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The opening season for the new Cradle Beach Camp last year should have been the perfect summer for the hundreds of disabled and disadvantaged children.

And, for the most part, it was.

But for some youngsters in wheelchairs, there was something they were denied.

For the first time in Cradle Beach's 109-year history, most of the campers now have easy access to their own 2,000-foot beach on the shores of Lake Erie, off the Old Lake Shore Road in Angola.

The beach is just a hundred feet or so away and an easy walk from the camp -- easy that is, if you're able to walk.

Some 20 percent of Cradle Beach campers use wheelchairs. They cannot move through the sandy terrain and join fellow campers for such activities as singing around a campfire or watching the sun go down over the lake on a warm summer evening.

That, camp officials and supporters vow, will no longer be the case.

They've already begun installing the decking down the slope from the edge of camp to the beach.

Cradle Beach also will be building a patio to the rear of the Jim Kelly House and a "multicolored" brick and granite pathway that will take the disabled campers from the Kelly House and on down to the beach.

With the cooperation of local contractors like LaFarge Construction, which is donating bricks, and Ed Hamerski of Classic Images, who will construct the patio and walkway at cost, the project can begin.

One of the "great problems," camp director Herb Tolbert said, "was figuring out what to call the pathway. We wanted it to be a lasting memorial to everyone who has ever been affiliated with Cradle Beach, with a designated name that would have a special meaning to all of them."

After some weeks of friendly debate in more formal committees, Cradle Beach officials decided the best people to come up with a suitable name would be the campers themselves.

Campers of all 15 cabins began brainstorming for the big prize -- a special brick along the pathway with the name of the cabin and its members inscribed on it.

Last week, during ceremonies in the cafeteria of the Jim Kelly House, all campers showed up with painted posters and design and name suggestions.

Top honors went to the Cherokee Cabin for the suggestion: "The Path Home."

Cherokee Cabin counselors Theresa Heary, Alison Norton and Tonika Jones said their campers gave the contest a lot of thought and "all of their ideas were different."

"The Path home has a lot of meaning for all of us," said 12-year-old Christina Hanesworth, a four-year Cradle Beach veteran. "

Tolbert said Cradle Beach plans to begin a five-year program to make the pathway a lasting memorial, by soliciting funds from families and corporations and having their names and logos engraved on the bricks.

The patio will be constructed using two 12- by 24-inch granite slabs, each available for a $1,000 contribution.

In addition, there will be 560 6-by-9-inch engraved bricks at $100 each, 112 12-by-9-inch bricks costing $150 each and 56 12-by-12-inch granite engraved bricks at $350.

Tolbert said over the next five years, officials hope the project will raise some $30,000 in additional funds to support the camp and its efforts.

This year, more than ever before, Cradle Beach needs your help to make a child's dream of acceptance become reality.

The camp officials hope to bring 900 needy children to the facility for one of five 10-day sessions in the sun. To do that would cost the camp $500 per child, and that money must come from community supporters.

The Buffalo News hopes to raise the funds needed to send 200 of those 900 youngsters to Cradle Beach, with your help.

As in past years, The News will publish the names of every contributor to the fund in a special section at the end of the campaign as a way of showing the Cradle Beach camper's thanks for your contribution. Contributions can be sent to Cradle Beach Camp Spring Fund Drive, Station C Post Office, Box 444, Buffalo 14209-0444.

Administrative costs for the Fund are absorbed by The News, so every penny goes to Cradle Beach.

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