After an investigation proved Penn State University’s former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky to be guilty of 45 counts of sexual crimes against young boys, people all over the world were affected.
Coming from a family full of Penn State graduates, junior at Hopewell Valley Central High School (HVCHS) Kyle Bennison was touched by this case, which ultimately led him to launch a local sexual abuse prevention program.
“After hearing the days and days of news reports about the victims and the crimes, I realized that child sexual abuse is a more prevalent issue than I knew,” he said. “I did some research and quickly realized I had to do something about the issue. I wanted to do something about it to do some good out of something so bad, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity around something that would positively affect my community.”
A life Scout in Troop No. 44 of Pennington working toward his rank as Eagle Scout, Bennison chose to spearhead this campaign for his project, and has partnered with the Hopewell Valley YMCA and the non-profit organization Darkness to Light (D2L) to do so.
His plan is to launch a series of child sexual abuse prevention workshops, a project he says “can change someone’s life.”
D2L, a North Carolina-based organization dedicated to ending child sexual abuse, offers two and-a-half-hour education programs known as “Stewards of Children,” which Bennison is utilizing for his project.
According to the D2L website, “Stewards of Children” is the only nationally available program scientifically proven to increase knowledge, improve attitudes and change child-protective behaviors.
“One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18,” Bennison said. “My Eagle project aims to begin changing those numbers.” In December 2012, Bennison began organizing a series of prevention and education programs, which will be offered at the Hopewell Valley YMCA in the near future. The programs are targeted toward adults in the community to learn how to prevent, recognize and react to child sexual abuse, according to Bennison.
“The program is meant for all adults, regardless of whether they work with kids, because everyone plays a part in prevention,” he said. “It has seven steps on preventing child sexual abuse and focuses on the prevention aspect of child sexual abuse, as opposed to aiding victims or the aftermath.”
Bennison is working closely with the Hopewell Valley YMCA, which has adopted the program long-term.
“The goal of the YMCA is to train 5 percent of Hopewell’s population in three years,” he said. “Research shows that this is the tipping point at which a change occurs in the community.”
CEO of the Hopewell Valley YMCA Doug Pszczolkowski, to whom Bennison presented the idea, wants to draw in facilitators who can teach the programs themselves, which would expand the program and its effectiveness.
“When Kyle brought this issue to my attention, I saw his passion behind it and knew that this would be an important movement in the community,” he said.
As a certified trainer in the program, Pszczolkowski will advise and help Kyle throughout the process. YMCAs across New Jersey are committed to educating their local community adults in the “Stewards of Children” training program.
Bennison is currently trying to raise enough money to support a minimum of five sessions for 25 attendees, which leaves his target goal at $1,250, since each session costs $10 per person.
To obtain the funds necessary to carry out his project, he submitted a grant application to the Hopewell Valley Education Foundation, and has reached out to local businesses and organizations.
The program will continue through spring of 2013, with each session open to the public and free to attend. The sessions will be held throughout the Hopewell Valley, including schools and libraries. The first session was held on Dec. 18.
“If this project is able to save just one child who might have otherwise been sexually abused, then this project is completely worthwhile,” Bennison said. “People in the community will be affected by this project without even knowing it.”
“It’s a very different project, and I’ve had to go through a lot to prove that,” he added. “It’s not like I’m going to do the five sessions and I’m done; it’s going to continue and hit so many more people than I would be able too, so I think that makes a really big difference as well.”
For more information, contact Bennison via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (609) 802-4398.