Camp iRock is a true blessing

By Julie Capaldi - Contributing Columnist

I simply can’t believe it. After a year of planning, recruiting, fundraising … with a little anxiety thrown in … Camp iRock is over. I feel both elated and a wee bit sad.

My Camp iRock “sisters,” Alida Gardiner, director of operations for the Pickens County YMCA, and Traci Boyles, director of early education for the School District of Pickens County, and I have spent countless hours marveling at how many lives have been profoundly changed by Camp iRock.

The children didn’t just improve their reading skills, they grew in so many ways. They became more confident, more responsible, and more interested in school. And their families grew from the Camp iRock experience too.

The teachers had four uninterrupted instructional hours every day to work one on one and in small groups with the students. I can’t tell you how many of them have said this was the best teaching experience of their life.

Every teacher in every classroom had the support of a YMCA counselor and Call Me MiSTER intern to assist her. The YMCA counselors, most of them college-aged elementary education majors, had the opportunity to work alongside some of the area’s most gifted teachers. They learned teaching techniques that they can take with them to their own classroom. Not to mention, they’ve had a fantastic resume building experience.

The “Call Me MiSTER” interns also played an integral role in the success of Camp iRock. This program originated at Clemson University. Over the years, it has expanded to other colleges and universities in South Carolina. The goal of the Call Me MiSTER program is to increase the pool of available teachers from a broader, more diverse background, particularly among South Carolina’s lower performing elementary schools.

Camp iRock wouldn’t be the same without these excellent male role models. They were “Camp iRock solid.” Last year, many of the “MiSTERS” were hired by local school districts including Pickens County. This year is no exception.

All of us at United Way of Pickens County have been impacted by this experience as well. Camp iRock strengthened an already strong bond between the school district, the YMCA, and our precious donors. In fact, we’re already talking about other ways to support education efforts in Pickens County.

For the past month, we’ve hosted nonstop tours at all three sites, giving our donors and funders have had an “up close and personal” look at the impact of their contribution.

On July 25, the S.C. Education Oversight Committee evaluator visited Camp iRock. I think she was very impressed based on her questions. At the end of our interview, she asked each one of us about our challenges and accomplishments. Every one highlighted the incredibly strong partnership as their greatest Camp iRock gift. As we talked about the children, I noticed that every one of us got a little misty eyed.

Why am I sad? Throughout my career, I know in my heart that we have made a difference. But I have never experienced anything so tangible or as immediately successful as Camp iRock. To see such drastic improvement every single day is a blessing.

The real credit goes to Pickens County supporters, donors, funders and advocates who believed that an investment in children is an investment in our future.

I almost want to cry with joy. It’s that good.

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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