With the summer winding down and Cradle Beach in its final camp session of the season, the organization, which has served children with special needs for more than 125 years, is looking toward the future, hoping it can help improve the lives of more children and families.
Cradle Beach’s three programs – summer camp, Respite Weekends and Project SOAR – have become so popular that Cradle Beach staff are now having to place children on waiting lists, as the camp is unable to meet the growing demand.
This summer, it had to turn away some families who wanted to send their kids to one of the five overnight camp sessions the organization offers in the summer at its site in Angola.
“We serve close to 800 children in the summer. We currently have a wait list of about 60 to 70 children who wanted to come to camp this summer, but who we weren’t able to accommodate,” said CEO Timothy Boling.
The Angola site, which Cradle Beach moved to in 1996, sits on 60 acres of land. There are 17 cabins, which house both children and staff members. Three cabins are dedicated to about 40 non-cabin staff members, the people who do not stay with the children overnight.
With 14 cabins available to campers, only 160 children can attend the camp each session. If a central cabin space were built for the 40 staff members, it would free up three cabins for campers, according to Boling.
“That would mean we could serve about 200 more kids in the summer over the five sessions,” he said.
Cradle Beach also hosts children throughout the academic year on Respite Weekends. Most of the children who attend these weekends are autistic. There is a one-year waiting list for that program, as well.
“Many of our families tell us that they never have a chance to be on vacation since their child was born, so they might take that time to do that,” Boling said.
Cradle Beach will launch the Living Classrooms program this year, which will bring students to the camp during the week to study the science material they are learning in the classroom in a real-life environment. Some of those trips will be overnights.
Most of the camp’s buildings were last updated in 1996, and roofs and siding are now reaching the end of their life cycles. Boling said the organization would also like to build equipment-storage facilities, a performing arts center and a building dedicated to science-learning initiatives.
“These are things we need to do if we want to accommodate the children who want to come to Cradle Beach,” Boling said.
The need to expand does not apply to just the camp, according to Boling, who said the camp is getting more and more requests from schools interested in the Project SOAR program that Cradle Beach offers during the academic year.
This school year, Project SOAR will be offered at four Buffalo Public Schools: Lovejoy Discovery School, Lorraine Academy, Southside Elementary and the International Preparatory School.
“We get calls all the time from principals in other school districts to do the programs there,” Boling said.
Serving other schools and districts would require Cradle Beach to hire more staff members, which it is can’t afford right now.
If anyone in the community is interested in helping Cradle Beach expand its offerings, Boling encourages them to host or participate in a fundraising event. Volunteering time is also welcome, he said; people in the construction industry can help build cabins or renovate current structures, for example.
Boling said Cradle Beach would like to build another cabin before the start of the camp season in 2015.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about serving more kids,” Boling said.