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Camp Wapsie struggles to give refunds for summer camps

Canceled summer program just part of Y's financial woes

Signs welcoming campers and commemorating the 150th anniversary of YMCA Camp Wapsie on May 15 line the gateway to the ca
Signs welcoming campers and commemorating the 150th anniversary of YMCA Camp Wapsie on May 15 line the gateway to the camp near Coggon. But the camp later canceled all its summer programing due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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With over $1 million in lost revenue, Camp Wapsie is struggling to refund fees that families paid to send their kids to summer camp there before the programming was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 1,700 campers were registered for Camp Wapsie’s 2020 summer programs, typically paying between $265 and $630 each for overnight camps depending on the program and options.

Summer marked the first time since the camp opened 102 years ago that programs were canceled. The camp, near Coggon, is a YMCA program.

Families were given three options after camp was canceled: a full reimbursement, donating all or a portion of the money to the camp or putting it toward 2021 programs instead. According to the camp’s website, families were given a July 17 deadline to decide.

Over half of campers’ families asked for a refund, and others asked for credit for future programs. About 15 percent wanted to donate the money, said Camp Wapsie executive director Paul Denowski.

But Denowski said the camp has been unable to refund all that money at the same time.

“This is going to affect the camp and the Y for years to come,” he said.

“We’re working on plans and are optimistic we will run camp next year, but it will look a little different,” he added. “This is a little rough, but I believe in camp and the benefits we provide. Camp is a special place to a lot of people and this is a hard year.”

Five Camp Wapsie employees have been on furlough since September.

The hardship Camp Wapsie is facing is part of a larger picture of decreased revenue this year for the YMCA.

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President and Chief Executive Officer of the YMCA of the Cedar Rapids Metro Area Bob Carlson said Camp Wapsie being forced to cancel programs because of the virus is “devastating.”

“Camp Wapsie is one of our shining stars in our operation. It’s one of our branches just like the Helen G. Nassif YMCA (in downtown Cedar Rapids) is one of our branches. They don’t work independently of one another. All the dollars go into the Metro association and are funneled through the same checkbook.”

Though three months have passed since the camp asked families to decide on a refund or donation, Camp Wapsie still is trying to reimburse people as quickly as possible, he said.

Carlson said the YMCA is down 40 percent in its operations this year, and is looking for grants and private contributions to help offset some of that loss.

The YMCA already runs “very close to the bottom line,” Carlson said. With only one-third of its members coming in to the YMCA’s facilities, it’s struggling.

“Right now it is keeping the vital staff in our buildings to take care of our members and pay expenses we need to keep us operating, and that’s about all we have left,” Carlson said.

In his 36 years as an employee of the YMCA, Carlson said he’s never seen a more financially devastating year.

The YMCA’s board of directors is looking at ways to cut expenses, Carlson said.

“I can’t share much at this time,” Carlson said, not ruling out the possibility of closing a YMCA branch. “We owe it to the community to survive,” he said.

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The YMCA of the Cedar Rapids Metro Area closed its Mercy Health Plaza location in July to free up resources for other branches better sustained by membership fees.

There are four other YMCA locations in the area: Helen G. Nassif, Marion, Stony Point and the Marion Independent Fitness Center.

A new regional YMCA facility being built in Marion is set to open by January 2021, and Carlson said a grand opening is being planned.

Iowa Attorney General spokesman Lynn Hicks said the office has received no complaints, phone calls or emails about the delayed Camp Wapsie refunds.

Assistant Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks said the delay in refunding summer tuition to families doesn’t rise to the level of a crime, but could be a dispute settled through civil court if it can’t otherwise be resolved, he said.

It was “extraordinary circumstances” — not a fraudulent intent — that was behind the summer cancellations, he said.

“You’ve got an organization that has expressed they are going to have difficulty repaying people, and from what I’m hearing it doesn’t rise to a criminal level,” Maybanks said.

Maybanks, whose daughter was signed up for Camp Wapsie, said his family opted out of camp early and has received a full refund.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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