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SPACE CONSTRAINTS LIMIT CAMPER SLOTS CAMP OFFICIALS LAMENT TASK OF HAVING TO TURN SOME CHILDREN AWAY

There aren't enough bunks, and there aren't enough cabins at Cradle Beach.

Kids who want to keep coming to camp, after they reach their mid-teen years, can't.

There just isn't room.

No younger child with a disabling physical condition will be turned down, but those who are whole though needy may find themselves on a waiting list. There's always a waiting list, every summer.

Camp officials wish there didn't have to be a waiting list, for any of the children. But the camp can take only 800 kids each summer -- about 200 in each of four two-week sessions.

About half the campers each session will be battling challenges such as cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. The other half will be seeking a break from the violence, poverty or street pressures that can breed emotional stress.

The first session this year starts June 26, for 9- to 11-year-olds. A second session will take older kids -- through 14 for the underprivileged youths, to 17 for those with disabilities -- before the cycle repeats again.

All the money's not yet in the bank -- the spring fund drive, under way now through the end of May, hopes to raise a significant part of the camp's $580,000 summer operating expenses.

"We don't have near enough money to even do what we do," said Cradle Beach executive director Steve Brady, putting aside for now his long-range thoughts of expanding the programs.

Many of the kids come to Cradle Beach camp for free, or for a minimal rate of $1 or so a day for meals.

Others, depending on their family's incomes, may pay up to $500 for the session under a recently instituted system designed to stretch the camp's limited resources.

About 95 percent of Cradle Beach's summer campers are "at or below the poverty level," Brady estimates. If their family income is less than $12,000, he added, "they pay $10 or $15 per period, because that's all they can afford."

For the rest, Brady said, "there's a sliding scale that was developed last year and refined this year. It's basically income-driven."

The new policy has annoyed some families, he admitted. There's an appeal process, though, and Brady notes that the significant fee paid by a small percentage of campers also "enables us to do that much more, for children who don't even have a penny."

A fee can mean problems even for families with decent incomes, because the hardships that come with serious physical challenges have a financial as well as an emotional side.

A camp fee might be squeezed out of a budget -- but at the expense of something else.

"I take it out of the college fund I have for them, because they want to go, and I can't see not letting them have the experience," said one mother who will be sending two children to Cradle Beach this summer.

The fee scale hasn't meant enough income to keep the camp from operating on the very edge. It still depends largely on the generosity of Buffalo News readers and others who contribute to the annual drive through the Cradle Beach Camp Fund, P.O. Box 599, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

"We can't refuse any child with a disability who wants to come to camp -- we just won't do it," Brady said.

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