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Former camp counselor describes 'disgusting' living conditions at Jacksonville child care facility

A former international counselor hired to work at Happy Acres Ranch for the summer says the facility 'felt like a prison' for international staff

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The list of accusations against Happy Acres Ranch grows as more employees come forward sharing their experiences working for the child care center.

 Some of those employees traveled from overseas for the opportunity to work and live in the United States for the summer. 

No air conditioning and dirty living quarters are just a few of the issues brought forward by former International Counselor Dylan McGavin. 

Happy Acres Ranch hires some of its staff through a cultural exchange program called Camp America. The program gives counselors the opportunity to meet new people and work in the U.S. for the summer. 

McGavin says he has worked at camps through the organization for the last few years, but this was his first summer working at Happy Acres Ranch. He was excited about the experience but says the facility felt like a prison. 

“It's the most disgusting place I've ever worked in my life," former International Counselor Dylan McGavin said. "We got our phones taken away from us. We didn't get them back until Friday at 6 p.m. so we could never update our parents."

McGavin says he, along with more than twenty other international counselors lived on the property. He says they were promised meals and necessities but lived in trailers that lacked just that. 

“We didn't have any doors on our cabins, so there was no privacy," McGavin said. "The showers we had were covered in damp and mold because there was no drain system. The food that was provided to us as counselors and to the kids in the main cantina area always had flies on them and also hair on the food. If the weather was severe with the rain, thunder, lightning, the camp would flood constantly." 

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 McGavin says the facility had a COVID-19 outbreak. He says he tested positive and was forced to work around kids. 

“I had to go back to work while positive with COVID-19 and run a group of 20 kids for the whole week while positive with COVID-19," McGavin said. "Those kids could have potentially tested positive for COVID-19 unfortunately because I had to give it to them, but I had to no choice." 

He says when counselors tried to address issues around Happy Acres Ranch to management, nobody listened. 

“They treated us like children," McGavin said. "Most nights they would scream and shout at us and basically told us if we don't like our stay at camp we would be told to go home. We were never appreciated for anything we had done. When you're working on two dollars and hour, literally a slave wage, and you get treated like crap you just don’t want to be there in that toxic environment."  

McGavin says eventually he and other employees had enough. 

“I spoke to Camp America and told them the situation," McGavin said. "They know everything about it, and they said you can terminate your employment, and you can have your 30 days of travel, but you will be leaving America one month early and every single person all the international counselors were fine with that."

We reached out to Camp America about the situation but did not get a response. McGavin says he is happy to walk away from what he says was the worst summer of his life.

“If you or your kids experience was ruined this summer, I'm sorry that Happy Acres Ranch exists," McGavin said. 

First Coast News attempted to reach out to Happy Acres Ranch again for comment but the facilities phone lines were disconnected. 

RELATED: Employees walk out over poor conditions at Jacksonville child care center

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