Oh what a night it was for campers at Cradle Beach in Angola who gathered one last time in the Jim Kelly House for the closing ceremonies of the second-to-last session.
After a traditional Thanksgiving feast, complete with turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce, campers and counselors put on a show displaying all the skills they have acquired over the course of 10 days through various play stations.
"I'm a little sad, but I feel good," said Benjamin Petrella, a seven-time camper. "I'm really going to miss Cradle Beach."
Benjamin, 15, was born with a rare genetic birth defect known as prune belly syndrome. When he first came to camp, he was very quiet and timid, said Bonnie A. Brusk, director of youth services. With the help of Cradle Beach and its "magic," he has become one of the most spirited and outgoing campers, she said.
Benjamin, who has a passion for the performing arts, was eager to show off his talents by singing "California King Bed" by Rihanna for his fellow campers amid the evening's exhibitions.
Some campers passed out the camp's newsletter, the Cradle Beach Crier, that they had worked on while a martial arts and musical exhibition grabbed everyone's attention in the dining hall. Other campers received Red Cross swimming badges, kickball sports certificates and a variety of other commendations for their hard work and diligence.
"Typically we go out in the woods to the council ring, light a bonfire and sing our traditional camp songs," Brusk said during the session last Wednesday. "This time around, we wanted to do something different and showcase all of the playstations."
Brusk still held one camp tradition by telling campers a story that signifies the importance of the Cradle Beach sunset with the hope that no matter where campers go in life, whenever they see a sunset they will think of Cradle Beach and hold it in their hearts, she said.
With the closing ceremony for the fourth session, the second to last, complete, the fifth and final session begins today, when a new group of campers arrive.
Founded in 1888, Cradle Beach has served thousands of underprivileged and special-needs children in Western New York by offering games, activities and traditional camping experiences. As a nonprofit organization, the camp relies on support from the community.
Nineteen years ago, a local State Farm Insurance agent, Dick Robinson Sr., took the initiative to create a local charity and began the State Farm Agents of Western New York Annual Charity Dinner and Golf Event to Benefit Cradle Beach. So far, the charity has raised $980,000, and Cradle Beach has been the primary benefactor for most of it with all proceeds going directly to support sending kids to Cradle Beach summer camp.
"We started this because we felt it was important to give back to the community," said Sheila Radwan, a committee member of the charity.
Radwan and her brother, Richard, are Robinson's children and both local State Farm Insurance agents. Every year, a group of State Farm agents make a trip out to Cradle Beach along with their mascot, "The Good Neigh-Bear," and provide lunch for the campers.
"It just makes me feel good," said Radwan. "To see those kids scream 'thank you State Farm' is awesome."
For Brusk, who is in her 41st year at Cradle Beach, the cherished memories created at camp are all that matter.
"They're going to take a lot of things home with them that will eventually go away," said Brusk in regards to the awards, crafts and prizes earned at camp. "The only things they have that cannot be taken away are the memories they have of Cradle Beach."
Donations can be sent to 8038 Old Lakeshore Road, Angola, or by visiting www.cradlebeach.org.