A crown for a Queen

July 15, 2021

By Julie Capaldi,President, United Way of Pickens County

PICKENS COUNTY — In a normal year, I would have written at least four articles about Camp iRock, United Way of Pickens County’s answer to addressing “summer reading loss.” United Way’s partnership with the School District of Pickens County and the Easley, Pickens, Powdersville YMCA is epic and my most favorite thing … ever. Watching those lightbulb moments go off when a child who is struggling with reading finally “gets it” is addictively wonderful. I can’t get enough!

Because of the shortened summer break, we had to condense seven to eight weeks of a normal camp into just four short weeks. The time flew! My Sentinel-Progress articles fell behind.

Camp iRock was completely “in-person” and we learned a lot about what children have faced during the pandemic. I’ll admit it, some of it wasn’t great … but reality is “what it is” and because of Camp iRock, the School District is prepared for what to expect when children go back to school … in early August!

Every week, I shared Camp iRock stories with our funders and donors because in -person tours were out of the question. This story about Julie (her real name) is my favorite. Julie’s mom, Tasha has given me permission to share it with you. I hope you love it.

A warrior princess

What is a Warrior Princess? I googled it. A Warrior Princess empowers every woman and girl to know that she is worthy, and she is powerful, by building a foundation of confidence, compassion, faith, courage and capability.

Julie is our Warrior Princess. She’s seven years old. Her past two years of life have been VERY challenging. In May of 2019, Julie was diagnosed with Pre-B ALL, a type of leukemia. She missed a great deal of kindergarten because of her cancer treatments…and COVID-19. Julie’s family and teachers worked so hard to help her catch up. She received tutoring in the summer of 2020, had a wonderful 1st grade teacher, and received additional tutoring in the afternoons.

Julie went from a “Level A” in the summer of 2020 to a “Level G” by the end of first grade. This was great progress but it wasn’t enough to make up for all she had lost…her reading skills had to improve so she would be ready for a great 2nd grade year. (According to the Fountas and Pinnell text level gradient, a typical student in first grade will begin at a Level D and end the year at a Level J).

The struggle of reading has been stressful and overwhelming at times…both for Julie and for her family. It’s hard to imagine!

Thankfully, because of the generosity and support of the Pickens County community, Julie was selected to attend Camp iRock this summer. She was paired with a phenomenal team lead by her teacher, Mrs. Tegen.

“Julie is focused on ‘thinking’ about the text when reading aloud. She uses what she knows to determine if her errors make sense and sound right when making self- corrections. Her fluency has improved since learning to ‘depend on her eyes’ for tracking print rather than finger pointing word by word,” explained Mrs. Tegan.

The classroom staff consisted of a YMCA counselor and Call Me MiSTER intern to support Mrs. Tegen so she could pour all of her teaching skills into Julie. That is the secret of Camp iRock’s success. It really does take village to help a little girl.

“When we attended Family Night and had the chance to talk to Julie’s teacher, I almost fell out of the car when she told me that Julie had jumped two reading levels in just two weeks at Camp iRock! To see her growth and know that she will now get a great start to 2nd grade was about too much for my momma heart to handle,” said Tasha, Julie’s mother.

“With the end of Julie’s chemotherapy only three weeks away and seeing just how far she has come, we needed to celebrate! The best I could come up with, on short notice, was to drive straight to our neighborhood pool and tell her we could jump in with our clothes on.

She didn’t believe me at first, but just lit up knowing we were going to, just this once, break the rules and make a BIG splash.

“We are so incredibly thankful for all the Camp iRock partners…the School District of Pickens County, the Easley, Pickens, Powdersville YMCA, and United Way of Pickens County. Camp iRock has already made such a significant difference in Julie’s life.”

Tasha wants you to know that she is so grateful to you for supporting Camp iRock. Because of you, one precious little fighter has such a bright future.

When I sent this article to Tasha for approval, she said that if Julie had HER way, she would be the Warrior Queen.

I say, “Give Julie her crown!”

Julie Capaldi is the president of the United Way of Pickens County. Reach her at jcapaldi@uwpickens.org.


This editorial first appeared in the Sentinel Progress on July 14, 2021.