Gracey Peatrowsky was on the verge of being held back in her kindergarten class at Panorama Elementary School in Santa Ana.
It was emotionally trying for her parents to decide how best to help their daughter.
Gracey struggled with not only her assignments but also her self-confidence, said her mother, Kara.
"She was not enjoying school, and we as parents could see that…. We were struggling with this concept, like 'how could our kid be held back?'" she said. "I felt like a helpless parent. I didn't know where to turn."
A work colleague recommended Kara check out the Kathleen Muth Reading and Learning Center for her daughter, who would spend another year in kindergarten.
Two years later, 7-year-old Gracey is back on track, in first grade and loving school.
The learning center is run by the College of Educational Studies at Chapman University in neighboring Orange. It was founded in 1978 to help elementary school-age children with their reading and writing skills.
"Our goal is to have our tutored children reach their grade level," said Margie Curwen, assistant professor of education at the university, who works with the center.
The center provides tutors from the university to work with 50 to 75 young students each academic year and has become a valuable resource for local schools and children in surrounding neighborhoods, Curwen said.
Students have the opportunity to showcase their creative works at the center's Literacy Celebration at the end of each semester.
Since Gracy enrolled at the center, she has written and illustrated several short books, her mother said. "Gracie's Zoo," one of her recent works, is a story about all her different pets, from hermit crabs to fish.
"She'll bring the books she creates home and she is just really proud of them," her mother said. "They sit on our coffee table and she shows them to any new visitors that come over."
Curwen said 90-minute tutoring sessions, which take place once a week, cost about $350 a semester. However, many students are offered scholarships made possible by grants from various foundations.
"The center has been magical for Gracey's self confidence," Kara Peatrowsky said. "It's turned her around and allowed her to enjoy school again."
Through the generosity of Times readers and a match by the McCormick Foundation, $424,500 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.