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Passion, dedication take Joe Sandusky Foundation from dream to reality


Ever since it was a dream, I've been following the work of the Joe Sandusky Foundation, the brainchild of veteran Baltimore sportscaster Gerry Sandusky. I look in on it every so often to offer readers a chance to observe the growth of a work of passion and dedication.

A couple of years ago, Gerry was driving to Pennsylvania when he had a vision. He was going to start a foundation, an opportunity to honor his much-loved older brother who died tragically while Gerry was still in high school.

Joe was a sports star who also valued learning and education. As a fitting tribute, the now fully operational Joe Sandusky Foundation offers last-dollar scholarship money to needy students from Baltimore going on to post-secondary education in academic, arts and trade schools.

After a fitful start, with characteristic ups and downs reported in this column last year, the foundation recently held its first fund-raising event. Having attended many such fledgling events over the years, I admit to not being prepared for what enthusiasm and dedication could accomplish.

When I arrived at the National Aquarium as one of 210 guests, I was ushered into the marine mammal pavilion, where we were treated to a dolphin show. On the heels of the performance, the most famous Dolphin of all took center stage. The event was billed as a tribute to Don Shula, former Colt and now the winningest coach in the NFL. Shula, in turn, talked to the guests about Baltimore, the Colts, the Sanduskys, and the worthy work of the foundation.

In all, the event netted about $20,000 for the foundation to carry out its mission. But, even more than that, the event launched the foundation to the larger Baltimore public.

"When we first started planning the event, back in December, I worried about what to do first," Gerry Sandusky told me.

"Where do we start? How does this mammoth event get organized?" While the process the events committee went through is a lesson for other start-up nonprofits, the result was a model to emulate.

After the dolphin show, the guests retired to another area, where there was a luscious smorgasbord and a live band from the Peabody played.

"The committee started out by visioning the end event, what we wanted it to look like," Sandusky reports. "From there we got into the details of putting it together."

Details, such as snagging Shula, were made easier by the fact that Sandusky's father was a coach for the Colts under Shula, and remains with Shula's Dolphins. Others, such as booking the Aquarium, were helped by having a board member, Jim Flick, who also is on the Aquarium board.

But other details, such as getting into the pockets of corporate charitable giving programs, were not so easy.

"When you do your first fund-raiser," says Sandusky, "you don't know what the time line is. You're not sure if you are on track for everything to come together for the event."

Like so many event planners, Sandusky's committee found corporations whose budgets had already been expended.

Others did not buy tables for events, a more and more common occurrence.

Faith, which the Sanduskys have in abundance, and fate, which Gerry believes has guided his hand since he first had his dream, came together when the Fila sports shoe company volunteered to co-sponsor the event along with Peter Angelos and the Orioles organization. Later, Rouse Co. also stepped to the plate as a sponsor. With that, all the other details fell into place.

How did Sandusky feel seeing the event itself flow so smoothly? "I felt like I was surfing on clouds. The thing had a life of its own. We're all proud of what was accomplished."

The funds raised will enable the foundation to increase the number of scholarships it awards and help it to start an endowment.

Sandusky now hopes that a retired executive will magically appear and volunteer to move the foundation's work forward.

One thing is certain in the minds of everyone I spoke with at the event. Joe Sandusky would not only be proud of what is being done in his name. He would also have been proud of his little brother.

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

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