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Teen with dyslexia creates helpful kits for children struggling to read

Mariana Gillen was diagnosed with dyslexia in second grade. Now 14, she's created kits to help young students thrive while learning with dyslexia.

TAMPA, Fla. — Mariana Gillen smiled as a crowd gathered to see what she’d made. The 14-year-old stood behind a table full of brightly-colored yellow bags filled with helpful items for students.

“At a young age, I struggled with dyslexia, and I want to be able to help children who may not be able to get the help they need,” the teen said.

Gillen was diagnosed with dyslexia in second grade. Her heart breaks for kids struggling to read.

So, she took action.

“It’s not a disability. It’s a gift that we have,” said Richard Gonzmart, a fourth-generation caretaker of the Columbia Restaurant Group, who was diagnosed with dyslexia himself at age 43. “We process things differently. It just made me proud to get to know her and to know she cares about other children.”

Gillen decided to create what she called M.A.R.I. Kits, an acronym for Making Awesome Reading Improvement. Each kit contains headphones, a book, a tool to help you hear your own speech better, and word building tiles. The kits were delivered Wednesday morning to the United Way Suncoast Sulphur Springs and will be distributed to kids in kindergarten through third grade by United Way Suncoast Resource Center. 

Gillen is a Cadette in the Girl Scouts, and the M.A.R.I. kits were her Silver Project. She put together 25 bags and plans to do more, even after she’s done with Scouts.

“These tools I’ve used while at their age struggling with dyslexia and I thought it was amazing to be able to put them together and put them inside a kit,” she said.

The kits are expected make a huge impact on kids facing dyslexia.

“We don’t normally see a package this comprehensive, particularly from a young person,” said Kari Goetz of United Way Suncoast. “It’s leadership and strength.”