Sentinel Progress

Camp iRock is changing lives

My cup runneth over! I don’t know if it’s my total belief in the power of reading and Camp iRock, or an insatiable need for positive affirmation, but the Camp iRock success stories are pouring in.

They make me so happy and I can’t wait to share with our community who so passionately supports Camp iRock.

I spend most of my summer visiting Camp iRock and I just love it. It’s almost unbelievable how much camp has grown since the first pilot year in Easley. I will never forget that first year either.

One child in particular stood out.

I didn’t know his name. There were six little boys gathered around the teacher so I took a seat. The teacher was reading a book about “home”. I don’t exactly remember the details of the story, but what the child said will stick with me forever. “I don’t have a home.” I realized right then that this child was homeless. I could never find out for sure because privacy laws are very strict.

Fast forward to this year. Sometimes, I struggle to find parents willing to tell their personal Camp iRock stories. One afternoon, while lamenting to Armilla Moore, Executive Director of Family Promise about my difficulties, she said, “I have the best Camp iRock story for YOU.”

OMG, when she filled in the details, I realized that this was the little boy I met at Camp iRock that first year. I was right. He was indeed, homeless.

“His mother will be happy to share their story with you,” said Armilla. I was there in 10 minutes!

His name is Caden. According to his mother Jana, they were homeless in three states before finding their way to South Carolina and Family Promise. Caden was unable to attend school regularly and missed most of kindergarten. Therefore, he found himself so far behind in 1st and 2nd grade. Just imagine how hard school must have been for him. He was timid and talked very little.

The staff and volunteers at Family Promise worked with him every single day. Using flash cards, they taught him his letters and shapes. They helped him with his reading. When the School District invited Caden to attend Camp iRock, the Family Promise team made sure he was there every day.

I had a chance to talk with Caden, his mom Jana, and Armilla. Sitting in front of me was a “sparkly,” self-assured, joyful young man. He was funny and silly … your typical 9 year old. He talked nonstop about what he loved about Camp iRock …Martin Luther King research, chipmunks and Star Wars and chapter books … especially chapter books, a real badge of accomplishment for a Camp iRock kid.

Caden currently attends West End Elementary school and is an A/B student. He has a library card for the first time in his life. He pours over books about geology. He is a real non-fiction fan and loves research!

Oh, and the family is doing great too. Caden’s mother Jana, is the transportation director for Family Promise of Pickens County. She has a good stable job. They have an apartment that they can afford.

We ended our conversation learning about Caden’s amazing vacation to the beach and how much he loved body surfing and the ocean. According to Caden, prior to attending Camp iRock he had never learned to swim and was terrified of the water.

“I was REALLY, REALLY scared to swim,” said Caden.

Through the love and encouragement of the YMCA instructors and counselors, and the camaraderie of his fellow campers, Caden overcame his fear and learned valuable lifesaving water safety skills.

When I sent this story to Armilla to make sure I had the facts straight, she told me Caden is going to Camp Sertoma this summer and is having a blast. He had to tip over a canoe and swim out from underneath it.

Some of his fellow campers had trouble but not Caden: “I learned to swim at Camp iRock.”

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.