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A summer tradition of togetherness Families blossom at and return to Cradle Beach

It's the oldest trick in the book.

Ann Didio-Harbin wouldn't give Will Harbin the time of day when they were at Cradle Beach camp together as teenagers more than a decade ago. So Harbin did what any boy would do in his situation: He followed her around.

"I was like a puppy," he said.

Finally she agreed to date him. The rest, as they say, is history.

The couple went out for several years. While they saw each other during the year, they said they both looked forward to spending time together at camp, first as counselors and later as administrators.

Cradle Beach also continued to play a starring role in their romance.

One night, when Didio-Harbin came to visit Harbin at camp, he proposed. They have been married for seven years, and still return to the camp every summer. This year, Harbin supervises the male campers and Didio-Harbin works as a nurse for two of the five summer sessions.

And they bring their growing family with them. Their 3-year-old daughter Allie is a regular, staying with her parents and swimming with the much-older camp residents.

"All the campers know her," Harbin said. "Sometimes she thinks she's in charge."

The camp provides economically disadvantaged and disabled students an opportunity to attend a 10-day session for free.

The Harbins are among the dozens of campers who have turned Cradle Beach into a family affair. Dozens of siblings come every summer, and alums often send their children.

"We got our cousins to come from from Ohio . . . from Colorado," said Molly McCarthy, 29, who has been coming to the camp for more than 10 years.

"We even bribed our little brother to come," added her brother, James McCarthy, 20, who works as a counselor with his sister. "We offered him candy . . . but by the end [of the session], he didn't want to leave."

The McCarthys' father had volunteered at Cradle Beach years earlier and suggested Molly attend. She fell in love with the place and has never spent a summer away, working as a counselor and now as a supervisor.

She said she was directly in charge of her brother one summer, but it worked out better than either of them expected.

"We get along better when we're at camp," she said. "I push him hard because I know how well he can do."

Kelly Swanson, 20, knows what it's like to work closely with family members. She followed her brother, who suffered severe brain injuries after being hit by a car, to camp.

At first, she said, she was nervous. "I didn't really know anyone," she said. "Now I can't imagine doing anything else."

She convinced her younger brother Steven, 18, to come, too. But as she looked around the back porch, pointing out counselors who were in charge of her when she was younger, and kids she supervised, she smiled.

"Everyone is connected here," she said. "It's like a big family."

e-mail: aerickson@buffnews.com

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