When Elaine Clark Smith was a student at Augusta University, she had no idea that one day she would be on the Augusta University Foundation board of trustees or that she would create the Elaine Clark Smith Literacy Endowment Fund to benefit one of her lifelong passions: helping others learn to read.
“I have a very long history with Augusta University going back to Augusta College,” said Clark Smith, who chairs the literacy center advisory board. “I was a student here, as was my sister. I graduated from here. My father went here as well, so it goes back several generations.”
Clark Smith, a graduate of the College of Education and Distinguished Alumna for COE in 2006, first became interested in the Augusta University Literacy Center while she was serving as chair of the board of trustees for the Augusta State University Foundation. She worked closely with Paulette Harris in the early days when the literacy center was on Magnolia Drive in a small house near the Forest Hills Campus.
The idea behind the creation of that first literacy center in 1990 was to help adults who were struggling with literacy by giving them a place to go and the resources to learn to read. While working with the adults, it became apparent that their children also struggled with reading, so the center evolved to include working with children, teens and adults. Since then, the literacy center expanded to include two satellite locations. The Magnolia Drive location closed in 2019 due to renovation needs, but tutoring services have continued at various permanent and temporary satellite locations.
In addition to free tutoring services, both in person and virtual, the literacy center also offers educational workshops and seminars to encourage the development of literacy skills, as well as holding an annual book drive, Books for Shay, to collect and distribute new and gently used books for K-5 schoolchildren.
“We couldn’t take many students initially, but I became intrigued with what they were doing there,” Clark Smith explained. “Literacy for me has been something I was always interested in since I was very, very young.”
A pivotal moment in her life that sparked her passion for literacy was when, as a teenager, she met a woman who couldn’t read or write.
“She was a friend of our family, and it really made an impression on me. She was about 35 years old and had children, and I thought, ‘How in the world do you manage when you can’t read or write? How do you read signs? How do you read to your children? How do you do just basic things in life?’ After that, I became interested in literacy.”
In April 2020, the Augusta University Literacy Center received a tremendous boost when the Augusta National Golf Club announced a $10 million donation to the Harrisburg and Laney Walker Community to support the building of a new facility called The HUB for Community Innovation. The HUB will house the AU Literacy Center, Augusta Locally Grown, Harrisburg Family Health Center and RISE Augusta.
Clark Smith couldn’t be more excited about the new development and the partnerships there. She feels the timing for creating her endowment, which will go toward funding the programmatic needs of the AU Literacy Center in perpetuity, is perfect.
“Right now, where we are today, is just so exciting, so invigorating,” she said. “Because to see where we were a few years back to where we’ve come today is a miracle. We have the best partners with The HUB. And for me to see this beautiful building, that I hope will change lives and make a difference, is so rewarding. That’s my main goal — to have something that can be a legacy, not only for Augusta University or myself, but for other people to better their lives.”
Clark Smith is passionate about literacy and has seen firsthand how empowering the ability to read and write can be. She encourages others to visit the literacy center, see it in person, understand the programs offered there and observe, as she has, how life-changing the center can be.
“The people that I have met, that I’ve helped just on a very small scale — it is amazing just how appreciative they are, how much it changes their lives, how they become a different person. You lose your confidence when you can’t read, can’t write — you don’t have the confidence you need to excel in anything. I’ve seen so many people whose lives are just completely changed. It makes me very happy changing lives for the better. That’s the legacy I want to leave.”