Reading is key to a child’s future

By Julie Capaldi - Contributing Columnist

I believe in every program that United Way of Pickens County supports. Advocate for the homeless? I’m your girl. Promote financial literacy? You can count on me. But sometimes, there is a program that I know is just so right. It’s “the answer” — transformational and life changing. It is the power of reading.

Too many Pickens County children struggle with reading. Over the summer their struggle is magnified. It’s called “Summer Learning Loss,” and it is one of Pickens County’s greatest educational challenges. These children never catch up. Their future is dim.

Last summer, United Way partnered with the School District of Pickens County and the Pickens County YMCA to address this critical issue. We developed a new program called Camp iRock and recruited rising 2nd through 4th graders who were identified as most “at risk.”

Camp iRock focused on remedial reading instruction in a fun camp like atmosphere. We learned that attending summer camp is a real badge of honor when a child returns to school in the fall. Camp iRock was incredible.

I have to admit that launching Camp iRock was scary. My team and I had to raise the majority of the funding to support the camp component and all of the “enrichment” activities like field trips and swim lessons. We had a lot of money to raise in a very short period of time. Because Camp iRock was new, I wasn’t exactly confident. I worried. A lot.

I have experienced the “naysayer syndrome” more than once during my tenure at United Way. “Camp iRock won’t work because the parents are not supportive and the children are stupid” is what I heard more than once. I was so mad because I knew it wasn’t true.

Then one day, I was at my weekly Rotary meeting, boldly expressing my frustration to a few fellow Rotarians.

“Yes, these children are challenged and yes, some of the parents may be difficult, but the children are smart and they deserve encouragement.” The audience gathered. I was on a roll.

Suddenly, Kathy, the young woman from Little Bistro who serves us lunch, spoke up.

“You are right, Julie,” she said. “By the time I was 19 years old, I had three children. I dropped out of high school. After seven years of marriage, my husband died when he was 22. I worked multiple jobs to support us. All three of my children, educated in Liberty public schools, went to college. Two graduated from college and have excellent jobs. The third child is in a management training program at a major retail chain.”

Someone in Kathy’s life must have encouraged her to believe in the power of education. I imagine the outcome would have been a whole lot different if she had been told that her children wouldn’t achieve much in life.

I was just blown away with the results of the Camp iRock. Many of our students that were miserably failing are now getting A’s and B’s for the first time in their lives. They have become model students.

I am excited to announce that we are expanding Camp iRock countywide this summer. I am just a little scared. We have to raise a boatload of new money before May 31.

“Are you sure you can raise all that money before camp?” say the naysayers.

“Heck yes, I can. Even if I have to go door to door and get each child individually sponsored, their future is worth it.”

Our Camp iRock children can go to college or technical school. They can get amazing jobs. They can be anything they want to be — because they are smart!

For more information about Camp iRock and how you can support a struggling reader, visit

By Julie Capaldi

Contributing Columnist

Julie Capaldi is president of United Way of Pickens County. She can be reached at or 864-850-7094, extension 101.

Julie Capaldi is president of United Way of Pickens County. She can be reached at or 864-850-7094, extension 101.


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