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Readers and their tutors recognized for efforts

The Hillsborough County Literacy Council honors its volunteers and its hard-working students.

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 20, 2002

Carmen Cintron, 33, had to study to read a book to her 6-year old daughter.

"I was embarrassed because I never learned to read," says Cintron, a native of the Dominican Republic.

Although she learned to speak English before she came to the United States 12 years ago, Cintron never learned the fundamentals of reading and writing.

Just last week, the Lutz woman was among a handful of students and volunteers recognized at the Hillsborough Literacy Council's annual Tutor-Student Appreciation Ceremony at the John F. Germany Public Library in downtown Tampa.

Earlier this year she sought help from the nonprofit group, whose tutors include South Tampa resident Richard Zingale.

"Reading is the key to so many things," says Zingale, 50. "It opens so many doors."

Zingale, an architect, spends two nights a week helping a South Tampa woman sound out syllables.

"She survived by recognizing a few words and receiving help from her children," said Zingale of his student.

More than 80 tutors and aspiring readers work together each week in Hillsborough County.

Life is a big puzzle to those who can't read. Menus, greeting cards, receipts, job applications and electric bills are a jumble of confusing symbols.

"We really take our world for granted. Words are everywhere," says Keith Blouin, Hillsborough Literacy Council president.

According to the 1992 State Adult Literacy Survey, 21 to 23 percent of Florida adults read at or below first-grade level.

Blouin says Hillsborough County is right in line with those statistics.

"I just hate to think about people going through life unable to read to their children," says Blouin, a Beach Park resident and former New Orleans journalist, now a stay-at-home mom. She has volunteered with the council for more than 10 years.

People can't read for a number of reasons, she says. Some leave school early to help support families while others miss school because of illness or frequent moves.

They go to great lengths to cover up the fact they can't read, Blouin says.

The literacy council follows a phonics-based curriculum emphasizing word analysis, vocabulary, reading comprehension, spelling and writing.

Students begin by learning the shapes and sounds of letters, vowel sounds, spelling and pronunciation. Some graduates go on to GED preparation courses or enroll in the county's adult education program.

"When I came to the U.S. I was told it would be a piece of cake for me to become a nurse, but when I realized I could not write in English, all my dreams crashed," wrote Cintron in a short essay titled "My Dreams, Goals, Hopes and Desires."

Her essay appeared in Visions, the organization's student publication.

Her tutor, Richard Morris, says she's come a long way.

"She's worked very hard and put a lot of effort into it," says Morris, who has been tutoring for more than 10 years.

"I can see now. It's a bright light," Cintron says of her future.

Foreign-born participants in the reading classes hail from Cuba, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, the Ukraine and Venezuela. Some have lived in the United States for months, others for years.

Tutors take a 12-hour training course over two consecutive Saturdays.

The next Tampa training session will be Oct. 5, from 9:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the John F. Germany Library in downtown Tampa. The session costs $25 and includes tutoring materials.

To become a student or sign up to be a Literacy Council volunteer, call the Literacy Office at 273-3650.

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