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Looking for a great way to earn your volunteer hours for school? Well, the Cradle Beach Pioneer Camper program will provide you with that and more. Cradle Beach is a camp located in Angola that "serves the needs of children with disabilities and those who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds from Western New York."

The camp holds five sessions each summer, with 32 Pioneer Campers at each session (16 male and 16 female, ages 14-16). Pioneer Campers are volunteers who work with the campers during their activities and manage the dining hall. They live in cabins with three supervising counselors in each cabin.

The Pioneer Campers also have their own program in the evenings, which, according to Caeli Quiter, 17, a senior at Nardin Academy, in the past has included a cupcake designing contest, the game Jumangi and a Mr. PC contest (the girls were all assigned to a guy and used the camp's costumes to dress him up however they pleased).

Pioneer Campers learn valuable skills to improve teamwork, communication and work ethics, as they serve as role models for younger campers and integrate themselves into the Cradle Beach community.

Martha Boutet, a member of Cradle Beach's full-time staff said, "Pioneer Campers at Cradle Beach love being away from home and on their own and feel good about helping kids as well."

Caeli was a Pioneer camper last summer. She said the program helped her break out of her shell. Caeli spent the week serving three meals a day in the dining hall, setting up the tables and chairs and working with individual kids.

No day at Cradle Beach is the same. The camp offers everything from nature hikes to arts and crafts to Frisbee and football. Some PCs run activities, while others work one-on-one with kids, calming and encouraging them.

"Not only did I assist the campers, the campers helped me find my own identity," Caeli said. "I was very shy when I got there. By the end of the week, I was friends with everyone in ?my cabin and could easily strike up conversation. It was a very enlightening experience."

Because many of the kids at Cradle Beach have disabilities that prevent them from going to amusement parks, the Buffalo Rotary Club sponsors Sunshine Day every year. Campers enjoy candy, snow cones, carnival games, sky divers and a dunk tank. Similarly, the PCs also run ?stations for a "night on the town," which gives campers the opportunity to play different games and win prizes.

Colleen Mroz, 15, of Amherst High School, was introduced to Cradle Beach when she did a ?few shows there for Irish dancing. She signed up for the program to earn service hours for school. However, the camp taught her how to be self-reliant. Her teamwork and communication skills were honed through group activities as well.

Colleen, who helped with the campers' music activities, said, "When you go there, you really feel the sense of community, just how much people are willing to help you and how nice everyone is."

She explained how open and welcoming everybody is.

"They are all there to support you," Colleen said. "If you don't know how to do something, there are always five people willing to help you."

Since the Pioneer Campers are considered campers, there is a fee to participate in the program, which is based on family size and income. For those willing and excited to interact with children, applications can be found online at mission.cradlebeach.org. For Caeli, Colleen and many other Pioneer Campers, this experience is not only fun and rewarding, but it is an eye-opening experience that emphasizes how people's similarities outweigh their differences and that despite the challenges some face, kids will be kids.

For more information on the Pioneer Campers program, call 549-6307, Ext. 205; email admissions@cradlebeach.org; or visit www.cradlebeach.org.

Sarah Abell is a senior at Nardin Academy.