Sixteen-year-old Ashley Beamer choked up as it hit her — the weeklong summer camp with The Second Mile she looks forward to each year was coming to an end.
During an awards ceremony for the culmination of the camp on Friday at a park near the University Park Airport, the rising junior from Tunkhannock got a certificate for being able to identify a song the fastest. But on a more serious note, Beamer’s demeanor throughout the five-day summer camp earned her praise from her fellow campers.
“This is an amazing young lady whose strength and attitude have been so inspiring to us,” said Kelly Lormand, one of the six counselors for the Second Mile Intensive Learning Experience, or SMILE camp for short.
Beamer was among the 34 teenagers referred to the SMILE camp, which is a leadership skill-building experience for veteran Second Mile participants that is one of the summer challenge camps operated by the charity.
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A second SMILE camp starts next week for another group of teenage boys and girls from across the state. And a weeklong camp for boys at Juniata College in Huntingdon starts this week.
Despite its impending closure, this summer has been business as usual for The Second Mile, the State College charity founded and built up by Jerry Sandusky only to become characterized by its association with the child sex abuse scandal. The agency was the means by which the former Penn State assistant coach met young boys he was convicted of abusing, victims testified during Sandusky’s trial last month.
Second Mile board members filed a motion in Centre County Orphans’ Court to transfer millions of dollars in assets and programs for children to Arrow Family and Child Ministries Inc., which is based in Texas. The petition says that once the court gives its approval, The Second Mile would cease to exist.
‘A continuous process’
Attorneys representing victims in the Sandusky case and another who has filed a civil suit in Philadelphia have asked the court to block the transfer. Second Mile’s request is on hold as the state’s Supreme Court has yet to assign an out-of-county judge to the case because the county’s four judges have recused themselves.
Leaders say as long as The Second Mile has the staff and money to run its programs to benefit children who need extra help and support, the programs will go on until the planned closing is approved by a judge.
“We don’t want to stop the programs and then try to restart them after a transfer because it’s a continuous process,” said Dave Woodle, who is running The Second Mile as its interim CEO. “So I think the best thing for us to do is just keep these programs going.
“It’s also driven because parents and the kids definitely want to participate. We had a lot of requests to participate and we want to meet their — hopefully, and we are meeting — their
needs.” The Second Mile has 330 students signed up for its summer camps in 2012, down from about 400 last year. But Woodle and staffer Marc McCann said the scandal isn’t to blame for the lower number — rather, it’s the reality of handling a smaller number with fewer staff and less money to pay for the programs.
‘You were on an island’
The atmosphere at Friday’s awards ceremony was jovial, as the teens cheered for each other and laughed at inside jokes about things that happened during the camp. The backstory that’s overshadowed The Second Mile wasn’t mentioned specifically during Friday’s awards ceremony.
But the undercurrents were there.
“I know it’s been a tough year for everyone,” said Second Mile camp director Jeremy Fegert, thanking the participants. “All of you felt like you were on an island without a lot of support to go through this.”
There was some question as to whether The Second Mile would hold its camps until April, when the charity officials went ahead with the programs. Campers didn’t find out until they got postcards in the mail.
It was obvious they valued the camp experience.
They gave Woodle a loud round of applause after Fegert introduced him as “Mr. Dave.” Campers wrote letters of appreciation to Woodle, staff and board members for making the camp happen in the face of the public scrutiny.
One of the campers’ letters says: “Everything the news and people said about this camp and staff members was very hurtful and hard to understand what people would think of me if I told them I am a part of the camp. Luckily, the people stepping up and standing up for our camp that were not ever associated with it gave me the courage to make sure people knew what the 2 Mile is really about.”
The father of one of the campers stopped Fegert midsentence in his wrap-up remarks, saying he wanted to thank the staff “for such a wonderful job,” which touched off another round of hearty applause.
The mother of Ashley Beamer, the teen from Tunkhannock, was equally appreciative for the program.
“This program has helped her grow as an individual,” said Jennifer Beamer. “It builds her confidence.”
The daughter said she has learned from her experience and has become a better person.
“Whenever there’s a situation and I have to use my abilities to solve a problem, I look at what I did at camp,” Ashley Beamer said. “I say, ‘What would I do at camp?’ ”
‘I think that’s progress’
The camps took place around the central part of the state and included outdoors activities such as building a zip-line course, canoeing and hiking. It was also up to the campers to plan their own meals and buy the food, sticking to a budget they drew up.
For John Heisey, a camp counselor and a teacher in suburban Philadelphia, the campers get to hone their abilities in conflict resolution and develop their social skills while building self-confidence.
Heisey and another counselor were in charge of 11 of the campers. He said he saw them make progress together while spending a day at Bald Eagle State Park.
“Eleven of them went down, 11 of them were engaged and 11 of them came back,” he said. “I think that’s progress.”
Because of rain Friday morning, the wrap-up awards ceremony took place under the pavilion at the new park off Bernel Road in Patton Township instead of The Second Mile’s property across the road.
That property is for sale, and Woodle said the sides have agreed to a sale price. A blue house on the property will be torn down.
The land was to be the charity’s new headquarters until the Sandusky scandal caused the state to pull back a $3 million grant and led donor support to dry up.
The Second Mile’s headquarters on South Atherton Street in State College is for sale, too, and Woodle said the organization has had showings to potential buyers.
The decision to close Second Mile came after a review by Lynne Abraham, a former Philadelphia prosecutor.
Woodle has said the findings won’t be released to the public and that any questions about what former CEO Jack Raykovitz knew about allegations were addressed by statements the charity issued on its website last year.
‘The horrific crimes’
The Freeh report that was released July 12 made some mention of The Second Mile, saying that former Penn State athletics director Tim Curley told Raykovitz of a report in 2001 that Sandusky had been seen in a shower with a young boy.
According to Freeh’s findings, Curley told Raykovitz that Penn State officials determined nothing inappropriate happened, and then Raykovitz went to two Second Mile board members with the information and determined nothing happened as well.
Woodle said The Second Mile will exist as a legal entity as long as necessary to handle insurance or litigation issues.
Donors have been asked to give to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape instead of the charity, and Woodle couldn’t address whether The Second Mile could be liable for damages.
“Our thoughts, prayers and concerns are always with the victims of the horrific crimes committed by Jerry Sandusky,” Woodle said. “We are going to work to go through that process to resolve any claims.”
Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT