Literacy Council Of Buncombe Profile: Elaine Young


By Lily Contorer


There is something about Elaine that makes people turn their heads and take notice. I used to think this was a physical thing—maybe because of the sparkling shirts she likes to wear or the sound her shoes make when she walks. But, after spending time with her, I began to wonder if her loving spirit reaches out invisibly to touch the heart of all in her presence.


Elaine Young

Elaine Young

When Elaine was born, the forceps squeezed too hard and caused brain damage. She was told by people at church that she wouldn’t ever be as good as they were until she got to Heaven. She was told by the school system that she would be placed in special education classes and that she probably wouldn’t be able to learn.


Elaine was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina in the 1950’s. She attended Shiloh Elementary when it was an all-Black school and she says, “The schools did not treat me fairly. I don’t think it was a race thing. They just told me that I was mentally retarded and they didn’t take the time to teach me. I didn’t like school because I wanted to learn but they wouldn’t teach me.” Sometimes she was told to go sit in the hallway while the other kids were in class learning. Usually, she felt ignored by teachers in school. Elaine didn’t get much help at home, either. Her mother did not know how to read and had only finished the third grade before she stopped going to school. Other family members felt it was useless to try to teach Elaine so they did not try.


Elaine went on to graduate from T.C. Roberson High School although she feels that she was “just passed on from grade to grade because no one knew what else to do with her.”


During her intake meeting at the Literacy Council of Buncombe County, Elaine was asked to complete a series of assessments in order to determine her current literacy level. She created the sounds that letters make, divided whole words into parts, wrote beginning spelling words, read sight words, and completed reading comprehension tasks based on daily living skills. For example, she answered questions about a job application, medicine label instructions, a calendar and a map. These tasks were not always easy for her but she always put forth her best effort. At the intake meeting, Elaine also agreed to work with a volunteer tutor for two hours a week for a minimum of nine months. At the end of the two-hour intake, Elaine said, “I really want to learn. I love to learn. I hope you will match me with a tutor who will help me.”


Two weeks later, Elaine was matched with Jessica Rehfield, a wonderful adult education tutor. They have worked together consistently for at least two hours a week. When the Literacy Council is closed for a holiday, they meet at another location rather than skip a lesson. Elaine and Jessica have formed a bond of fondness and respect for one another. Elaine says, “Jessica is a great tutor. She is teaching me things that I should have been taught in elementary school like how to sound out words and read them and pronounce them correctly.” Jessica feels honored to work with Elaine as well and considers her an inspiration.


The Literacy Council of Buncombe County, a non-profit organization, provides reading, writing, spelling and English-language tutoring at no cost to adults, teens and children through three core programs- Adult Education, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and the Augustine Project.


Elaine says, “The Literacy Council gives me a second chance. So many people are so discouraged these days. I need to do something to help these people. I want to be an example for someone else.”



The Literacy Council of Buncombe County teaches adults and children basic reading, writing, math, and English language skills through individual and small group instruction by trained volunteers. Students gain self-confidence and develop self-sufficiency to transform their lives as individuals, parents, workers, and citizens. The Literacy Council, a non-profit organization accredited by ProLiteracy America and serving the community since 1987, provides highly individualized tutoring to fit the needs of over 300 students in three core programs – Adult Education, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and the Augustine Project.


To learn more about becoming a student or a volunteer tutor with the Literacy Council of Buncombe County, please visit or email Lily Contorer at You can also call Lily at 828-254-3442 x202 to learn more.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker