Several words are not allowed at RISE’s Kings and Queens Reading and Writing Camp.

When campers attend every weekday evening in June, they are discouraged from saying “I can’t” or “This is stupid.”

Chanda McGuffin, co-founder of RISE, began Wednesday evening’s camp by telling the children that laughing and making fun of a fellow camper who is struggling to read is also not permitted.

“It’s not anything to laugh at somebody who doesn’t know how to read,” McGuffin told her 11 campers, “because guess who used to be there? None of us were born knowing how to read.”

With campers of all ages under 18, McGuffin encouraged them to feel comfortable as they were asked to take turns reading aloud in front of their peers.

“The other thing is this is a safe zone,” McGuffin told the campers.

McGuffin also played a word game with campers, who were divided into two teams. McGuffin showed an index card displaying a word for each camper to pronounce. If the camper was wrong, the turn went to the other team to try the word. A couple of campers thought “ballet” was pronounced “ballad.”

Then the campers read together in groups according to their age.

“Our main goal is to build their confidence, so they know they can learn in the classroom at the same level of any other kid,” McGuffin said of RISE’s camp.

When a camper first joins the camp, he reads aloud with a volunteer. Throughout camp, children are encouraged to learn how to say words and learn the meaning of the words.

For example, McGuffin said she taught them the word co-authored, and made a point to teach them what “co” in front of a word means.

Spelling at the camp is also important, and spelling lessons will build up to a spelling bee at the end of June.

McGuffin said that 22 children are enrolled, and campers are encouraged to come every weekday evening from 4 to 7 to Rosenwald Community Center.

Last year, the camp was held three weekday evenings each week through June and July, but this year, according to McGuffin, RISE decided to give campers the opportunity to concentrate on learning in June, then enjoy the rest of their summer.

Before camp ends, McGuffin said the children will have opportunities to visit the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, take a trip to see a production in North Carolina, visit the YMCA and learn to cook a meal. Older campers participated in a conference on Friday.

At last year’s camp, the first time RISE hosted the camp, Nysoun Gardner, 14, now a rising 8th grader at Kate Collins Middle School, had been in Genesis, Waynesboro Public Schools’ and Augusta County Public Schools’ alternative education program for children with behavior issues.

Nysoun said he was in Genesis, because he was considered to be acting out of control in the classroom.

According to McGuffin, Nysoun was identified at camp last year as being bored in the classroom. She suggested he either skip a grade in school or take AP courses. He was crowned the camp’s King for last summer, and in the fall skipped a grade. Then he stopped having behavioral issues in the classroom.

“Because I got my act together, and I started getting good grades,” Nysoun said of the changes he made.

He said he came to camp last year because he wanted to straighten up his act not only for himself, but for his mother.

“Camp has made me into a better person,” Nysoun said as he attended camp Wednesday evening. At camp, he said he has learned not to judge others, and to rise above hate and negativity.

“You have to be a better person for yourself,” he said.

Nysoun said he would like to be a professional athlete some day, and his backup plan is to become a lawyer or go into design work.

After some tutoring, Heaven Dudley, 10, a rising 5th grader at Westwood Hills Elementary School, McGuffin said Heaven won an oratorical contest in January for reading Countee Cullen’s poem “Hey, Black Child.”

Heaven attended RISE’s camp last year, and is back this year, she said, to continue improving her reading skills.

She said she knows how to read, “but I can’t read big words.”

She also hopes to learn to write better in camp this summer.

Heaven said she likes the opportunities camp offers her to read in front of others so that she can learn new words.

“We can’t do the camp without the community,” McGuffin said of the camp’s sponsors this year, including Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Church in Waynesboro, which provides volunteers and funding.

Other sponsors in Waynesboro are First Baptist Church, Oak Grove Baptist Restoration Ministries, Living Word Worship Center and Waynesboro Parks & Recreation.

Valley Auto, Ebenezer Baptist Church’s Youth Leadership Development Academy and Shenandoah Awards & Apparel in Staunton are also providing sponsorships.

However, McGuffin said, the camp needs more volunteers to help provide campers with individual attention in reading, writing and speaking. She said volunteers are welcome to help out in whatever way they can and as often.

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