ staff, visitors, fans and local business owners.
The company provides survey, marketing and fundraising work for nonprofit groups and CEO Greg Woodman said his staff wanted to use its survey technology to reach out to local stakeholders.
Like me, Woodman said. Im a local resident, alum and local business owner.
Woodman said no one has hired Affinity to do the work, and his team will complete a report of the survey responses after about a month.
The survey asks for respondents affiliation to the university and asks open-ended questions about what makes the region unique and if their feelings toward Penn State have changed in the past year.
Its kind of a bottom-up listening, contrasting whats been fed to us by PR firms, lawyers and administrators, Woodman said, adding the survey is letting people get their point of view at the table before decisions are made for them.
Affinity posted the survey Monday and, by Wednesday, it had received thousands of clicks and more than 200 responses. Woodman said some may have been intimidated by the open-ended questions, but that respondents dont have to answer all 14.
Results so far have come primarily from alumni (50 percent) and local residents (34 percent). On the question of whether the respondents view of Penn State has changed in the last year, Woodman said many had a positive outlook, but 90 percent have become more negative about university leadership.
The feelings were strong for many, he said. They believe the PSU community at large was let down because of their leadership failure.
In one response that criticizes Penn States trustees and president, the respondent said, Despite the media trying to make us look like the most evil people on the planet, we have stayed mostly positive, and have worked together to better ourselves and our communities.
Woodman plans to present the final results to anyone who wants them, including leaders who will help the community heal.
We just want to provide that voice and listen, he said. The community at large needs a vehicle to speak, and we wanted to provide that. Hopefully, itll be part of the solution.
The Affinity survey is at www.affinityconnection.com/PSU-survey.
Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter