BY CAROLINE CAREY
The board of directors of the Louis August Jonas Foundation, who operate Camp Rising Sun in Red Hook and Clinton, decided they needed to sell the Red Hook property while they continue to analyze their financial situation and fine tune a new strategy for the future.
The foundation’s current plan is to run two four week sessions in 2015, one for boys and one for girls, at the Clinton location. Damian Brennan, a camp alumn and board member of the foundation, told us the foundation is analyzing many scenarios to come up with the best long term solution for Camp Rising Sun. Brennan said this plan will allow them to continue the summer 2015 camp and allow them to decide if they can have the Clinton location converted to a “co-locating” camp, girls and boys together, by 2016 or decide to look at other locations.
Brennan said that the board realized awhile ago that if something did not change, the camps would only survive for six to 10 years due to their financial position.
However, a group of camp alumnae have circulated a petition that wants the board to reconsider its decision and to look at other options. The petition, organized by camp alum J.C. Calderon (AIA, LEED AP BD+C), of Beacon, says that “some of us object to the sale of these historic properties, some merely object to the process by which the sale was decided, but all of us strongly urge the board to reapproach the issue more deliberately and inclusively.”
Its critical points are that “most alumni were not warned that such a drastic course of action was even on the table. Alumni were not given a real opportunity to influence the decision.” And, that “However well-intentioned, a growing number of alumni believe this move by the board runs the risk of alienating the alumni body, which has always been a central part of the CRS program.”
The petition concludes, “As concerned alumni and friends, we hereby pledge to actively participate in a dialogue on the future of Camp Rising Sun over the next six months. This dialogue will take place by email, telephone and through in-person forums at camp and elsewhere. We call on the board of directors to affirm their agreement that the ultimate decision on the future of CRS will emerge from this open community dialogue — and not from closed-door sessions or preconceived notions of what should be done.”
The petition has been signed by 243 online, and has $369,010 in conditional pledges if the decision to sell is reversed and the petition is honored.
Brennan disputes that the board has not been openly discussing the situation with alums, and told us that the board has been communicating its troubled financial situation to alumnae for some time. Brennan said the board had spoken with over 550 alums over the last year, via conference calls, surveys and meetings, to discuss the possible changes and gauge reactions and support. He said the majority view is “that the program is more important than the place.” And that discussions on Facebook have been running at two to one to keep the focus on the program regardless of the location.
Calderon cites increases in operating expenses in recent years that have put the foundation in its current position. Brennan responded that while some expenses have increased, other cost-cutting measures have been taken. Brennan said that the higher salaries for the executive director and the development person have been justified as these two individuals have significantly increased donations to the foundation. He said in the past a good year would see $150,000 in donations and a bad year $75,000. And now, with the professionals in place, they are achieving $500,000 per year. Brennan also told us that the board had undertaken a capital campaign to raise four million dollars over the next four to five years, and they have already raised $600,000 ($500,000 of it in one gift).
Brennan said that many alums “have concerns but most are starting to feel better about it” and that a lot of alums have been re-invigorated by the process. Brennan concluded that the board “can no longer kick the can. We need a solution to support the camp for the next 50 to 60 years.” The petition signers want the board to stop the sale process immediately, and demand more open discussions between the board and the alums to explore all the options that may be available.
We’ll wait and see what that means for the continuation of the camps in our county.
Correction: The story about Camp Rising Sun in the October 22, 2014 edition of the Hudson Valley News mistakenly reported that the foundation had seven full time employees in New York. It was pointed out to us that of the five full time employees in New York, as stated on their website, the two employees who live in California and D.C. were included in this headcount. We apologize for the mistake.
Originally published by Hudson Valley News on November 5, 2014. Reprinted with permission.