On the morning of Fri., July 28th, my husband, myself and my eldest son drove into Camp Onteora to pick up our son Frank, who had just completed five weeks as a volunteer Counselor in Training (CIT) at the camp. My husband has spoken to Chris Wieczkowksi, the CIT Supervisor, earlier in the week, and obtained his acknowledgement that our son would be transported along with his gear, to the Administrative area after breakfast.
The following letter, summarizes our interaction with the leadership of that camp during that morning:
Dear Mr. McLaughlin:
As a concerned parent I am writing to you to ask you a simple question: WHAT IS GOING ON AT CAMP ONTEORA? Both my boys have been boy scouts since they were little. Now my oldest is working on his Eagle project and my youngest, who is a second class scout decided to volunteer five weeks of his summer vacation to be a CIT at Camp Onteora. Every year since they were very little they went to Camp Yawgoo in Rhode Island, so this was my first interaction with Camp Onteora.
As a matter of record, my husband, has and continues to been very active with our Troop 71, as a past Troop Committee Chairman and through his organization and participation of many activity functions within the Troop. He, in fact, encouraged my youngest to get involved with the CIT program at Onteora and made a point of going up every Saturday during my sons stay there to take him out for the day and make sure he was have a safe and fun experience.
Contrary to what the Camp claims, it is quite obvious that parents are not welcomed and that converted efforts are made to prevent parents from actually seeing what is going on or have direct uncontrolled access to their children. On the five consecutive weekends that my husband drove the 130 miles from Long Island to Camp Onteora, he was most certainly NOT welcomed when he went to see his son. The camps single access road is spanned by a steel padlocked gate, which prevents access by anyone, other than an individual in possession of a key. Once through the gate, the road is horrible. In fact it is not a road: it is little more than a rocky dirt trail through the woods that is not regularly serviced and traversable by other than emergency vehicles! If there was ever an emergency and a child was in need of medical attention and time was of the essence, you can be sure this camp is NOT prepared to get emergency vehicles in and out. In other words very little money is spent on maintaining the infrastructure of this camp and no consideration is given to the safety of the boys inside.
Now I would like to specifically relate the circumstances of Fri. 7/28, when our family went to pick up our son and why I, as a concerned parent and long-time Scouting parent, am so outraged.
We had planned to pick up Frank early in the morning so that we could take our oldest to visit two colleges while we were upstate. We had appointments to tour Binghamton at 10am, meet with a professor at 1:30 and a tour at Cornell at 3pm. We had a busy day and we wanted to make sure to be on time so we got up a 5am that morning. During the week my husband had spoken to Chris on several occasions over the telephone, requesting that he ensure that our son Frank, along with his belongings, receive transportation to the Admin building. We had received assurances that this would not be a problem. Our son Frank was also reminded to mention this to Chris, as well.
That morning, we called Frank at 8:15 while we were on the road. Frank was ready and waiting at his tent. At 8:30 we called, he was waiting at his tent. We arrived later than we expected at 9:00 no Frank. My husband went to the Admin building and he was told that someone was getting him. We waited, and waited, 9:05, 9:10, 9:15, 9:20. We realized no one was going to get him and since jeeps were coming off the road and the gate was opened we decided to get him ourselves.
Any concerns relevant to our ability to find and pick up Frank, were satisfied by our knowledge that my husband had been instructed to traverse the dirt road in the middle of the night a couple of weekends earlier, by Edward Mallay, who couldnt make himself or his staff available to transport our son by to his site at the conclusion of a days outing off campsite. On another Saturday evening, upon returning to camp with our son, he was not allowed to drive Frank back to his campsite, even though it was 11oclock at night and there was a pouring rain. Rebuffed by Reginald Butts in the administrative office by the remark that his son wouldnt be doing (walking back to his campsite in the dark and in the rain) anything he wouldnt be doing anyway [if my husband wasnt there], my husband drove the 130 miles home with a sickened stomach. Is it really OK for my son to walk in the pitch black in the pouring rain because this is what he would do if my husband was not there? And, in other words, .Im nice and warm in the office so I dont really care if you son lands in ditch because he cant see where he is going in the dark. As I said earlier, rules are variable at Onteora and these policies are most certainly not biased in the direction of our children.
Anyway, we decided to drive up the dirt path and pick Frank up ourselves. We proceeded uneventfully up the dirt road to his tent site. We loaded the car and were about to leave when a large suburban sped up behind us and none other than Edward Mallay, jumps out of the vehicle screaming at the top of his voice that we are criminal transpassers, that we should immediately leave HIS camp, and that we shall never again be permitted back at Camp Onteora. Blocking our ability to return down the road, he ordered my family to drive our minivan through narrow horrendous sections of this dirt trails, only to wind up exacted where we began. All the while, tailgating our vehicle, as if we were going to make a run for it through the woods. Returning to the locked gate, Mallay and Butts pulled in behind our vehicle, locking us in a punitive fashion, between gate and Suburban. Confronting him on his belligerence and abusive behavior, this man claimed to be a police officer, but showed us no badge. He once again ordered us off of HIS land and threatened my husband that if he every saw him outside the camp, he had better watch out; so much for A Boy Scout is courteous Is this the kind of person we want as a role model for our boys? Was this the thanks we got for letting our son volunteer for five weeks?
We left the camp and I questioned my son about some of the things he had observed during his five weeks at the Camp. He related a story of a CIT scout, within the last several weeks, who stole money and belonging from other boys and who went home unreported and undisciplined. I also have personal knowledge of Scouts being taken off the camp site with just a telephone verbal consent. As a teacher, for many years, I can tell you that such a policy is totally unacceptable and puts children at needless and excessive risk.
In conclusion, it would appear that there is a serious issue with Camp Onteora and that it is being run as a private money making operation (400 Scouts per week x $300 x 8 weeks) by a few individuals who seem to make up the rules to suit their own best interests. Although the line counselors that work with the children are dedicated and look after the best interests of the boys, there are serious flaws in the administration of this camp and certain individuals who run it as their own business venture and these need to be looked into.
Safety issues aside, I think that there is a need to audit this facility. Issues relevant o emergency access and managerial/administrative controls, need to be immediately addressed. Where do these monies go? Has this camp ever been audited? Do we really want something terrible to happen to a boy before the camp is looked into?
I hope that this letter is taken seriously and some good comes of it. I am looking forward to hearing from you on this matter. Incidentally, my husband asked for letters of reference for Frank stating the hours he volunteered. They were to be picked up the day we picked him up. They were not ready and to day we have not gotten them.
Thank you for you attention to this matter.
Dr. C. Furio