Funding has come from conventional sources. More than half of the $200,000 the group has spent on engineering and construction so far has been donated by non-Muslims, organizers estimated. Rinas, hired to raise funds and promote the camp, said he plans to raise money from Muslim business owners and apply for grants from foundations and private corporations.
If the board has its way, MYCA will be as American as the YMCA. The “Y” is Christian and yet is open to people of other faiths. The YMCA’s mission remains "to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all."
Modeling itself after the YMCA has not helped the MYCA.
When the Corps awarded MYCA the exclusive right to negotiate a lease, the group met with the neighbors to explain its intentions. Some members of the community weren’t happy with what they heard.
“We were shocked,” said Lynne Kinney, whose home overlooks the leased land.
The former tenants had used the camp a few weeks each summer, mostly for day camping, said John Braun, the property manager for the local Girl Scouts council at the time. The scouts hadn’t even bothered to store canoes on the site and have not returned since their lodge burned down.
What neighbors saw in the initial MYCA proposal was a camp that could be used year-round by 120 people each week, replace pit toilets with a wastewater system and have an unknown effect on neighboring wells and streets.
To allay these concerns, Zambrana Engineering, a firm based in St. Louis, was hired to conduct a detailed environmental impact assessment. Every tree on the land was cataloged.
The firm concluded that building MYCA’s dream camp would cause no significant environmental problems. Still, the Corps decided to reduce the size of the camp MYCA could build by 50 percent.
Then, what had been a local story turned into national news. What seemed to grab hold of the public and media imagination were rumors of the inclusion of a 75-foot-tall prayer tower in the camp’s plans. Where this detail came from, no one is certain. The plans have never called for such a structure.
Besides people’s willingness to believe unsubstantiated rumors, Bill Aossey saw it as just another misinterpretation of Islam.
“There is no such thing as a prayer tower. Nobody’s going to pray to a post or a column,” he said.
But the story took on a life of its own. It was picked up by Fox News and other national media. Web sites such as the Militant Islam Monitor called it a “jihad camp” and made connections between Bill Aossey, Midamar, some Islamic groups it has supplied, and international terrorists.
Front Page, an online magazine featuring columns by conservative commentator Ann Coulter, dubbed the project “Camp Terror.”
Still, the response wasn’t a surprise, camp organizers said. Neither was it reason to give up. When a local resident told Bill Aossey that the camp would never happen, Aossey remembers replying, “Never is a long time. I don’t care if we get a piece of land big enough for a pavilion, a tent and a picnic table; we’re going to have a camp.”
The MYCA and the Corps signed a contract in March 2006 — nearly seven years to the day when a small group of men first started down this road. Construction started last summer and the lease requires its completion by 2011.
“We’re 20 years behind schedule in my head,” Joe Aossey said, laughing. “Up to this point in time, this has just been a vision. It’s like any other dream; you always question whether it’s a dream or a hallucination.”
Still, when Joe Aossey and Ballantyne asked the Johnson County Board of Supervisors for support in seeking an Iowa Community Attraction and Tourism grant, they were turned down. The county cited environmental concerns despite the impact study’s findings. In contrast, the YMCA has received some $1.7 million through the same state tourism grants.
Following the failed request, Ballantyne received letters and a telephone call that regaled him with expletives and called him an “idiot” and a “traitor.”
At no point did MYCA, which hopes to host its first campers in tents this summer, consider giving in to public pressure.
“Why should we give up on youth? That’s like saying give up on society,” Bill Aossey said. “Why would you give up on the future of youth?”