A Penn State ‘Walk’ with Charleston help

Photo provided Penn State students (left to right) Lance Chappelle, David Lorenz and James Bodenheimer worked with Charleston-based Darkness to Light to create a child abuse awareness fundraiser on the State College campus. 

Penn State students James Bodenheimer, Lance Chappelle and David Lorenz stood together this summer between campus storms, the horrific Jerry Sandusky molestation scandal that rocked State College for most of the 2011-2012 school year and fallout they expected from an awkward football season.

Iconic head coach Joe Paterno was fired and died before Sandusky, his former defensive coordinator, was convicted of sexually assaulting eight boys. Mangled childhoods and wrecked legacies tarnished Penn State.

“Our school had taken some tough hits,” said Bodenheimer, a senior from New Canaan, Conn. “We decided we had to do something.”

So they did what smart kids at a great university do; they studied.

“We researched a lot, looking for the best child abuse awareness organization we could find,” Bodenheimer said by phone from State College. “Ideally, we would have wanted one a little closer to home but we kept coming back to Darkness to Light as a great match.”

They picked the Charleston non-profit, founded in 2000 with the aim of reducing child sexual abuse through awareness and prevention training programs.

Like a flower blooming out of volcanic ash, the resulting Walk for Prevention is scheduled for Sunday at Penn State. Funds raised will go to help child abuse prevention training programs on campus and elsewhere in Pennsylvania (make donations at www.d2l.org/psuwalk).

“You see that the culture of Penn State students is ‘It’s my responsibility to make a difference,’ ” said Darkness to Light’s Doug Warner.

It goes beyond current students. Penn State alums living in the Charleston area had their own call-to-action meeting last winter at Muse restaurant on Society Street. A group of 60 combined to raise $10,000 for Darkness to Light training programs in the Lowcountry, and a company wishing to remain anonymous matched the donation.

“You can’t change what has happened or what is said about the university, but I think most Penn State alumni and students want to make sure there are other things said about them in addressing this issue,” said Paul Vannatta, a 39-year-old Penn State graduate and Darkness to Light volunteer who manages a Merrill Lynch office in Charleston. “We will have an ongoing effort to bring light to this issue of child abuse, and it’s really a societal issue.”

We know, all too well.

“Locally we had issues with schools here, too,” Vanatta said, referring to Skip ReVille, a former coach, teacher and Bible study leader convicted in June of molesting 23 boys in the Lowcountry. “I think locally we understand this is not just a Penn State problem but a problem all over.”

It would be nice if The Citadel, Pinewood Prep, Moultrie Middle School and some of the other places ReVille worked or coached came together for child abuse prevention fundraisers in this heartwarming Penn State spirit.

Vannatta graduated from Penn State in 1995. He enjoyed a 1994 season in which the Nittany Lions went undefeated and finished No. 2 nationally. Kerry Collins, Ki-Jana Carter, Bobby Engram and Kyle Brady led the way. Vannatta is proud of the “consistent messaging” on and off the field at Penn State this season, including helmet stickers to support victims of child abuse.

The Walk for Prevention will “not be the biggest thing ever,” Bodenheimer said.

But it’s already one of the best stories of the 2012 college football season, impactful and enduring well beyond results on a scoreboard.

“We’ve learned one thing here and that’s that you don’t run from anything,” Bodenheimer said. “A terrible thing happened and we’re trying to do something for the people who are hurt by this and, at the same time, show people what we’re about. We’re not sitting here just wishing all this would go away; we’re going to try to do something to help.”

Reach Gene Sapakoff at 937-5593 or on Twitter @sapakoff