Cradle Beach has expanded from the campground to the classroom, and efforts to keep some Buffalo children in school look encouraging.
The agency created a year-round program and, with the support of some major donors, is making 10-year commitments to students at Lovejoy Discovery School 43.
"It's a year-round program where we're in the classroom every day," said Cradle Beach CEO Timothy M. Boling.
The results have been promising.
Project SOAR students spent 10 more days in the classroom than the typical Buffalo student.
While grades for Buffalo students experienced a decline over the school year, grades for Project SOAR students were higher than for a control group of students.
Classroom teachers said the students were participating, volunteering, behaving well, getting along with others and coming to school motivated.
"It's awesome," said Diane Flor, whose grandson, George Barnes, is in the program. "They encourage him to do what he has to do to stay on track. They help him with what he needs with socialization."
Now in its third year, the program includes 20 students in third grade, 20 in fourth and 20 in fifth. Each year, it will add 20 more third-graders. Two more schools are to be added to the program.
Six full-time staff members work with the students at School 43 every day. There are six overnight weekend retreats at Cradle Beach in Evans, a 10-day residential learning program and six weeks of summer enrichment activities.
The goal is to remove barriers from a child's life toward achieving academic and life success.
Fourth-grader Madalyn Chiari has been in the program for two years, and next year she will be going to City Honors School.
"She was very quiet, kind of a reserved girl. She did well academically," said Project SOAR Director Nicholas Schifano. "She is very outgoing now. She has a whole lot of friends."
The program will follow her at City Honors, and a staff member will meet with her about every two weeks, Schifano said. Madalyn also will take part in camp trips, service projects and overnights.
School mentoring and tutoring focus on attendance, behavior and course performance. Weekend programs emphasize problem solving, team building, creative thinking and conflict resolution.
Flor said that before entering the program, her 10-year-old grandson, who has a learning disability, had problems socializing.
"He would come home and tell me, 'Nobody likes me. Nobody wants to be my friend,' " she said.
Project SOAR staff members have given him a feeling of belonging, and this helps him socially and academically, Flor said.
She said that if George wakes up and is having a bad day, she can call the school and let them know what's going on. "They make it a point to get involved with their lives. They keep them on top of their own feelings," Flor said.
Cradle Beach has tapped into community resources for these efforts. Funding comes from the John R. Oishei Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo, the Patrick P. Lee Foundation, the Western New York Foundation, the Fatta Foundation and the United Way. Partners include Lovejoy Discovery School, Closing the Gap, the Service Collaborative of Western New York and Science First-Hand Learning.