UNIVERSITY PARK — Black Sharpie marker signatures on an oversized document Tuesday testified to unity, shared values and a commitment to recovering from a scandal.
Student, nonprofit, municipal and other groups signed the “Our Community Covenant” during a ceremony and introduction at The Arboretum at Penn State, and organizers encouraged others to do so online. Those who sign before Sept. 9, the inaugural “Our Community Day,” will be considered charter endorsers of the concept.
The document and day are an effort to rally town, gown and the greater community after the events tied to the child sex abuse charges against Jerry Sandusky. The former Penn State football assistant coach is accused of sexually abusing 10 boys and his trial is set to begin in June. He maintains his innocence.
Community leaders said they received questions last fall about how to help the community and promote healing, which led to the “Our Community” plan of promoting collective ideals. Those include “respecting, caring for, and protecting the most vulnerable in our community,” and “adhering to a code of conduct that values honesty, accountability, high ethical standards, and transparency.”
Leaders hope “Our Community Day” will become an annual event, focusing this year on child sexual abuse and on other topics of interest in future years.
Jody Althouse, of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, focused her comments on the needs of children, and said adults must take responsibility for protecting them and preventing sexual abuse.
“We celebrate that, even though the past few months have brought revelations and allegations that have rocked our community to its core, we can gather here now to renew our commitment to caring for and protecting the most vulnerable in our community: our children,” she said. “Children need us. Now is not the time to be fearful. We must all become engaged bystanders.”
Sarah Malone signed the covenant for the Interfaith Initiative Centre County, which fosters respect and understanding among area faith groups.
“It seems like many of the goals in the covenant are very congruent with our own mission,” including compassion, and protecting people from discrimination of all kinds, she said after signing.
Several representatives of student groups also signed, including Katelyn Mullen, of the University Park Undergraduate Association, and Arlene Rivera, of the Off- Campus Student Union.
Rivera said when the Sandusky case broke, students felt sadness and confusion, but also hope.
“Student organizations collaborated more than ever,” she said. “But the healing process is not done. Now and always we need to support each other.”
State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, who helped organize the initiative, signed for the borough and encouraged other municipalities to join the movement.
“The covenant is simple, and I find it very beautiful,” she said.
Perry Babb, pastor of Keystone Church and chairman of the “Our Community” movement, said the covenant is a step in the healing process, and that the annual celebration will be a unifying event.
“Usually in history, nothing happens until somebody stands up and states their values and what they can stand for,” he said, adding the annual event will become “a memorial and a celebration, looking back and looking forward.”
Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910.