Betsey Howell has a proposal for any local residents feeling down from the double emotional hit of the Jerry Sandusky trial and the recent Freeh report: Keep perspective.
Howell, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Visitors and Convention Bureau, called Sandusky’s crimes against young boys and Penn State’s failure to stop his abuse a “huge blow” and “tragic.” Nobody can deny the damage and sorrow from the past months, she said.
But, she said, people can start to rebound by remembering the community’s many strengths and continuing its tradition of service.
“Yes, this is a horrible thing,” Howell said. “Our thoughts and prayers were with the victims and their families, but it did not define this area.”
That, in part, is what she and her staff are trying to convey to outsiders perhaps presented with a skewed version of State College and the surrounding county from news reports and pundits.
She said her staff “took a little heat” last fall when they were making sales calls in the weeks after Sandusky’s arrest and former football coach Joe Paterno’s and former university President Graham Spanier’s terminations.
“One of the things we have discussed now was the fact that people, especially those outside our area, need to remember what happened does not define our community by any stretch of the imagination,” Howell said.
As an example, she pointed to Centre County Youth Service Bureau, the YMCA of Centre County and other local nonprofits teaming together to introduce the “Stewards of Children” prevention training program — an effort to teach adults how to recognize and report child abuse.
“If you know this community, the whole Centre County community, it’s a strong community,” Howell said. “People do work together, and they do it for the betterment of everybody. I truly believe that.”
Andrea Boyles, CEO of the Youth Service Bureau, said local residents can show their true colors by taking the training and seizing the opportunity to make the county “truly become the safest place in the world to raise a child.”
“Anybody who is disgusted by (the Freeh) report, this is the action they can take,” she said.
Howell also said people should remember that Penn State was battered by the Freeh report for its leaders covering up for Sandusky in order to avoid bad publicity, not for the quality of its faculty and students.
“This was very, very bad,” Howell said. “But there’s so much good, and I think there will continue to be good. But I would hate to see the students penalized for something they had nothing to do with.”
So would Thomas Larrabee, a doctoral chemistry student. He said he’s “thoroughly disgusted” by Sandusky and the Freeh report, and he approves of Paterno and the other disgraced leaders losing their jobs and their reputations.
But, he said, the entire school shouldn’t be punished in the eyes of the world.
“I think that’s extremely unfair for the large number of people who work hard at the university,” he said.
Anne Ard, director of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center, said she thinks the healing process already has begun. Her center, Penn State and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape have been working together to carry out some of the Freeh report’s interim recommendations for reform.
And, she said, the university board of trustees sounds sincere about following the rest of the report’s directives to make Penn State a safer and more open school.
“That kind of deep acknowledgment of what’s broken and a commitment to fix it is exactly what we needed to see,” Ard said. “I’m very encouraged by that.”
Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620. Follow him on Twitter @CRosenblumNews