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Let the Camp iRock Fun Begin

The time has finally arrived for me to write about Camp iRock Year 3. I am so excited because honestly, it's the most wonderful program ever.

Camp iRock is an innovative summer literacy program that addresses "summer learning loss," a significant challenge for too many Pickens County children. It's a unique partnership between the School District, the YMCA and United Way.

Each partner is in charge of what they do best. The School District manages the literacy component, the Y brings more summer fun than any kid can handle and they build character and self-esteem, and United Way provides the funding and promotion.

I've always loved to read ever since I was a little girl. My favorite book was "Lucinda the Little Donkey" written by Irma Wilde in 1952. Lucinda is a naughty little donkey who takes great pleasure doing exactly the opposite of what Mr. Pinkney, the farmer, tells her. I burned through three copies of that book, making my mother read it to me every night.

When I arrived in first grade, I was a reader, as were most of my classmates. Many Pickens County children struggle in school. Here's the thing: if no one reads to them before they start school, if they haven't had child care that emphasizes reading, chances are they will start school behind their better prepared peers. It's even harder when English is the second language in the home.

Last year, 162 children attended Camp iRock. In reality, we could have served an additional 100 kids because we had the funding and staffing. It was frustrating to know that kids who really needed to be at Camp iRock were not encouraged to attend.

Not this year. Using lessons learned, we've focused on our recruitment efforts. For example, we created the cutest video that accompanied the invitations sent home to the parents. You can view it here. The School District sent out invitations much earlier and the reading interventionists and teachers are on the ball following up with parents.

The parent orientation meetings are much earlier this year. Our goal is to host two sessions before the start of Camp iRock. The first parent orientation meeting was at Pickens Elementary. One little family arrived before me and was waiting for the doors to open. I recognized the dad right away and he was so happy to see me.

"Do you remember me?" he asked. "Absolutely," I said, and here's why. I do a lot of workplace campaigns for United Way. I just love interacting with donors and telling the Camp iRock story. This man is a donor. In fact, he's a very generous donor who contributes $10 per pay period.

The reason I know this is that I fill out his pledge form for him every year. He cannot read or write. Because I talked so much about Camp iRock and showed the video, he recognized the Camp iRock logo. His son is invited to attend Camp this year.

"I came early," he said. "I want to make sure my boy gets into Camp iRock"

There was a whole different vibe at these first parent meetings. First of all, the meetings were packed. Secondly, the parents had lots of great questions. They seemed to be more enlightened about the importance of reading. Woo hoo.

When I called the School District last week for my Camp iRock update, I was shocked to find out that Camp iRock is almost full. What?

Could it be possible that we did too good a job building our recruitment plan? I don't think so. What I think is that Pickens County shares our hope for a community where children enter school ready to learn. They understand that families need our support to help them prepare their children for a bright future.

Let the Camp iRock fun begin...

This post by Julie Capaldi first appeared in the April 15 issue of the Easley Progress.