Funding Camp iRock — Let the FUN begin!

By: By Julie Capaldi - Contributing columnist

“It is grant season!” said Traci Boyles, Director of Early Childhood and Elementary Education for the School District of Pickens County. This statement accompanied the “Request for Proposal” link to one of our major funding sources for Camp iRock.

She’s wasn’t kidding.

In just three weeks, we had grant deadlines for three of our largest funders. It’s not like you can write one proposal and use it for all the others either. Each funder has unique objectives and results they want us to accomplish with their money.

I am a creative writer … a story teller. I love this column. It’s my kind of writing. I can make serious issues more relatable by telling true stories about people who are “living them.”

Selfishly, this column gives me a platform to externalize the worry that I tend to internalize … it is like talk therapy without a big bill!

Grant writing is much more technical. I am not terrible, but it doesn’t come easy to me. Fortunately, I am only responsible for one of the three big proposals and my colleagues are really great grant writers so we divide the workload.

I try to make my proposals interesting, always picturing the poor person who has to read a million funding requests. I’ve read a few proposals in my 24 years. Good writing goes a long way.

The first grant is a BIG DOSE OF REALITY!

Those early proposals always require a budget so living in my dreamy world of camp fun and reading success is clouded by the stark reality of how much money I have to actually raise! It’s a lot … over $300,000! But for the 456 children and their families who struggle with reading, it is a priceless investment in their future.

One reason for the big budget this year is the addition of 144 rising 1st graders to the Camp iRock family. By reaching children before they enter 1st grade, we can give them a tremendous head start towards a lifetime of academic success. It’s going to really fun to have the little kiddos at Camp iRock. I can hardly wait!

It’s amazing how fast Camp iRock has grown since we started in 2015.

When we first talked about this program, one of our main objectives was to create an environment that was exciting. We wanted to put the FUN in learning to read. The word is definitely out. Camp iRock is the place that every kid wants to be this summer! I hope that means that every classroom will be full of eager learners.

A few weeks ago, Traci Boyles shared this email from one of the literacy specialists who works with students every day. It just makes my day when I hear from teachers who spend time with “my kids” after a summer at Camp iRock.

“I wanted to share with you how much fun our kids had at Camp iRock. They talk about it all the time so ALL of our students have heard about Camp iRock. I have several kids stop by my room every single day asking if I will PLEASE invite them this summer! LOL … I am talking about kids all the way from K5 to 5th grade. I had the 3rd grade Gifted and Talented class stop by today to see if they could please go. Anyway … thought you should know that you and your team are doing something REALLY right!”

This feedback is SO great and affirming.

Thirty years ago, when I was a newly minted fundraiser, I was responsible for raising money for an asthma education program. I struck out most of the time … that is until I broke down the program into “fundable” parts. The “Adopt A School” program worked brilliantly and in just a few months I reached the big goal … and kept my job!

I may end up using those early lessons learned to fund part of Camp iRock. Sponsor a classroom or a camper. Fund a kindergarten class or a field trip … there are lots of ways support this great work.

Last year, one of my most loyal donors called out of the blue and asked how she could help. It was exactly the same day, I learned that we needed an additional class at the West End elementary site. I was in a panic because $20,000 (the cost of a full classroom of 24 students) seemed totally elusive. I just blurted out, “I need to find $20,000 and fast.”

She didn’t even hesitate, “I could do half.” I hooted and hollered and thanked her profusely.

That doesn’t happen very often. After a brief pause she said, “Oh heck, I will do all of it.” I was speechless. For the entire summer, we referred to that 5th class as HER class. She visited often and kept up with her campers and their progress.

Camp iRock Year 4 runs from June 4 through July 26. Invitations are ready to send to families of students who qualify.

There is no turning back.

If you want to know more about Camp iRock including how you can help, definitely give me a call. I will be so happy to talk “Camp iRock” with you. It’s my favorite thing!

My direct line is 864-850-7094 x101.

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.