Education

Parents fume as Miami-Dade camp closes abruptly

When the Be Inspired Cultural Arts camp operating at the University of Miami ended two weeks into the eight-week camp, everybody got left with their hands out, palms up.
When the Be Inspired Cultural Arts camp operating at the University of Miami ended two weeks into the eight-week camp, everybody got left with their hands out, palms up.

When the Be Inspired Cultural Arts camp operating at the University of Miami ended two weeks into the eight-week camp, everybody got left with their hands out, palms up.

Those included the kids, some of whom had enjoyed the camp even though they it was light on promised equipment. Also among the befuddled: parents suddenly bereft of summer daytime activities for their kids, plus camp staff and possibly even the camp’s landlord, the University of Miami.

Parents and camp director Lissette Ramos called campus police, sensing fraud.

Anybody who Googled the name of the camp coordinator, “Quinton Cox” and ”summer camp” might have been less surprised.

That simple search, on the first page, reveals news stories and Better Business Bureau reports on other summer camps run by Memphis-based Cox that ended around the first official day of summer, not delivering promised programs and leaving early-paying parents frustrated and furious.

The police report written by UM campus police cited four parents who paid a total of $1,799.

“I’m out $400, but the money’s not the thing. He’s scamming the kids,” said Miami’s Elicio Aruelles.

Miami’s John Cavo said his 4-year-old daughter, “has been hanging out at home. We haven’t been able to come up with a plan. She’s kind of in limbo for what we’re going to do.”

According to the police report, Ramos said she hadn’t been paid nor had other staffers. The others refused to show up for work Monday. Left alone with the children already dropped off at a multi-use room near the Bank United Center basketball arena, Ramos had no choice but to declare the camp closed and phone parents to pick their kids up early.

Summers tend to end early at Cox’s camps, which also tend to ask for as much money up front as possible.

Two years ago, in Louisville, the Cox-coordinated Inspirational Keys Performing Arts Academy closed early, too. The Better Business Bureau fielded 49 complaints about Inspirational Keys camps. The BBB website states:

“BBB received a pattern of complaints from three states that include allegations that camps had not provided services as advertised, camps had been shut down abruptly, and promised refunds had not been received.”

Just 12 days after shutting down Inspirational Keys, the BBB notes, Cox received a new license under “Be Inspired Cultural Arts.”

Under the Be Inspired name, this year’s camps in Memphis, Houston, and Detroit paralleled the abrupt end in Coral Gables. Its website boasts of 11 locations for Be Inspired camps. The BBB website notes 14 complaints from five different states against Be Inspired.

Also, BBB staff went to the company address that is still listed on the website, 1661 International Dr., Suite 400, in Memphis. No one was there.

Contacted by phone, Cox said he would have his attorneys e-mail a statement to The Herald. No such e-mail was received. All future phone calls to his cell phone went to a voice mail for Inspirational Keys. The voice mail greeting was updated late this week to the Be Inspired name.

Cox has a series of minor vehicle violations in Memphis’ Shelby County as well as a foreclosure notice on a house in 2013.

Aruelles noted that Cox tends to place his camps at colleges — Houston camp at Rice University, the Memphis camp at University of Memphis, Philadelphia camps at LaSalle and Holy Family — thus presenting to parents a patina of stability, even though the camps aren’t directly affiliated with the schools. That appealed to Aruelles after his daughter’s 2014 summer camp didn’t notice she broke her arm one day.

The University of Miami didn’t wish to comment at this time on the Be Inspired camp.

Miami-Dade Public Schools provided breakfast and lunch for the camp under the USDA’s Summer Meals for Children Program, in cooperation with the Florida Department of Agriculture. Some parents learned of the camp via fliers picked up in their children’s schools.

“The school district has not endorsed any camps run by independent organizations,” district spokesman John Schuster said.

Aurelles said he got poor vibes from the camp’s meet-and-greet in May. Cox attended.

“I felt like I was on Shark Tank,” Aurelles said, referring to the TV show in which hopeful entrepreneurs pitch ideas for funding. “He never talked about what the camp was going to do. All he cared about was money.”

Once camp started, the academics Aurelles wanted weren’t taught. Cavo said the piano promised as part of the arts curriculum wasn’t there. Both complimented Ramos for doing all she could to keep the camp going despite a lack of promised supplies.

Cavo said it definitely changed the way he’ll approach summer camps in the future.

“I’ll do more homework, look up Better Business Bureau reviews, do my own research,” he said. “I would’ve never in a million years thought that I’d have to do that.”

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