Bonnie A. Brusk grasped at words, trying her best to articulate the meaning of “Cradle Beach magic.”
“You’ve got to be here to feel it,” the camp director of 43 years said. “It’s just a community of love and acceptance.”
A fresh batch of campers set foot Saturday on the idyllic, 63-acre Angola campground on the shores of Lake Erie, kicking off the summer’s second 10-day session. The camp hosts economically disadvantaged or disabled children, ages 8 to 16, who apply for the summertime getaway, which is packed with arts and crafts and other educational activities.
A camper for at least the last six years, Amber Geary, 15, has felt the Cradle Beach magic.
Outside the camp, Geary said, teenagers are often intimidated when they spot her wheelchair.
Not so at Cradle Beach, said Geary, who is much more comfortable being herself.
“Everybody understands that it’s just a wheelchair,” she said.
Then there are the activities – like painting your counselor and a hand game called “Sevens,” an almost secret language restricted to Cradle Beach campers.
“Nobody understands it unless you’re here,” said Amber, who aspires to one day work at the camp as a counselor. For now, she’s a pioneer camper, or someone who has risen in the ranks and now helps oversee younger campers.
Many at Cradle Beach, including counselor Derrick Brown, 22, started at the camp as a child and keep on returning. Brown said he would look to older counselors as role models.
Brown recalled one counselor from France, nicknamed “Frenchie,” who would ask campers if they had any requests before heading to the grocery store during his downtime.
“I thought it was really cool,” Brown said. A recent Fredonia State College graduate, Brown said he hopes to similarly inspire the campers he helps oversee.
“They just influenced us to move up to that point,” he said.
Camper Madalyn Chiari, 11, returned Saturday for her third year at the camp. Madalyn, who counts constructing a house out of popsicle sticks as one of her favorite activities from previous sessions, hopes to be an architect one day.
Madalyn belongs to SOAR, a 3-year-old project coordinated by Cradle Beach that combines after-school tutoring, weekend activities and the summer camp. A student at City Honors School, she is bused to Lovejoy Discovery School, where the program is based, she said. The project also operates out of Lorraine Academy and Southside School.
As part of SOAR – which stands for Success, Opportunity, Achievement and Responsibility – Madalyn has helped with beach cleanups and studied different plants.
“I really like to do the beach cleanups because we get to find sea shells,” she said.
Each student that belongs to SOAR is guaranteed a slot during the summer camp, Brusk said.
Austin Pischer, 11, a Lovejoy student, is new to both the camp and SOAR. So far, he is enjoying the extra academic attention from the tutoring program and being able to spend his afternoon with friends.
“It’s really fun,” he said. “I get to hang out.”