Members of Penn State’s alumni community — the largest in the nation — decided to spearhead an effort to support the Penn State community and take a stand against sexual abuse.
“Proud to be a Penn Stater” was launched Wednesday evening by Jerry Needel and his wife, Jamie Needel, both Class of 1998, with an initial goal of raising more than $500,000, all in support of RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
In the past year, RAINN has helped “more than 1.5 million victims” take their first steps toward recovering from the abuse, said RAINN spokeswoman Katherine Hull.
Jerry Needel said the group is trying to do all it can for the Penn State community in furthering pride, and reminding graduates and students what the university stands for.
“We want to get the focus back on the victims and show the world what it means to be a Penn Stater,” Needel said.
While the organization originally had a goal of raising more than $500,000 by next Wednesday, Needel said he hoped to raise that same goal by the end of the football game yesterday — $1 for every member of the Alumni Association.
By the time the clock ran out, the final number stood at more than $290,000 and the organization advertised at the football game.
Katherine Hull, a spokeswoman for RAINN, said the Needels contacted her on Tuesday night voicing the urge to help those who suffer from sexual abuse, and RAINN was more than happy to accept the partnership opportunity.
“The real silver lining is that in wake of this noise, we’ve seen an overwhelming number of people reaching out and asking for help,” Hull said, adding that many of those people are male and looking for ways to deal with the pain.
All donations will go directly to the support and maintenance of the hotline, which can only serve as many people as there are staffers available, Hull said. The demand for this service also continues to increase, with RAINN’s numbers showing a 36 percent increase from 2010, she added.
It’s a way to act immediately and a way for a hurting community to not feel so helpless, Hull said.
“It’s absolutely wonderful that there’s a way for these people to give back,” she said. “It says ‘We, as a Penn State community, are not going to be defined by these actions.’ ”
Jamie Needel said she continues to be astounded by the outpouring of hope and support of fellow Penn State alumni and supporters, adding that what started out as a way to help ended up requiring her to take two days off of work.
But she’s not complaining.
Both she and her husband, Jerry Needel, work for a social media company but never saw this project taking off with such force — though the dream was always there.
“It’s taken on a life of its own,” Jamie Needel said. “But it’s kind of doing that on its own.”
At the end of the day though, Jamie and Jerry Needel are still “Penn Staters” and are still proud of the university they graduated from.
“It’s hard not to be,” Jamie Needel said, after witnessing the donation icon increasing by hundreds of dollars every few seconds. “This makes me proud. This makes me believe that most people are good people and most people want to do the right thing.”
To donate, go to www.proudtobeapennstater.com or to contact the national hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE. There is also an instant messaging service available at www.rainn.org.