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From the inner city to rural Rustic Falls



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ON THE PATH for a little adventure, these youngsters enjoy a flower bordered walkway through the grounds around Rustic Falls Camp in the town of Lyons during a July 13 field trip. These youngsters are from Marillac House, a Chicago social service agency. Eric Lentz, who co-owns the camp with his social worker wife, Deanna Hallagan, said kids from the inner city have a hard demeanor. "Then we bring them out here and they're 11-year-olds again," he said.

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July 23, 2013 | 10:37 AM
LYONS — It took nearly an hour and a half for the bus to travel from south Chicago to Rustic Falls Camp, a little oasis of grass, trees, and peace and quiet near Lake Geneva.

And it would take about that long to get back.

In between the trips out of and back into the city, about 55 Chicago-area youngsters would get about four hours of peace, quiet, lunch and simple fun during a hot summer Saturday, July 13.

Temperatures were in the 80s, and with the humidity it felt hotter. But the heat and heavy air didn't seem to slow the youngsters down at all, as they shot baskets, kicked soccer balls and just plain ran around to check out the grounds around a renovated 150-year-old stone farm house.

Bug spray, however, was in great demand.

The camp is just five miles east of Lake Geneva, on Cranberry Road in the town of Lyons. It was created by Eric Lentz and his wife, Deanna Hallagan, of Skokie, Ill.

The 55 youngsters, from some of the meanest streets in Chicago, were on a trip sponsored by Marillac House, a social service agency run by the Daughters of Charity in Chicago.

They are in a program called Hope Junior for kids ages 6 to 18, said Hallagan, who has been a social worker at Marillac for 23 years.

Marillac House, on Chicago's south side, provides recreation and a secure place to meet and socialize for up to 400 kids a day, five days a week.

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The goal of the visit was simply to get the youngsters out of the city, said Hallagan. Over the July 4 weekend, 72 people were shot and killed in separate incidents throughout Chicago. Many of those shootings happened in the neighborhoods where these youngsters live, she said.

Kids went hiking in the woods surrounding Rustic Falls and then, just before lunch, took turns on a slip and slide.

"It's good to be at Rustic Falls," said Jadari Ames, 11. "You don't got to worry about guns and shooting. You got peace of mind."

Lentz said he watches the kids' attitudes and actions change as they go from the streets of south Chicago into the woods around Rustic Falls.

"These kids tend to have a hard demeanor, even the little ones," Lentz said. "Then we bring them out here and they're 11-year-olds again."

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He said the program will bring youngsters up in groups of eight to 10 to stay overnight on weekends.

The camp is supported through the nonprofit Frank Lentz Foundation, named after Eric's late father, who was a child psychologist in the Naperville School District.

The center of the camp is the two-story fieldstone farmhouse, which has been renovated and restored with mostly volunteer effort to sleep up to eight.

Surrounding the five-acre Rustic Falls Camp is 87 acres of the old Drumlin farm now owned by the Seno Woodland Education Center. Seno and Rustic Falls have a mutual use agreement. Guests of Rustic Falls can hike the Seno grounds, and guests of Seno can use the facilities at Rustic Falls.

Lentz said Rustic Falls has two to three groups visit every month. The Frank Lentz Foundation has established connections with several social and medical service agencies in Illinois and Wisconsin.

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Rustic Falls Nature Camp is a customized camp experience for small groups.

The goal of the camp is to create unique outdoor experiences for at-risk youth, cancer survivors and physically and mentally challenged children and adults. Each camp is tailored to the special needs of each group.

More information about Rustic Falls is available at www.rusticfallsnaturecamp.org.

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