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Memory of brother spurs Sandusky Foundation


In this first of an occasional series, columnist Les Picker will follow the development of a newly formed Maryland foundation through its formative stages.

It is a rare achievement, indeed, when we can create meaning and lasting benefit for others from a wrenching tragedy.

Joe Sandusky was a promising athlete, on a football scholarship at the University of Tulsa. After a routine practice, the sophomore called home and spoke to his father and kid brother, making only passing mention of a minor infected shoulder, one of the constant scrapes and bruises that are part and parcel of the gridiron. The next day, Joe died from a rare bacterial complication of pneumonia.

Joe's death hit the family hard. Younger brother Gerry, now the veteran WBAL-TV sportscaster, was devastated. He had idolized Joe, his friend, confidant and mentor. Joe was the type of young man who took the time to listen, to encourage others, to champion the underdog. Even as a high school senior, Gerry knew he would one day do something to memorialize Joe.

Last year, Gerry had a vision of what he would do. In October, he established the Joe Sandusky Foundation, a living memorial to everything for which his brother stood.

"Joe was a light," Sandusky told me recently. "He had a unique gift for helping people tap into their self-esteem, discover their courage, and pursue their dreams."

Armed with his vision, Gerry Sandusky wrote repeated drafts of mission and vision statements, program ideas and operating principles. From the outset, he knew that the foundation would give scholarship funds to students facing financial hardship and who planned to attend college, art or trade schools. Beyond that, typical of most who start a private foundation, he was still uncertain.

"I knew how I wanted the foundation to turn out," Gerry says with an enthusiasm known to those of us who watch him on the tube, "but I knew I needed experienced board members to carry this out. I wasn't sure of the first steps to take."

Sandusky assembled a board of friends and colleagues who he knew he could rely on. One of the board's first tasks was to help revise and expand the mission.

"Jim Flick, a board member, was able to ask the right questions and connect my true motivation -- my love for my brother -- into the driving force of the foundation." Flick and the other six board members added a mentoring component, a human touch which reflects Joe Sandusky's commitment to people.

"The mentoring aspect will allow us to guide scholarship recipients on how to do things that successful people do. The mentors will be the people-to-people link that will enable us to get to know each other as human beings. That's also reflective of the loving person my brother was," Sandusky says. He is networking with nonprofits who have successful mentoring programs.

Since the foundation's first formal board meeting in January, Sandusky has developed a series of documents that outline the programs that he hopes the foundation will offer, responsibilities of board members, and the goals and objectives for the first year, all critical activities for a newly formed private foundation.

The board is planning its fund-raising goals and a strategy for bringing in mentors from the corporate sector, two key issues that will tax its resources. But, typical of a new foundation, the board reflects the enthusiasm of its founder.

"We have modest financial goals for 1994," Sandusky told me, "but we also have plans to grow the foundation to affect as many young people as we possibly can."

In future peeks at its operations, I'll look at the foundation's fund-raising successes and failures, and the effectiveness of its programs. Readers wishing to find out more about the foundation may write to Gerry Sandusky at the Joe Sandusky Foundation, P.O. Box 1068, Sparks, Md. 21152.


Nonprofit staff, board members and community leaders: Circle March 15 on your calendars for "Taking Care of Business: A Resource Fair for Nonprofits" at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

A very practical day of workshops, exhibits, and products for nonprofits is planned. For more information, call Betsy Nelson at (410) 727-1205.

Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at the Brokerage, 34 Market Place, Suite 331, Baltimore 21202, (410) 783-5100.

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