Cattaraugus County camp offering to house refugees from Afghanistan

Local News

This story has been updated with additional information about Circle C Ranch.

DELEVAN, N.Y. (WIVB) — As refugees from Afghanistan make their way to the United States, a summer camp in Cattaraugus County is finding a way to help.

The Aarum family has owned Circle C Ranch in Delevan for 54 years. Like much of the world, they’ve been closely watching what’s been unfolding in Afghanistan.

“I’m just completely heartbroken, so burdened for these families and women and children and want to get them here into a safe place,” said program coordinator Chloe Aarum.

That’s where Circle C Ranch comes in. The camp can accommodate hundreds of people in cabins. Programming is done for the season, meaning the space is vacant.

“We understand that when they come in from an airport they’re typically put in a hotel, which the costs just add up and it’s not really the best environment, but here we don’t want to charge them anything and this is a great environment to come out of a hectic situation. Come to the peaceful countryside, that’s what we want to provide,” said program director Josh Aarum.

They have reached out to dozens of organizations but haven’t found one they’re able to partner with just yet.

“We don’t know everything it takes but we’re willing to learn and that’s why we’re really looking for organizations to partner with them so we can learn on how to best help these refugees,” said Chloe.

They encourage any organization willing to partner to provide this housing to refugees to reach out to them directly through their website.

Circle C president and current pastor at the First Baptist Church of Arcade, Wayne Aarum, was sued back in August under the Child Victims Act for alleged sexual abuse of a former camper and employee. The camp itself is also included in the lawsuit, as well as parent company Living Waters Ministries.

The lawsuit says accuser Laura Snell alleges she was sexually victimized by Aarum between the ages of 9 and 16 while attending and working at Circle C Ranch between 2008 and 2015.

According to the lawsuit, Snell says Aarum touched her on her genital areas and breasts, pressed his pelvis into her lower back and top of buttocks, held her by her hips, rubbed her on her inner and upper thighs, and rubbed his hands under her shorts.

This lawsuit comes after a independent report by MinistrySafe, which found several allegations of inappropriate interaction with female teens in a time period spanning more than two decades.

Aarum was previously employed by The Chapel as one of the directors of student youth groups from 1990-2000.

According to The Chapel’s website, in October of 2019 they were made aware of initial allegations against Aarum. They received more allegations in February of 2020. According to a statement on The Chapel’s website, “No action was taken by The Chapel until it became clear that our leadership and the camp leadership were not on the same page regarding a path forward. “

The statement says Circle C’s board of directors contacted The Chapel in August of 2020 saying they no longer wanted to partner with The Chapel. In September, The Chapel communicated their agreement with this and continued to express concerns. They say:

Due to the continued denial of any wrongdoing and lack of good faith effort to conduct a thorough investigation into the claims of numerous victims and collaborators, Chapel leadership has determined that there will be no need of any further communication or meetings with the Circle C Board.”

The Chapel engaged MinistrySafe to conduct the independent investigation, which includes communication with 21 women alleging inappropriate touch and 27 others corroborating elements of the behavior. The report says:

“In sum, the MinistrySafe investigation revealed an ongoing pattern of harmful behaviors — blatantly inappropriate in a child-serving environment– occurring in a closed environment at the hands of a pinnacle employee at a camp controlled almost entirely by family members. In this closed environment, this employee has been allowed to normalize various borderline and explicitly inappropriate behaviors.”

Aarum and Living Waters Ministries sued The Chapel and executive pastor John Camardo in June for $2.5 million in damages. The lawsuit accuses Camardo of being the subject of an “intensive campaign” to damage Aarum’s reputation to prevent him from continuing to work in his current role. The lawsuit also accuses Camardo of destroying business relationships between Circle C Ranch and its clients.

Back in March, Circle C Ranch published a statement in response to The Chapel’s comments and a statement and internal report in response to the MinistrySafe independent report.

The Board of Directors of Circle C Ranch provided the following statement to News 4 Wednesday:

“Circle C Ranch is aware of allegations raised against our President. However, this effort on behalf of Afghan refugees is an initiative launched and overseen by Circle C Ranch’s Board of Directors. Our ministry has not stopped, and will not, so long as Believers and good people face persecution. As Christians and Americans, we have a duty to help those suffering from the violent aftermath of a lost war. Rather than allowing these criticisms to distract us, we are focused on our duty as Christians and our responsibility as Americans. We ask anyone who can help us help the victims of war to do so, and those who can’t materially, to pray.”

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