Christian camp Circle C announces changes to summer program after abuse allegations surface
Circle C Ranch, the Christian children's camp in western New York facing allegations that its director has inappropriately touched teenage girls, announced drastic changes to its summer plans this week.
The camp is veering from its traditional model this summer, instead focusing on "Family Camp Weekends" in July and August, according to information shared on its website on Monday.
Prior to 2020, when COVID-19 prevented the camp from operating in the summer, Circle C Ranch would host grade and high school-aged children without their parents, according to former camp staff. Teenagers have also historically made up the majority of employees at the camp, working as counselors, in the kitchen or in maintenance roles throughout the summers.
Families can register online to attend camp overnight with their children at Circle C Ranch on either July 9-11 or August 6-8. Two other days, July 3 and 31, are designated as "Family Fun Days," according to the website.
The family camp experience includes activities like chapel services, all-you-can-eat meals, horseback riding, laser tag and rock wall climbing, according to the website, and families will stay overnight together in the camp's on-site lodging.
The change comes less than a week after publication of a USA TODAY Network investigation, which found that the camp's director, Wayne Aarum, fostered improper relationships and touched at least 16 teenage girls inappropriately, some on multiple occasions, according to their firsthand accounts.
Aarum, 55, remains in his position as director of Circle C Ranch. He has consistently denied all of the allegations against him.
READ THE FULL INVESTIGATION: These women say a Western NY pastor, Christian camp president abused them as teenagers
According to information shared on its website, Circle C Ranch said state restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the sudden change in programming to include now the parents of children.
"Due to Covid Restrictions we have decided to pour all of our resources into our family camp weekends," the website reads. "So much so, we are changing our traditional schedule to give your family the chance to experience everything we are offering this year."
In May, New York set COVID-19 rules and restrictions for summer camps to operate after sleep-away camps were forced to close last year. The state's rules allow for the camps to operate with different restrictions for the vaccinated and unvaccinated, with campers over the age of five required to wear masks and maintain social distancing in most situations.
Camps are also required to collect information about the vaccination status of each camper and staff member, and perform health screenings upon arrival.
Allegations against Wayne Aarum
Circle C Ranch opened in the late 1960s on a 315-acre wooded parcel in rural Cattaraugus County. Prior to becoming director of Circle C Ranch, Aarum worked as a youth pastor at Buffalo-area megachurch The Chapel in the 1990s.
In late 2019, allegations of abuse began picking up momentum when Carolyn McDonald, a former Circle C Ranch staffer who worked there in 2006, shared her story with leadership at The Chapel.
For months, The Chapel facilitated conversations between women like McDonald, who say they were abused by Aarum, and the Circle C Ranch board of directors.
Last week, Aarum filed a civil lawsuit against The Chapel alleging defamatory statements.
The suit is seeking more than $2.5 million in damages for "harm to reputation, mental anguish, humiliation, embarrassment, and emotional injury," as well as an additional $625,000 in financial damages, according to court filings.
The lawsuit alleges The Chapel's executive pastor, John Camardo, used the abuse allegations against Aarum as a way to damage Aarum's reputation and ability to conduct business, according to the filings.
An email to Wayne Aurum, and a call to attorney's in Williamsville who are representing Aurum in the defamation lawsuit were not returned Monday.