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CRADLE BEACH MEMORIES ARE A TREASURED GIFT

It was nearly 40 years ago, yet it feels like yesterday. I was one of the hundreds of children who were lucky enough to get to go to Cradle Beach Camp. My nine siblings and I anxiously awaited our turn to go, and we felt we were not going to just a fun place but to another world.

It was a main event in my family, a tradition, a rite of passage even. I'd anxiously await to see what cabin I would be in, who would be my counselors and which old friends would be there.

Though I was a shy child, I knew that at Cradle Beach, my voice would be heard, I would be accepted, and I'd be free to try new experiences. I would hold my breath with anticipation, as I passed through the dining hall to the door that led to the beach. Other campers, too, express that wonderful feeling of the refreshing breeze that greeted them as they stepped through the doors onto the sandy trails.

I loved Halloween night. I loved the snake slide, the tether ball games, the famous "tunnel" that was meant to get us safely across the road, but to us was an adventure. I learned to swim and to row a boat. We learned to build a fire, pitch a tent and sing new songs, and I adored falling asleep, in the fragrant pines, with the taste of smores still on my lips, washed down with the nightly "bug juice" they gave us.

Dinner was always exciting with great food, announcements of coming events and challenges of one cabin to another and results of cabin inspections. I used the free rental cameras (I now sell my photography) and spent much of my free time reading in the library (I am now studying writing at Harvard). Everyone has special memories of Sunshine Day, which converted the sadness of the last day into one last round of fun.

It was at Cradle Beach that I learned that disabled people are just like us -- are us. The counselors allowed us to "travel" the world though their stories of countries and their people. One counselor of many years, Bob Harnett, who had no limbs except one small leg, taught us that "you can do anything you put your mind to."

I remember many of the campers (Laura, Ardelle), and counselors (I still have my pictures), Eve Rubin, Bob Goss, the Talberts (some are still involved there) and my favorite, Jan Kennedy, who had whispered in my ear, "don't ever change." Our family hero is Jack Anthony, the former director who dedicated his life to make the camp this "other world" of love and acceptance and growth.

When you talk to new campers or the original campers about Cradle Beach, they instantly brighten and smile and share stories with instant understanding and camaraderie. Many of my nine siblings went on to be PCs (helper-campers) and counselors. We all became highly educated, successful, happy people. I am positive that our Cradle Beach experiences had a part in that.

I hope that those individuals and organizations that support the camp have at least some idea of what a priceless opportunity they are giving children in their two weeks at camp. I personally thank them, for me and for all the children.

I kind of feel bad -- my children only got to go to private camps.

LAURA CUNNINGHAM WRIGHT is a free lance writer, working on a master's at Harvard.

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