MOUNT AIRY - For the past two years, Elizabeth Tripp has found herself on an educational journey -- one that has taught her determination and survival.
Tripp, who describes herself as a "small-town attorney," did not learn these elements from her own experiences, however.
Although she easily could have absorbed them from literary characters, she has learned them from a woman who could not have read about them in a book.
Tripp is a tutor for the Literacy Council of Carroll County Inc. For the past two years, she has been teaching Linda Gamber how to read.
When the pair began the program, Gamber, a high school graduate, only was able to read at about a third-grade level. With Tripp's help, Gamber has learned to read at a middle school level.
"I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for Elizabeth," said Gamber, 28, who lives in Sykesville.
Initially, Gamber was nervous about her prospects with Tripp. She had been told that if Tripp couldn't teach her, nobody could.
For her part, Tripp, aware of her personal strengths, knew her weaknesses, as well.
"Some people have the patience and ability to work with students who progress very slowly," said the Mount Airy resident. "That's not my cup of tea. I can do it, but it's very frustrating for me. I think it takes a special talent."
The two have since become the best of friends.
And the sometimes frustrating and challenging process of overcoming a reading disability has taught them both.
"My relationship with Linda has taught me a lot of things," said Tripp, who began practicing law in 1972. "It has taught me that you can survive if you have reading problems. It also has taught me how hard it is to survive."
Tripp said that she has learned a lot about reading disabilities, and that although educators can pinpoint some reasons behind those who fail to learn to read, many questions remain unanswered.
She also learned how invaluable it is to have family support.
"Her husband is a dear," Tripp said. "He brings her to every session and baby sits the kids. He helps at home. He's just been wonderful for her.
He stands behind her 123 percent."
Gamber's impetus for wanting to learn to read was to get a promotion from dishwasher to cook. A cook needs to know how to read recipes.
"She got the promotion she wanted," Tripp said. "What's really helped -- more than being able to read itself -- is she has more confidence. The more confident she becomes, the more ambitious she becomes for her life."
Tripp, who likes to read and bowls once a week, became interested in the literacy program through a friend's involvement. She underwent the intensive training process and spends about six hours a week tutoring Gamber.
"There's nothing unique about this particular program," Tripp said.
"You don't have to be a trained teacher or extremely bright. You just have to be interested in working with this problem.
"I feel a great deal of satisfaction," she added. "I think you get the same thing out of tutoring as people get out of coaching or any kind of activity in which you help people improve their skills."
Gamber said Tripp has helped her with more than reading, including problems with kids and other facets of life.
"I would bend over backward for her. She's helped me in more than one way," Gamber said.
Although reading is still work for her pupil, Tripp said she will continue working with Gamber for as long as she wants.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see her wind up in higher education," Tripp said.