Joe Gardella, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and his wife Carol Kizis, who worked at MCEER before retiring about 15 years ago, watched their daughter Claire take some of her first steps toward independence at Cradle Beach.
“For Claire, Cradle Beach was a way to adjust,” says Gardella.
Adopted at 5 months old, Claire, now 23, requires a full-time aide; although she possesses the intellectual ability to communicate, she is physically unable to speak.
“You can imagine the fear that someone would have being away from home for the first time, unable to speak and who doesn’t have the facility to know if people can communicate with or understand her,” says Gardella.
Today, the day program staff know Claire has strong opinions and a lot inside of her. That wasn’t always the case. Gardella says she was very shy before attending Cradle Beach camp over the course of three years. The transition wasn’t easy, but Claire made lasting friends and had great support from her counselors.
“From my perspective, Cradle Beach put Claire on a path that has made her more independent,” Gardella says.
A Cradle Beach board member, Gardella says the 126-year-old institution has grown from a late 19th century fresh air camp to a year-round facility with programs for children with disabilities and children from low-income families. In fact, Cradle Beach was among the first organizations to combine those two populations as part of a single camp. And though the camp experience is still part of the mission, Cradle Beach’s programming has evolved significantly.
“They provide services for nearly 900 children that go to camp during the summer, but also for several hundred children in high-need Buffalo schools,” says Gardella. “We now offer informal science education, mentoring programs, summer workshops and have established collaborations with UB and other community and cultural organizations.”
Gardella says it was a community commitment that helped establish Cradle Beach, but it’s only through continued generosity that the organization will continue to grow and expand its offerings.
“Cradle Beach and Claire’s experience are among the many reasons that Carol and I maintain our commitment to the Campaign for the Community,” Gardella says.