Second Mile: Agency's legacy explored
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The Second Mile has repeatedly asserted that it served more than 100,000 children across the state last year, but the number who received sustained or ongoing attention is much smaller, according to its reports.
For example, the organization counts as "children served" those who received a set of trading cards featuring photos of Penn State University athletes and inspirational messages. It also counts students who watched anti-bullying videos it distributed and foster children who got free tickets to amusement parks or baseball games. A leading child welfare expert described those activities as "low-dose" services of questionable value.
Although The Second Mile holds state licenses as a foster care and private children and youth services provider, annual inspection reports by the Department of Public Welfare going back to 1998 have repeatedly said The Second Mile served no children pursuant to those licenses.
The most recent report says "the mission of the agency has changed from directly providing foster care placement services to an intensive foster family support program" with 69 events "including amusement park outings, theatrical performances, puppet shows, minor league baseball games, snow tubing and holiday parties."
Anne Bale, spokeswoman for the welfare department, said the records show that the organization stopped providing foster care sometime in the 1980s but maintained its license "to help them fundraise."
The Second Mile's fundraising lagged in the year that ended Aug. 31, 2010, the most recent for which it has filed its required Internal Revenue Service return. Contributions fell to $1.2 million, down more than $1 million from the prior year. The organization generated $960,000 in additional revenue from events including a golf outing, interest income and a small games of chance license.
The salaries of two top executives -- former president and CEO Jack Raykovitz and his wife, vice president Katherine Genovese -- totaled $233,503, consuming more than 10 percent of the organization's total revenue for the year.
The Second Mile faces an uncertain future since its founder, former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, was charged with 40 counts of sexually abusing children. Many of its donors have pulled their support and others are reconsidering. Mr. Sandusky's lawyer, Joseph Amendola, said last week that there are two new claims of child sexual abuse against his client. He said both are unfounded and will be vigorously contested if they result in more charges.
Second Mile's new CEO, David Woodle, said it might be shut down by year's end.
Richard Gelles, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice and an internationally known child welfare expert, said the organization can't possibly survive the scandal and the lawsuits it will spawn.
But its demise is "not going to leave much of a hole," he said. The services offered by The Second Mile are "pretty low-dose ... football cards," he said. "There are many other youth mentorships in the commonwealth."
He also said it is not unusual for nonprofit organizations to overstate their work in their annual reports and other fundraising materials.
"They're zealously marketing a very low-dose intervention or service," he said of The Second Mile. "Does that make them atypical? No."
Second Mile officials would not be interviewed for this story. They had a public relations company reissue an earlier statement from Mr. Woodle that "we are focused on cooperating with law enforcement and saving the programs for the children who have benefited and will continue to benefit from the programs offered by the Second Mile."
Based on a review of the organization's reports and interviews with child care professionals, The Second Mile over the years has strayed from the original mission put forth by Mr. Sandusky: giving a "second chance" to disadvantaged children.
Instead, it distributes a large volume of educational material that is not necessarily targeted to at-risk youth, holds leadership seminars for high school students that last four days to one week, and gives foster families free tickets to various attractions and events.
Agencies around the state that work with disadvantaged children reported having little or no interaction with The Second Mile.
Officials of children and youth services agencies in nine counties where The Second Mile said it was most active told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette they did not contract with the organization and had little or nothing to do with it.
In Westmoreland County, for example, The Second Mile has for several years provided tickets to Idlewild Park to foster children who were in the care of the Children's Bureau, said director Shara Saveikis. The first year, 2007, it provided 185 tickets and the annual amounts have varied since then, she said.
Allegheny County Children, Youth and Families has more than 300 contracts with service providers. The Second Mile is not one of them, said Jon McKain, an assistant deputy director of human services. The county has had no dealings with the organization, he said.
The Second Mile reported serving 23,756 children in Allegheny County last year -- more than the 14,365 children that CYF reported serving. Mr. McKain declined to comment on The Second Mile's services or statistics.
In Centre County, where The Second Mile is headquartered, the organization gave plaques and gift certificates to foster parents who reached certain milestones of service, said Carol Smith, director of children and youth services. The agency had no other involvement with The Second Mile.
Chester County, which contracts with nearly 100 service providers, had no dealings with The Second Mile, "either formally or informally," said Rebecca Brain, a spokeswoman for the county commissioners.
One county CYS director, who asked not to be identified, said the organization provided "mostly activity-based things rather than ongoing relationships" in the county. "I think their numbers are skewed; I think they're exaggerated," the director said.
Another county CYS director said "we never worked with [The Second Mile] directly" but said social workers and school counselors were highly complimentary of its training and leadership programs for children.
"What I'd really like to know is how many children had an ongoing interaction with The Second Mile staff or volunteers," said an official with an Allegheny County nonprofit organization that works with troubled children.
He added that even a simple interaction like the trading cards can have a positive effect. "Maybe one of these things has an impact on a kid in State College who idolizes the Nittany Lions," he said.
One-time events like foster family picnics or amusement park outings have limited value, Dr. Gelles said. "The people who engage in them feel like they've done something and the kid has at least one good day out of 365," he said.
According to The Second Mile's 2010 annual report, 280,125 children "learned new skills" in its "Prevention: Education and Awareness for Kids" program, or PEAK, which is "a series of videotapes and a play kit that highlight issues such as peer pressure, rejection and self-esteem." It said more than 2,075 school counselors use them.
The report said 201,825 children were served by getting the trading cards, which come in sets of 25.
One card, featuring former Penn State linebacker Sean Lee, who now plays for the Dallas Cowboys, bore this message:
"Everyone's family is unique. Some kids have two parents and some only have one. Some children have step-parents or live with foster parents, but no matter who raises you, they can love you and be your family ... Not every family is going to look like yours. All that really matters is that you have people in your life that love and care for you -- people to call family, no matter who they are."
The report said 626 children were paired with volunteer mentors; 119 participated in Friend Fitness, which paired them with adults for workout programs; 782 took part in the Challenge program, a weeklong session in which they set goals and planned community service projects; and 322 took part in the Leadership Institute, a four-day program.
Its website lists nine schools in Allegheny County that have participated in the Leadership Institute in recent years. They were invited to send up to five sophomores and one faculty member to State College, with their lodging and food expenses covered, after which they were to carry out community service projects.
Of the schools responding to Post-Gazette inquiries, none said they had participated in the past two years. One, Deer Lakes High School, last took part in 2004, principal Karen Hulse said.
North Catholic High School stopped sending students because its own in-school program "was far superior," said Pam Connolly, leadership moderator. But she also described The Second Mile program as "excellent."
Quaker Valley High School stopped sending students because the counselor who took them retired, and to save money, district spokeswoman Martha Smith said.
The Second Mile said it provided counseling to 82 children who attended 395 sessions last year; it gave guidance or referrals to 147 children.
The Second Mile has derived its income from corporate and individual donations and fundraising events, including golf outings each year. According to The Second Mile's federal filings as a tax-exempt organization, total revenue for the year ended Aug. 31, 2010, was $2.2 million, down from $3.3 million the prior year.
The organization paid $1.6 mill- ion in salaries and benefits to employees, including $132,923 to Mr. Raykovitz, who resigned after charges against Mr. Sandusky were filed, and $100,580 to Ms. Genovese, who has kept her post.
Dr. Gelles said the case generated a "teachable moment" for would-be donors: He recommended that they examine IRS Form 990s that nonprofits are required to file documenting their revenues and expenditures.
"Remember that their annual report is a publicity document," he said.
First Published November 27, 2011 12:00 am