It was nearly a year ago when we last plumbed the plight of Camp Virginia Jaycee in Bedford County, which for decades served as a rural respite for disabled children and adults.
HopeTree Family Services, which in 2012 assumed ownership of its buildings, pond and 84 acres, decided to auction the property after five money-losing years. It was supposed to go on the block in December, but that never happened.
Next, the auction was slated for March, but that date got pushed back, too. When it finally occurred in May, no bidder offered the $600,000 minimum price. That left HopeTree still owning the property, which has an assessed value of $2.4 million. After 46 years of operation, the camp didn’t open this past summer.
Now one of its Jaycee founders, Bill Robertson, has found financial backing that would put camp operations back in the Jaycees’ hands. The column last November, Robertson said, spurred an anonymous benefactor to put up $450,000 toward making that happen.
The benefactor would buy and own the property, and lease it to Camp Virginia Jaycee, which would operate it, said Tom King, chairman of the Camp Virginia Jaycee board.
Robertson also has launched an online petition on Change.org, “Help Save Camp Virginia Jaycee for special needs children and adults.” As of Monday, it was nearing 1,200 digital signatures.
“I’m still asking people to go online” and sign, he told me.
Monday, Dr. Stephen Richerson, president and executive director of HopeTree, said $450,000 isn’t enough. Moreover, he added, HopeTree is negotiating with another potential buyer he declined to name. He said the prospect of an eventual deal is “likely.”
“It’s another nonprofit — we’re going back and forth finessing the details,” Richerson said Monday. “This offer is somewhat higher” than the Jaycees’. But, he added, “It’s below market value.”
HopeTree entered into a contract last year to market the camp with commercial real estate broker Woltz & Associates, which conducted the auction. That contract obligates HopeTree to seriously consider any bid of $600,000 or more even after the auction date.
Richerson said he expects a deal could be announced shortly, perhaps in as little as a week.
November’s column detailed how Robertson, then a Roanoke school principal, waged an improbable — though wildly successful — fund-raising campaign in 1969 to buy the land and develop the camp.
The Jaycees put together a statewide effort to sell small jars of apple jelly in March 1969. A blizzard blanketed most of Virginia that weekend, but the sale went ahead and was a great success. It raised $60,000. Adjusted for inflation, that would be the equivalent of more than $410,000 today.
The Jaycees used that money to buy land a little more than a mile north of U.S. 460 north in Montvale and to develop the camp, which opened in the summer of 1971.
The column also described the long, convoluted story behind how the property ended up in the hands of HopeTree, which is affiliated with the Baptist General Association of Virginia. HopeTree provides Christian residential, educational and support services for at-risk children and teens and adults with intellectual disabilities.
To boil it way down, the Jaycees in 2001 sold the camp for $100,000 to Camp Virginia Jaycee, a separate group of Jaycees. In 2003, that group renamed itself Dare to Care Charities. It was intended as a holding company for the camp’s real estate. The Jaycees formed a new Camp Virginia Jaycee corporation, which leased the property from Dare to Care and operated the camp.
The setup was designed to protect both the Jaycees and the camp from liability or bankruptcy and assure the camp could continue operations if one of the entities experienced financial problems.
As time went on, the boards that operated Dare to Care and Camp Virginia Jaycee grew apart. And Dare to Care, which no longer exists, neglected the camp’s upkeep, King said.
In 2012, Dare to Care donated the camp to HopeTree, which at the time was operating a home for disabled adults in a building on the property. Camp Virginia Jaycee subsequently leased the property each summer from HopeTree through the summer of 2017, its final season hosting disabled youths and adults.
“HopeTree didn’t pay one cent for that camp,” Robertson said. “It has served 47,000 special needs children and adults. They should let us continue our work there. We’re ready to receive it.”
Robertson called the Jaycees’ $450,000 offer “more than fair,” but Richerson disagreed. Last year he told me that HopeTree had spent at least $250,000 on physical improvements at the camp since it assumed ownership in 2012.
That included work on an aging sewer system that still needs significant improvements, a water purification system, new roofs on all the cabins, rebuilt cabin bathrooms and replacing the camp’s swimming pool.
Aside from the improvements, the camp operated at a loss for years, Richerson said. Counting those losses and the improvements, HopeTree has “somewhere in the area of $1.2 million” invested in the property, Richerson said Monday. King said most of the losses were “paper” losses accounted for by depreciation, rather than an actual cash drain.
Robertson said he was unaware until I informed him Monday that HopeTree was close to selling the property to another buyer. And he doesn’t want to give up on the idea that the Jaycees could bring back the camp and operate it as they used to.
“It’s too bad, that [HopeTree] wouldn’t come to us to continue our work with those with special needs,” he said.