Camp MoveIT ends session early; fields employee complaints
By Brian Sweeney
Camp Move IT in Bovina Center, a summer camp for girls, has closed early amidst allegations of operating irregularities leveled by several former employees.
Brigid McGinn, who owns the camp with Jill Powell, confirmed to the News this week that Camp Move IT has shut down prior to the completion of its summer schedule.
“Due to unforeseen circumstances, we found it necessary to close Camp Move IT several days early,” Ms. McGinn said in an e-mail to the News.
“None of the issues involved any problems with the health department or any zoning laws of any municipality,” she added. “We expect the camp to reopen at the regular time in our next summer camp sequence.”
The camp opened in the summer of 2011 at the former Suits Us Farm in Bovina, a longtime family vacation destination situated on 80 acres.
Town of Bovina Code Enforcement Officer Dale Downin confirmed that the camp is operating within the guidelines of the municipality’s statutes.
“They are in compliance in terms of Bovina’s zoning law. What they are doing currently, we felt, followed suit with what had been done on the property in the past,” Mr. Downin said.
Several former employees of the camp recently contacted the News and expressed concerns about the operation.
Camp Move IT bills itself as “A Journey of Self Discovery Through the Power of the Arts,” but some ex-staff feel that the facility was not living up to its mission.
Colorado resident Taylor Blake said she signed on to work at Camp Move IT because she was very supportive of the camp’s stated goal of empowering girls.
She was one of eight counselors hired for the camp’s first session, for which 34 campers were enrolled. She said that by the start of the second session, she had been let go and all of the other counselors had quit, with the exception of Brigid’s daughter.
“The hardest part is that all of us were there because we believed in the mission of the camp and we wanted to share in this with the campers. It turned out to be almost the opposite,” Taylor explained. “They said it was about empowerment and some of us had never felt such low self-esteem.”
Ms. Blake said that the camp nurse (who was allegedly only a nursing student) and the cook left before camp started.
“After the nurse left, there was no nurse on the campus – that was really worrisome,” she pointed out.
Ms. Blake said the camp directors also said it was OK to swim in the ponds on the property, despite the fact that these bodies of water were not approved for swimming by the NYS Department of Health.
She also cited issues like bunk beds being too close to the ceiling and a lack of shower curtains for privacy.
In addition, she feels the staff didn’t receive proper instructions for dealing with various camp-related issues.
“I felt that they were unwilling to train their employees in a way that makes them prepared,” she explained.
She also said that staff members were not compensated for their work. The pay, she said, was promised, “except to those involved in slander.”
Ms. Blake said that the NYS Department of Labor was contacted regarding the payment issues.
Leo Rosales, a spokesperson for the Department of Labor, confirmed this week that his organization has been contacted regarding Camp Move IT.
“We do have an active wage investigation underway,” he stated.
Ms. Blake said her tenure ended after she told a visiting camp promoter that many of the staff had left and also expressed other concerns about the facility.
“Jill overhead me and said I was unprofessional and un-Christian and that she was going to pack my things,” Ms. Blake said. “She dropped me off at a gas station in Delhi. I wasn’t paid, so I didn’t have any money. I was really upset and I didn’t know anyone,” Ms. Blake explained.
The former counselor said that she eventually called another former Camp Move IT employee who invited Ms. Blake to stay at her house until flight arrangements could be made for a return to Colorado.
“They have a great vision, but they never executed it in the way that was presented,” she added.
South Kortright resident Sabrina Caputo said she was asked to serve as the camp’s cook when the original chef left. She agreed, but said she didn’t feel qualified for the job.
“I’m not a certified dietician – you need licensed, certified people,” Ms. Caputo told the News.
She also complained of working long hours and said she is owed a considerable sum in back wages. Ms. Caputo said her husband, Raymond Hayes, is also owed money for excavating work he performed at the camp.
“It’s an abomination,” she commented.
Another former counselor (who requested that her name not be used) felt that the facility was not in shape to accept campers. She quit about three weeks after beginning work.
She said the owners told the staff that, last summer, they lost about 80 percent of their business on the first day because the camp was not finished and parents took their children home.
The former counselor said she felt that the facilities still weren’t up to par this season.
“The counselors were painting and putting together bed frames during the week before camp opened,” she explained. “We rallied and worked hard to try and prepare as much as possible. On opening day, things still weren’t ready.”
She added, “Counselors came a week early for training and we ended up helping prepare the camp. We really received no training, per se, as counselors.”
She said that many of her co-workers didn’t like the situation either.
“There was no nurse, no cooks. Meals would be like four hours late. It really wasn’t running like a typical camp should run. And, some of the electives they advertised – zip lines and a ropes course – they didn’t have them.” She noted, “The essentials weren’t there – there was a lot of down time where the kids were just hanging around. They were paying for a different experience.”
Overall, she felt that the welfare of the campers was not adequately addressed.
“Since we didn’t really receive any training – we asked about safety precautions and there were no protocols. We even asked what would we should do in the event of an emergency and were told that we should know instinctively know what to do.
“I think they felt that we really weren’t on board with their mission – when we were just concerned about kids’ safety. The counselors weren’t qualified to deal with this situation,” she noted.
The former counselor felt she had no choice but to quit, given her unease with the camp’s operation.
“After one counselor was fired, they shut off Internet, cut off the land line and we had no cell service – it felt like we were being held hostage,” she explained. “I didn’t want to leave and not say anything and have something happen and feel guilty.”
Alex Magnarella said her 15-year-old daughter. Morgan, was very enthusiastic about attending Camp Move IT following a visit from Jill at her dance studio where she gave a presentation to recruit campers.
“Jill’s workshop was a very positive experience,” Alex recalled. “My daughter entered this camp with high expectations. It really wasn’t anything like they built it up to be – it’s really just a joke. They tell you all this stuff – and it just didn’t happen.”
Mrs. Magnarella said the owners encouraged parents from out of state to have their daughters take a bus from New York City to the Catskills.
“I’m not sure we would have left her there, if we had driven to the camp — we didn’t think it looks anything like the photos on the website,” she stated.
Mrs. Magnarella said that her daughter became very upset after her counselor was fired and that the owners then took Morgan’s phone away — even though there was no cell reception at the camp.
“It just wasn’t what it was supposed to be. I paid a lot of money and went to a lot of trouble to get my daughter to the camp. It was unorganized and poorly run. We wanted my daughter to have exposure to Jill and Brigid and the kids hardly saw them. They didn’t deliver what they promised.”
She said that the Jill went on a “tirade” in front of the campers when she learned that a number of negative reviews had been posted about Camp Move IT on a ratings website.
Mrs. Magnarella said that her daughter attended the National Young Scholars Program on two occasions and found the experience very beneficial.
“That was professionally run and she got a lot out of that,” she noted.
Her experience at Camp Move IT was far different, Mrs. Magnarella said.
“If they spent as much energy fixing the camp, as they did trying to cover up the problems, they would probably have good place,” she noted. “We thought this was going to be a great experience for our girls (another member of the North Carolina dance studio also enrolled),” Mrs. Magnarella commented.
“The whole point of the camp was to be yourself – and every time these kids would try to speak up, the owners told them they couldn’t say anything. “The whole thing is a joke. If we would have known what was going on, we would have removed our daughter early,” she stated.
According to public records, the camp property was purchased in late 2010 for $850,000 from Land Gateways Inc. The previous owners had operated a retreat center on the premises for a short time after purchasing the premises from the owners of Suits Us Farm.
In June 2011, the camp was approved for a $400,000, low-interest loan from the Catskill Watershed Corporation to be used for improvements at the facility.