As she ran her palm over the book, the spunky 10-year-old mouthed the familiar words splashed across its cover: "Dracula Awakes at Red Moon."
Dayanara Martinez, like her fellow students at 826LA's after-school tutoring program, is a published author. Her poem earned the coveted title page in a recent publication of student work.
When she showed up at the writing-focused nonprofit in Echo Park five years ago, the then-shy first-grader tried to balance coping with her grandmother's death and assimilating to a school system vastly different from the one she'd come from in Mexico. Her grades tanked.
"My daughter, the poor thing, she was just flipping through pages because she didn't understand anything," Dayanara's mom, Emma Lozano, said in Spanish.
Dayanara's teacher at the time recommended she try 826LA, a tutoring program located behind a storefront off Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. The program also has a Westside location, which recently moved from Venice to Mar Vista.
"After three months, she went from being the last in her class to being at the front," Lozano said. "The teacher said she did a 360-degree turn and it was all because of 826LA."
The nonprofit, which serves about 10,000 local students a year, focuses on writing but also offers help in other subject areas.
Dayanara spent a recent afternoon working on multiplication homework, for example.
"I have friends here and they really help me a lot with my homework," Dayanara said as she peered through her black-framed glasses at the big bookshelf lining one of the room's walls. "Also, the tutors are funny."
For the program's volunteer tutors, the learning goes both ways.
"I had to relearn how to write cursive when I started," said Beth Martinez, a 30-year-old who works in the music industry and started volunteering in January. "It's nice being around kids. They teach you that things matter."
Through the generosity of Times readers and a match by the McCormick Foundation, nearly $450,000 was granted to local literacy programs this year as a result of the Los Angeles Times Holiday Campaign.
The Holiday Campaign, part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a McCormick Foundation Fund, raises contributions to support established literacy programs run by nonprofit organizations that serve low-income children, adults and families who are reading below grade levels, at risk of illiteracy or who have limited English proficiency.
Donations are tax-deductible as permitted by law and matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Donor information is not traded or published without permission. Donate online at latimes.com/donate or by calling (800) 518-3975. All gifts will receive a written acknowledgment.