Alumni show their pride for Penn State by raising donations for victims of abuse

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On Tuesday, Jerry Needel was just another frustrated alumnus of Penn State University.

Charges that former football team defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually abused at least eight boys across 15 years and accusations that administrators and former head coach Joe Paterno covered up what they knew or simply didn't do enough left Mr. Needel angry and grieving and wondering how to help.

He talked with his wife, Jamie, at their home and with other Penn State alums. Their solution: proudtobeapennstater.com, a website unaffiliated with the university designed to raise $500,000 for the abuse victims -- roughly $1 for each of Penn State's 557,000 alumni.

The site went live Thursday morning. By late Friday evening, pledges had passed $200,000.

The success came fast enough that Mr. Needel said he added a timeline to his goal.

"I'd like to see if we can raise the money by the end of the Penn State-Nebraska game," he said.

The Penn State football blog blackshoediaries.com blogged about the site shortly after it went up. ABC news asked for an interview, as did MSNBC.

"We've gotten tons of support from Nebraska folks, from Pitt, from all over, just wanting to help us out," Mr. Needel said. "It's been incredible."

Deciding to get involved in the first place was easy, he said.

"There was a leadership void," Mr. Needel said. "I would have hoped that the university would have done this."

He didn't want to feel like he did. Sitting at home in Hoboken, N.J., his thoughts kept turning to State College, Pa.

Mr. Needel, 35, graduated from Penn State in 1998 with a degree in communications and could not escape thinking about the scandal. He was not particularly active as an alumnus -- he renewed his alumni association membership, he read the magazines he got in the mail -- though that was about to change.

"I didn't want to talk about it anymore," he said. "We needed to do something. We needed to get our pride back."

In his work life, he is chief operating officer for NM Incite, a partnership of the media company Nielsen and management-consulting firm McKinsey & Co. The company focuses on analyzing social media in attempts to give clients competitive business advantages.

"I've seen the power social media can have," he said.

The university's response to the growing scandal ran counter to his counsel to clients engulfed in crises.

He thought about partnering with a charity.

"Late on a Tuesday night I wondered what's a good charity, so I asked Google," he said.

He found RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Impressed with the nonprofit's national scope and celebrity endorsements, he called.

"I went in there a random Penn State alumni with no connections," Mr. Needel said.

He met with people from RAINN for the first time at noon Wednesday.

The nonprofit posted the affiliation on its own site, linked to Mr. Needel's site and consented to use of its name and to allow the alums to collect donations through RAINN.

The donation button at proudtobeapennstater.com went live Wednesday night and the rest of the simple-looking site about 4 a.m. Thursday, Mr. Needel said. The alums behind it sent out links to the site through Facebook and Twitter between 8 and 9 a.m.

Since then, Mr. Needel and his friends have raised an average of more than $4,000 an hour.

"Our hearts go out to the victims," they say on the website, "and now our actions will as well."


Jacob Quinn Sanders: jsanders@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1586.


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