Eric Jones knows he has a short temper, but the 11-year-old from South Buffalo is beginning to change for the better through Cradle Beach Camp and its year-round SOAR program.
“When we get in trouble, we have to face the consequences,” Eric said. “I stop trying to [fight]. I could get suspended or go home or probably get in trouble.”
He is a third-year camper at Cradle Beach Camp – the nonprofit summer facility in Angola that hosts children with disabilities or who come from low-income families. He also gets help from SOAR, the year-round tutoring and mentoring program for students operating in three Buffalo Public Schools – Lovejoy Discovery School, where Eric attends, Lorraine Academy and Southside Elementary.
Eric is a survivor. His dad, Gerald Jones, works hard for Eric and his brother and sister.
“Where we are in the Buffalo area, not everybody has big, fat checking accounts and it’s not fair to the children because I don’t think any child should be excluded [from camp] – whether it’s special needs, mental needs, low income,” Gerald Jones said. “ ... Every child should be able to go to the program and pretty much experience it.”
Cradle Beach charges families based on their incomes – typically $100 per camper. Gerald Jones enrolled each of his children in SOAR – also, David, 12, and Angelina, 9. Eric and Angelina are currently enrolled in Cradle Beach’s first session of the summer.
The father said the camp has provided his children with more opportunities than he had growing up – when his father was the lone supporter and couldn’t afford the cost of extracurricular activities.
Before the program, David and Eric had trouble resolving conflicts. Now, camp counselors know David as a well-behaved team leader and Angelina, who was shy and barely spoke a couple of years ago, has greatly benefited from being around other girls, even enjoying “spa nights” with face masks and manicures.
Eric, meanwhile, has greatly benefited. When he first went to camp a few years ago, he was defensive, but now he channels his protective instincts to help his camp peers.
“Today, he is one of the most caring, helpful and respectful kids we work with,” said Tim Boling, the camp’s executive director. “He would do anything to help someone else.”
Eric’s ability to reason with people is growing, too, said camp counselor Ben Hadrovic.
Last week, Eric apologized to a fellow camper named Tommy after they argued. And on Friday, he was angry with a counselor for leaving his side in the pool to assist another camper. But now he understands that she was doing her job.
The same day, in a computer lab activity, and he wrote a paragraph about his counselors: “They’re awesome and they work their butts off,” he wrote.
Because Eric works closely with counselors year-round through SOAR, he stays on top of his homework.
“I think it’s boosting his confidence and also just helping his ability to deal with minor changes in daily life, which otherwise might be a little paralyzing for him,” Hadrovic said. “And now, he can kind of go throughout the day without any hiccups because, otherwise, he’s a super happy kid who gets along great with everybody.”
About 750 youngsters – most from Western New York – will enjoy Cradle Beach this summer during five sessions running until Aug. 23. It is one of the only summer camps in the country that brings together economically disadvantaged children with those who have special needs.
This summer’s new camp initiative is known as STEM – an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math – and all campers must participate in activities geared toward learning through hands-on experience.
Gerald Jones sees the logic.
“[STEM] can help mold their minds so when they get a job, go for a job or even graduate high school, they’re not going to be just flipping burgers at McDonald’s,” the father said.
“They’ll have better, well-paying jobs in order to help their kids in the future.”