Cradle Beach staffers Destiny Kennedy and Emma Inslinger don’t seem to have much in common.
Kennedy, 19, has bounced around foster homes all over Western New York since she was 5. Inslinger, 17, grew up in a New Jersey suburb with a stay-at-home mother and a working father.
Kennedy has been visiting Cradle Beach every summer for 10 years; Inslinger spent a single summer at the campground, and she went “kicking and screaming.”
What binds them together now is an intense passion for Cradle Beach, a summer camp in Angola that hosts children with disabilities and those from economically disadvantaged families.
They both returned to the camp this summer as counselors to oversee campers, organize activities and generally help the camp run smoothly. About 800 children will descend on Cradle Beach’s 60-acre campground over five sessions this summer. Each session lasts between eight and 10 days, and many of the children have special needs.
The counselors will have plenty of work to do, and not all of it will be easy.
For the two young women, however, it’s an opportunity to give back to a program that changed the course of their lives.
Inslinger initially didn’t want to attend the camp at all. The Basking Ridge, N.J., native said she reluctantly came to appease her grandmother, who sits on the camp’s board of directors. She figured she could make it through the ten days as a Pioneer Camper – the oldest camping age group – and never have to think about it again.
As a Pioneer Camper, she was expected to do basic chores and help run the camp. For the first time in her life, she did dishes and swept floors.
But she didn’t complain.
Instead, she said, the experience changed her life.
“I come from a different background than most of these kids,” she said. “The whole outside world aspect of it never crossed my mind. You know it’s out there, people who have different situations, but it hits home when you meet these amazing people.
“They become a person, not just a thing that’s out there. That makes you want to do anything and everything to help them out.”
After her experience at Cradle Beach, Inslinger’s approach to school – and life – changed. She swapped out a free study period at her high school to help train students looking for jobs.
For Kennedy, returning as a counselor represented a way to give back to a program that had helped her through a difficult childhood.
“It was a safe place where you can talk to adults who want to listen and help and don’t just brush you off as another sad story,” she said. “They want to make it better for you. It’s way different from the outside world. I want to be that difference in someone’s life, so I’m back.”
Kennedy is an incoming sophomore at SUNY Fredonia, but she never plans to cut her ties with the camp that fully accepted her.
“I want to be someone who can donate to Cradle Beach,” she said. “I want people to experience the great place that this is. I want to be someone who can be a part of it. Because of this place, I am who I am. This is like my second home.”
As the saying goes, Kennedy said, “Once you get the sand in your shoes, you can’t get it out of your heart.”
Donations to Cradle Beach can be sent to: Cradle Beach Inc., c/o Buffalo Evening News Charity Fund, One News Plaza, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240. Donations may also be made online at CradleBeach.orgemail: firstname.lastname@example.org