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Cradle Beach offers more than ever for young campers; Varied programs all set for opening of season

Every year, Cradle Beach Camp strives for new ways to help the youth of Western New York.

It takes them out of a life filled with major challenges and offers an outdoor adventure to discover some of the secrets that only Mother Nature can reveal.

Monday, the camp along the Lake Erie shore in Angola will welcome its first campers of the summer. For over a century, it has been been serving disadvantaged and special-needs children.

Since 2001, Cradle Beach has expanded from a seasonal camp to a year-round getaway by implementing new youth development programs such as weekend respite and Project SOAR.

The words "success," "opportunity," "achievement" and "responsibility" represent the goals of Project SOAR, a program developed by Cradle Beach partnering with Every Person Influences Children, the United Way and Closing the Gap to help low-income and at-risk children graduate from high school and attend college.

The project works in conjunction with Buffalo School 43 by assisting 40 students -- 20 third-graders and 20 fourth-graders. It provides weekly group mentoring in the classroom by staff members from AmeriCorps, seven overnight "power sessions" at Cradle Beach, the traditional 10-day summer camp and six weeks of summer mentoring in an effort to curb educational setbacks incurred over summer vacation.

"There is a lot of research that shows kids suffer 2 1/2 months of learning loss over the summer," said Timothy M. Boling, CEO of Cradle Beach. "The overall goal of the summer camp is to keep kids learning in a fun environment, with every activity having an educational value behind it. All of what we do contributes to their academic success."

Project SOAR is modeled after the FIVER Children's Foundation in New York City that boasts a 95 percent school graduation rate. Cradle Beach and the participating families make a 10-year commitment to the program. At no cost to the families, the students get support from third grade through senior year of high school. Every year, 20 new third-graders will be selected by the principal and staff of the participating school.

"The unique aspect of Cradle Beach is that it's an inclusive program that integrates disadvantaged and special-needs children in a residential setting," Boling said.

This summer the camp also will feature a new misting garden to keep campers cool when they're not enjoying the in-ground pool, which is equipped with a spiral water slide.

Cradle Beach typically has former campers returning as counselors, and this year it also will be host to counselors from Spain, Denmark, Hong Kong and Scotland.

"We always celebrate diversity at Cradle Beach," said Bonnie A. Brusk, director of youth services. "It's an opportunity for the kids to try different foods and learn new games."

Brusk, originally from Grand Rapids, Mich., said she came to Cradle Beach to fulfill a requirement for college and immediately fell in love with the program. She earned a bachelor's degree in physical education from Western Michigan University and a master's in kinesiology and motor skills development from Michigan State.

For 27 years, Brusk was an elementary school teacher in the Grand Rapids public school system. She retired in 2000 and moved to Silver Creek to focus primarily on her life at Cradle Beach. This is her 41st year with the camp.

"There's just a magic here," said Brusk, who also runs the weekend respite program. "For 10 days, the world really works."

Last year, the camp opened Hunter's Lodge in honor of Hunter James Kelly, the late son of former Buffalo Bills and Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. It is a state-of-the-art geothermal cabin built exclusively for children with special needs.

The weekend respite program offers an opportunity for children with special needs to experience the outdoors with an agenda full of traditional camping favorites, including arts and crafts, music, and campfires on the beach.

Summer camps are divided into five 10-day sessions, with more than 160 campers rotating back and forth between two age groups.

Cradle Beach annually provides a camping experience for more than 800 children, who leave camp with valuable skills -- including a Red Cross swimming card -- and a lifetime of memories.

The first session begins Monday, and applications for the summer are still being accepted. For information, call 549-6307, Ext. 205.

Donations can be mailed to Cradle Beach Camp, 8038 Old Lakeshore Road, Angola, NY 14006-9635, or made online by visiting www.cradlebeach.org.

e-mail: emazzu@buffnews.com