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Aloha Foundation Tells of 1980s Abuse at Lanakila Camp



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, October 27, 2017

Fairlee — The Aloha Foundation has notified parents and former campers that it failed to respond adequately more than 30 years ago when a counselor at its boys camp on Lake Morey “inappropriately touched” at least two campers in the 1980s.

The foundation sent a letter this week to at least 10,000 former campers, counselors, parents and other community members.

The letter said the counselor inappropriately touched at least one boy at Camp Lanakila in 1983.

The individual was fired the day the camper’s parents were informed of the incident, according to a recent internal investigation.

However, the counselor was allowed to return to the camp in a “more restricted role” after completing treatment with a mental health professional, according to the letter.

The counselor subsequently touched another camper in 1987 after he returned, the letter alleges.

The counselor was permanently fired, and several years later, he was banned from associating with the foundation, according to the letter, which was signed by Aloha Foundation Executive Director Christopher Overtree and Board of Trustees President Emelie Ventling.

The investigation was ordered by The Aloha Foundation and conducted by former New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney, who is now a lawyer in Manchester.

“We believe every member of The Aloha Foundation family deserves to know us as a safe place and trustworthy organization,” the letter says. “We want to assure you that we have availed ourselves of all possible resources — including the  lessons we might learn from our history.”

The Fairlee-based foundation oversees several camp programs, including Lanakila for 8- to 14-year-old boys and Aloha for 12- to 17-year-old girls on Lake Morey, and Aloha Hive for 7- to 12-year-old girls on Lake Fairlee.

Delaney’s investigation into the conduct began last fall after a former staff member contacted The Aloha Foundation, saying the nonprofit did not respond adequately to the incident in the 1980s, according to Overtree.

“It was a long time ago and we felt that we really couldn’t respond to that complaint without getting some expert help,” Overtree said in an interview on Thursday.

Delaney’s work took several months and made two major findings: that the allegations were true and “The Aloha Foundation’s response to the issue was inadequate at the time,” the letter says.

Multiple messages and emails left for Delaney on Thursday were not returned.

The letter named the counselor involved as John Hall, who Overtree described as a “senior staff member” at the time and who is now in his 80s.

Hall also was active in the Aloha Foundation’s Hulbert Outdoor Center, Overtree said.

The nonprofit outdoor educational center was established in 1978 on Lake Morey at the Lanakila site and now also has a center at the Aloha Hive camp, according to The Aloha Foundation’s website. The Hulbert Outdoor Center now serves at least 6,000 participants annually, according to the foundation’s 2016 annual report.

The letter said that “after the 1987 incident, (Hall) was permanently fired, and several years later, banned from any association with The Aloha Foundation.”

The foundation notified Hall on Thursday that the Valley News was seeking comment from him. Hall contacted the Valley News, but declined to respond to questions, including those that sought biographical information, such as where he lives.

A John W. Hall, of Post Mills, a village of Thetford, is listed in the phone book with the same number as the man who called the Valley News, and a John Hall with the same phone number is listed in Thetford town records.

Overtree said the foundation chose to name Hall in an attempt to reach out to other potential victims, as well as to provide transparency to the community.

“In order to enable people to be as comfortable as possible to come forward, we need to demonstrate transparency on our end,” Overtree said.

The investigation’s findings have been turned over to the Fairlee Police Department, Overtree said.

Police Chief Jason Bachus declined to comment on the matter and referred a reporter to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Messages left for Sheriff Bill Bohnyak were not returned on Thursday.

Policies to protect children at the Aloha camps are “continually updated” and were made robust in the early 1990s, Overtree said.

Currently, every camp employee undergoes a thorough interview process, background checks, reference checks and “intensive and regular staff training and monitoring,” according to the foundation’s letter.

“At the moment, what’s clear to us is that we need to continue our constant vigilance about our policies, but also our training and our supervision,” Overtree said.

Anyone with information about past incidents is being encouraged to contact Overtree at 802-333-3400, ext. 3115, or Delaney at 603-628-1248.

The Aloha Foundation letter noted that “while we will treat all disclosures with sensitivity and discretion, we will abide by all reporting requirements. This means if you tell us about conduct that we are obligated to report to authorities by law or our own policies, we will do so.”

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.



Continue reading after the letter.