Penn State

Penn State targets its share of forfeited Big Ten Conference bowl revenue to support local child abuse initiatives

The bell and Old Main on the Penn State campus on Saturday, June 23, 2012.
The bell and Old Main on the Penn State campus on Saturday, June 23, 2012. CDT file

Two local causes aimed at protecting children from abuse will share more than $188,000 that Penn State is donating from its football bowl revenues, the university announced Tuesday.

The new children’s advocacy center, to be in Bellefonte, and the Stewards of Children awareness training initiative each will receive $94,172. The money will be channeled through the Centre County United Way.

Penn State would have received $2.26 million in bowl revenue-sharing from this past season, but the university had to forfeit the money as part of the NCAA and Big Ten sanctions.

Instead, each of the 12 universities in the conference — including Penn State — split Penn State’s revenues and each will donate those shares to an organization of its choice.

Penn State officials chose the United Way to receive the funds.

Local leaders behind the initiatives were grateful for the gift. The university’s announcement of the donation came exactly a year after the sanctions — including a $60 million fine, scholarship reductions and a bowl ban — were handed down.

Tammy Gentzel, the local United Way director, said the donation was a “transformational gift.”

Steve Brown, the CEO of Mount Nittany Health, which will run the children’s advocacy center, thanked Penn State for the gift.

“We are tremendously grateful to President (Rodney) Erickson and Penn State University for this generous gift to support the children’s advocacy center and its mission to protect the most vulnerable members of our community — our children,” Brown said. “Gifts such as these to the children’s advocacy center will help us to open the center this fall and position us to seek accreditation through the National Children’s Alliance, as well as to provide ongoing training, advocacy and operational support for children who have been or have witnessed abuse or neglect.”

The children’s advocacy center will be housed in an office building off state Route 550 just outside Bellefonte, near Mount Nittany’s pediatric office. The purpose of the center is to provide a place where child victims can be interviewed by a trained specialist instead of being taken to multiple offices for multiple interviews with police, prosecutors and caseworkers.

The idea behind the center started with county Judge Bradley P. Lunsford and District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, who worked to take the community’s concerns about how children were vulnerable to Jerry Sandusky and use the attention on the issue to garner support. The health system stepped in when the center’s organizers were looking for physical space.

“My goal has always been to make our children’s advocacy center the gold standard, and this contribution will go a long way in assisting us to do just that,” Lunsford said.

Health system spokeswoman Nichole Monica said the search for the center’s executive director continues.

Stewards of Children, a national program, is used to teach adults how to prevent, recognize and report child sexual abuse. The United Way, Centre County Women’s Resource Center, the local YMCA and the Youth Service Bureau have partnered to offer the program here with the goal of training 5,000 adults, or 5 percent of the county’s adult population.

Penn State has pledged to be a leader in child abuse awareness and prevention.

The university hosted a conference in October that had clinical and academic experts speak on the topic. Elizabeth Smart and Olympic boxer Sugar Ray Leonard were the keynote speakers.

A second conference is being planned for the fall, and the topic will be related to children’s advocacy centers. The focus will be on improving evidence collection in child abuse cases, and prosecutors, caseworkers and law enforcement officials from each of the state’s 67 counties are invited.

“As a community, we must continue to look deeper into the issue of child maltreatment and abuse,” Erickson said. “We must commit to continuing to raise awareness, as well as fight these insidious crimes in whatever way possible.”