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5 Questions with Jer Clifton

April 28, 2011

By Jeremy Exell, AmeriCorps Alums

In case any of you hadn’t heard, Jer Clifton was the man who pulled a man to safety after he had fallen onto the train tracks in the Atlanta Subway. You can see his efforts here. Coincidentally, Jer is also an AmeriCorps Alums, serving as a Western New York VISTA from 2007-2009, and he took some time to answer a few questions for us about the role AmeriCorps played in his life.

AmeriCorps Alums: Where did you do your service?

Jer Clifton: “I actually served 3 terms, two with VISTA in Buffalo helping with housing and one summer with ABLE. I worked with Houghton College trying to connect the school with initiatives in inner-city Buffalo. During my time there I lived in housing provided through Houghton College, was a community organizer, and worked to develop the Home Buyers Clubs program. The other main task I was lucky enough to take part in was Housing Court. In Housing Court I worked with Judge Novak and Harvey Garret as a Housing Court Liaison, where I’d go out to properties that were being brought to court and try to work with the people to solve the issues instead of just punishing them for infractions.”

AA: Awesome! Sounds like you really did a lot. So what was it that inspired you to join AmeriCorps?

JC: “When I finished up at Houghton College, my girlfriend and future wife moved to Buffalo to work as a VISTA and I followed her there. I expected to work as at UPS or something. My girlfriend moved into housing that was provided by Houghton College and oversaw by a professor who also worked with the VISTA program. She talked to him one day and he mentioned there was a VISTA position open, she told him about me and I got the job.”

AA: Ah, another Ameri-love story. That’s as great a reason for moving as we’ve ever heard. So, how would you say your time serving shaped you and brought you to where you are today?

JC: “I became conscientious about service and making sure things we do are helpful. We can do the work all we want but we need to make sure what we are doing actually makes a difference. I also got great, in depth work experience. I got to start a program, teach a class, get courtroom experience, and devise organizational development strategies.  These are experiences that usually no one gets to have out of college right away. I had graduated with a degree in Philosophy and didn’t really have much idea on how to use it. VISTA helped to channel my skills through all the responsibilities I was given. It made me a more effective independent worker. You know, the money you might loose in that year or two is more than made up in the experience you gain.”

AA: Sounds like you really got a lot out of serving. So what are you doing to continue your commitment to serve in the years after your service period?

JC: “After I AmeriCorps, I spent some time working for Westminster Economic Development Initiative in Buffalo before my wife and I moved to Atlanta. I’m currently working as the director of volunteer and nonprofit engagement at a small church in the city tackling issues of poverty. I’m also temping with Habitat for Humanity International.”

AA: Good deal. Don’t forget about pulling guys from train tracks! Any final words of wisdom you’d like to leave our readers?

JC: “People have been saying to me after this ‘It’s so nice to see someone out there being brave finally.’ I hope people don’t just think that. When people act brave it says something more about all of us than just that one person. I hope when people see these stories, that they’ll look at each other and treat each other with respect as heroes. I think it relates to how you serve. When you serve the poor and needy, they are brave too. Those are people who’d reach down and help you if you were on the rail.”

Thanks again to Jer Clifton for his service through AmeriCorps and for taking the time to talk to us. Want to read a little more of his thoughts on the whole event? You can check out his blog here.

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