March 23, 2017 Mostly Cloudy, 47F

YMCA bankruptcy filing forces closure of Camp Algonquin

ALGONQUIN – YMCA Camp Algonquin will close its doors March 17, after falling victim to the local YMCA’s bankruptcy filing.

The camp, which has been open for more than 100 years, is managed by the McHenry County YMCA that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January. At the time of filing, the local YMCA cited pending lawsuits as one of several reasons for forcing it into bankruptcy.

YMCA of McHenry County is named as a defendant in at least two lawsuits from drowning deaths at Camp Algonquin.

Jimmy Avant, 18, Melvin Choice Jr., 17, and Adrian Jones, 16, all of Chicago, died Nov. 14, 2008, after sneaking out of their cabins at Camp Algonquin and taking paddleboats onto the Fox River. The paddleboats’ drain plugs had been removed for the winter, and they sank, investigators said.

Choice’s mother, Virginia Choice, later filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court accusing retreat organizer VisionQuest Association, the YMCA of McHenry County, and the victims’ school, North Lawndale College Prep High School, of negligence. The lawsuit sought more than $800,000 in damages.

Avant’s family filed a similar lawsuit.

The local YMCA has leased the outdoor recreation area from the McHenry County Conservation District and run the camp since 2005, YMCA board member Catherine Williams said.

Because of the bankruptcy filing, the YMCA no longer is able to honor its lease with MCCD for the 116 acres that make up the camp’s grounds.

“It’s difficult when it’s a leased property when you’re going through bankruptcy. The decisions cease to be your own, and that’s tough,” Williams said.

Camp Algonquin will not be open to the public after March 17, but MCCD will continue to maintain the grounds.

“We will not be running programs there this summer,” said Elizabeth Kessler, MCCD executive director.

The future of the site remains to be seen, Kessler added.

In the bankruptcy filing, the YMCA of McHenry County detailed a plan to sell its assets to the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. The Chicago group would continue “many of the programs that the [YMCA of McHenry County] makes available to its community,” according to court records.

“The entity that ends up purchasing the Y has chosen not to continue operation at Camp Algonquin because it doesn’t fit into their long-term plan,” Williams said.

YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago officials said the group wasn’t in a position to comment further.

The camp has served as a home to evacuees after Hurricane Katrina. The community lent support to the project by refurbishing several cabins where families stayed after the hurricane.

“The community came together to rebuild these homes, and it was a miracle that happened here,” Camp Algonquin Executive Director Lynda Fauser said.

Camp Algonquin has about 20 full- and part-time workers. In the past year, the camp has served about 10,000 people, Fauser said.

Many school groups, businesses, organizations and churches used the camp for education and outdoor education and retreats.

Every year, the National Association of Systems Administrators Education Corp. hosts Stand Down for Veterans at Camp Algonquin. The event allows veterans the opportunity to get medical screenings, employment services, free meals, fresh clothing and lodging.

Family Service & Community Mental Health Center has hosted a leadership conference at Camp Algonquin for the past 10 years. The weekend retreat promotes leadership qualities in about 70 to 75 middle school students. Camp Algonquin provides lodging for the students as well as about 30 volunteers.

“We’re very sad,” said Dawn Nendze, manager of prevention services at Family Service. “We’re sad for them, we’re sad for us, we’re sad for the kids they served. ... It will be a loss for sure.”

Camp Algonquin, at 1889 Cary Road, Algonquin, was established in 1907. In 2004, the land was sold to the McHenry County Conservation District and has been managed by the YMCA since 2005.

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