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you can add an app to the gnome menu by opening up the menu and then right clicking on an entry that is in the menu you want to add to e.g. if you want to add to the "accessories" menu, hover over it so that the shortcuts already in there are shown, then right click on one of the items in the accessories menu i.e. right click "text editor", then choose "entire menu" -> add new item to this menu.
in /etc/profile there is probably already a line setting your path, looking something like this:
# Set the default system $PATH:
Add /usr/local/bin (if it's not already there, which apparently for you it isn't) to the end, using a ":" as the delimiter. No spaces, no ending "/". Once you've done that, relog in and you should be able to run apps from that directory w/o typing in the full path.