Nonprofit PCAT Family Literacy Program helps young kids in need

Volunteer Lorena Hernandez Garcia, a Hillsborough Community College–SouthShore Campus freshman, works with kindergarten student Mia Avellaneda, 5, during one of PCAT’s recent after-school tutoring sessions at Wimauma Elementary School. LOIS KINDLE PHOTO

Originally published February 22, 2018 by The Observer News — By LOIS KINDLE —

Fifteen years ago, Christene Worley noticed some of the youngsters in her church’s Bible study class couldn’t read very well.

“I found that to be unacceptable; I wanted to find some way to help,” she said.

She decided to start Parents & Children Advance Together (PCAT) Family Literacy Program, a ministry aimed at assisting at-risk children, ages 5 to 7, with reading and reading comprehension at no cost.

“If we can improve the reading skills of these kids in kindergarten and first grade, they won’t fall behind and struggle through their elementary school years,” said Chris Cappucino, a former teacher who now coordinates the PCAT program and its volunteers at Wimauma Elementary School. “We focus on teaching them the alphabet, letter sounds and blending those sounds to make words.”

Two other academic coordinators handle the programs at Ruskin Elementary School.

To get her nonprofit organization started, Worley contacted the Hillsborough County Children’s Board, discussed her goal of starting a literacy program and was awarded a technical assistance grant that enabled her to hire a grant writer.

Claire Mutti, a PCAT volunteer from Sun City Center, listens as Wimauma Elementary School kindergartener Milki Ramos-Lopez sounds out a word in an exercise book that’s used to teach her to read. LOIS KINDLE PHOTO

“I sought permission from the principal at Sulphur Springs Community School, where I first introduced PCAT, and after getting her okay, I went before the Hillsborough County School Board,” Worley said.

Another grant from the foundation paid for all curriculum and the hiring of a Hillsborough County Schools reading specialist who created the academic portion of the PCAT program. Grants from the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Interfaith Council of Sun City Center and the Sun City Center Campaign Against Human Trafficking helped Worley bring PCAT to southern Hillsborough County.

“Literacy is one of the things our board is very intent on promoting, so whenever we see a program like this that helps children read, especially younger ones, we try to help,” said Wilma Norton, vice president of marketing and communications for the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. The PCAT program fits very well with several of our initiatives, especially in Wimauma, which has become a focus area for us.”

Volunteers, who are asked to work a minimum of one hour per week, are the heart of PCAT.

“The program was designed for one-on-one tutoring by trained volunteers who work after school with about 100 kids in South Shore,” Worley said. “Many are seniors from Ruskin and Sun City Center, and others are students and faculty from the Hillsborough Community College–SouthShore Campus. This program simply would not work without them.”

Thus far, PCAT has been very successful, Worley said.

“Students are recommended into our program by their teachers, and then assessed by a reading specialist who provides individual lesson plans,” she said. “Their progress is continually tested to ensure they are understanding the material. Ninety-five percent of them move forward to the next grade.”

If you’d like to invest in a child’s life, you can send a tax-deductible donation of any amount to PCAT, P.O. Box 1641, Lutz, FL 33548 or volunteer your time as a tutor/mentor by calling Worley at 813-598-2103 or emailing

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