Monday, August 20, 2007

Disadvantaged kids learn skills, have fun at Cradle Beach camp

At Cradle Beach, fostering uncommon abilities
Disadvantaged kids learn skills, have fun at Cradle Beach camp
By Louise Continelli - News Staff ReporterUpdated: 08/19/07 8:48 AM

They may have cerebral palsy or autism or cystic fibrosis. But the disabled and disadvantaged kids who arrived home from Cradle Beach camp on Saturday morning had at least this in common: they all had fun.

And that’s what they did best at the Town of Evans camp.

Nine-year-old Casey Burnett of Buffalo said he wants “to be a fireman” — he was impressed by a camp visit by firefighters and a fire truck, complete with siren.
Shawna Lauby, 10, of Buffalo, noted the camp “was safe, respectful and responsible. And I loved swimming.”

Cradle Beach Executive Director Cara Stillman pointed out that “the diversity of the children was amazing. Some of them said they made friends with kids they wouldn’t have usually talked to.”

The camp also promoted unity through state-of-the-art equipment like the adaptive challenge obstacle course, designed for kids ages 6 through 16 who function at different physical and cognitive levels.

All campers were able to participate in an obstacle-course activity, regardless of level of disability.

But campers returned with more than memories of a good time.

Camp leaders, Stillman said, were committed to instilling values like integrity, honesty and responsibility in their young charges.

Some of the youngsters deal with epilepsy, motor difficulties, heart defects, Down syndrome, spina bifida, speech delays and neurological impairments. Cradle Beach is the only summer camp program in the country to integrate children with and without disabilities “as far as we know,” Stillman said.

The camp’s director said she is certain campers left with higher expections for their lives, greater “friendship skills,” sensitivity and compassion. The majority were better able to solve problems without fighting, and to resist negative peer pressure.

“They did well with resolving conflict,” Stillman added. They were also more comfortable with people of different cultural, racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“Kids get more responsible and independent,” she said.

Camp is not cheap. It costs $1,000 to send one child to Cradle Beach camp for 10 days. Of the approximately 800 kids who attended this summer, most came from families who can’t afford to pay this fee. This means Cradle Beach relied on the generosity of supporters, so children with special needs could enjoy nature, campfires, arts and crafts.