Dear Diary, Camp iRock rocked

By Julie Capaldi - Contributing Columnist

When The Pickens Sentinel offered me a monthly column, I wasn’t sure if people would actually read it. When someone I hardly know came up to me at the Y and said, “I love your column. It’s like reading your diary,” I was validated.

Here is my last column about Camp iRock for this year. It’s the one I’ve been dying to write. It’s about success.

Dear Diary,

Camp iRock is over and I can’t let it go. I miss everything about it, especially the children. I keep looking at the pictures and videos trying to capture the essence of Camp iRock. I’ve got it bad.

I am not alone. Yesterday, I sent a video to Paige Holliday, our Camp Director and made her cry because she misses camp so much. Teachers and counselors are still messaging each other on Facebook about their campers. One thing is blatantly clear. Those children are LOVED.

Reality hit me hard this week, when we were reminded by the SC Department of Education, that our final grant report was due. Funders want RESULTS. It doesn’t’ matter how much I love it, if the children don’t improve their reading, there will be no Camp iRock next year.

The results are simply amazing!

None of the children that attended Camp iRock experienced literacy loss. In fact, 75% experienced moderate to exceptional gains. That translates to an average of 5 months of growth in 6 weeks! Camp iRock helped close the gap for these kids.

They gained so much confidence in themselves too. Here’s my favorite example. On the final day of Camp iRock, we had a fabulous celebration at Liberty High School. Between the campers, their families, dignitaries, and staff, there were 350 people in attendance. It was a spectacle.

After the Olympic- like opening ceremonies, parents and guests had the opportunity to visit each class for a “show and tell.” The children were so proud of themselves. One little boy told us “his story.”

“I am in the 3rd grade but I read at the 2nd grade level. Then I got to go to this camp. I loved this camp. Because of this camp, now I read at the 6th grade level!”

He really doesn’t read at the 6th grade level. The point is that he THINKS he reads at the 6th grade level. He’s confident in his ability. Many of the children started camp feeling really bad about themselves.

The most poignant Camp iRock story is about the relationship that developed between one of our YMCA counselors and a boy that was in the DSS system. Because of the vulnerability of this child, I can’t go into a lot of details but everyone who hears about it is moved to tears.

When this boy entered Camp iRock, the counselor discovered that he didn’t even know his letter sounds. He could not read. Our counselor spent a lot of extra time with this boy. She and the entire Camp iRock team showed him boundless unconditional love.

To say that he thrived at Camp iRock would be an understatement. While my colleague Jennifer Shurley was interviewing children for our annual video, this boy pulled her aside and proceeded to read her a book. When he uttered the final “The End” and closed the book, Jennifer exclaimed, “You read a chapter book!”

Nothing I can say can describe to you the pride on his face. It was that good.

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” — Frederick Douglass

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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