UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A movement started by two graduate students at Penn State has resulted in $47,000 being raised for two nonprofit organizations fighting child abuse and sexual assault.
Laura March, a graduate student in the College of Arts and Architecture, and Stuart Shapiro, a first-year student in the Penn State Smeal College of Business MBA Program, started the campaign to "blue out" Beaver Stadium by having all fans wear blue for the Penn State Football game against Nebraska on Nov. 12. Blue is the color of ribbons displayed in support of child abuse awareness.
The two teamed up with State College retailer McLanahan's to sell T-shirts in support of the effort, with all proceeds going to Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania, an organization dedicated to awareness and prevention of child abuse. McLanahan's sold about 8,000 shirts in the week leading up to the Nebraska game, and on Dec. 7 presented a check to Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania for $25,000.
March and Shapiro also organized the canning effort inside Beaver Stadium during the Nebraska game, which resulted in about $22,000 being raised for Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, and organization fighting sexual violence and supporting the needs and rights of victims.
In addition to March and Shapiro's fundraising, Penn State alumni and friends have raised more than $500,000 to support the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), and the University has pledged $1.5 million in Big Ten bowl revenues to a newly forged partnership with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. The remainder of this year's bowl revenues, estimated to be in the area of $500,000 to $800,000, will be used to launch the Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children, dedicated to the study, research, prevention and treatment of child abuse.
The two students came up with the idea for the blue out campaign on Nov. 6, after reading about child sex abuse charges filed against retired Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. They were seeking ways to comfort themselves in the aftermath of the scandal that has affected the entire Penn State community when March discovered that blue is the color of the awareness ribbons supporting child abuse causes.
"I had recently taken a class about using art to make a difference, and this seemed like an appropriate way to bring the University community together in the aftermath of this tragedy while showing our collective support for all victims and survivors of child abuse," March said.
With only five days before the Nebraska game, she and Shapiro worked quickly to get the word out. They started a marketing communications campaign, first on Facebook and then through traditional media. When they approached McLanahan's about selling the T-shirts for charity, March literally had only minutes to create its design to get the shirts on the store's shelves before the game.
In the days leading up to the game, the Facebook event page for the blue out quickly became a virtual village square, with visitors expressing their opinions and feelings about all aspects of the event.
"We made a conscious decision before we started the Facebook page that we were not going to censor any of the comments," Shapiro said. "At first we tried to respond to every comment, both negative and positive, but that soon became impossible as the responses grew. But then the community took over the page, responding to each other, and it became this great virtual meeting place where open discourse flourished."
In an organization as large as Penn State, March and Shapiro believe this campaign is proof that everyone can make a difference.
"This was a true collaboration of the arts and business, coming together and doing something positive in the aftermath of tragedy," said Shapiro.
The blue out T-shirts will be available through December at McLanahan's and online at pennstateroom.com. They are $9.99 each with all proceeds going to Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania.
For more information on Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania, visit preventchildabusepa.org.