South Carolina students find an advocate in a young after-school director
By JILL INGRAM MA ’08
Amy Clifton ’98 works nights and weekends building a photography business that documents weddings, new babies and other key moments in people’s lives. But it’s her day job that really consumes her. Clifton is the after-school programs director for Communities in Schools of Greenville in South Carolina. Part of a national nonprofit, the program helps students who need support with academics and behavioral and social skills to achieve success in school and life.
Clifton, of Greer, S.C., her hometown, has been with the organization since shortly after graduation from Western Carolina with a degree in psychology. She began as a case manager and then became a site coordinator, moving into the supervisory position in summer 2007. “Before I graduated, I described to my adviser what I wanted to be doing, but I didn’t really have a name for it,” Clifton said. When she began with Communities in Schools, she recalled, “It was a perfect fit.”
As director, Clifton oversees five full-time employees and five after-school programs serving about 225 kindergartners through middle-school students in Greenville County. She also has the opportunity to continue working directly with the program’s children; recently she taught a photography class to a group of middle-school girls.
Clifton’s devotion to children is evident in her actions since joining Communities in Schools. She has achieved national training certification, developed a student behavior modification program, served on a school-improvement council, been active on many levels for a statewide after-school initiative and helped raise more than $500,000 for Communities in Schools. In 2007, she won one of seven “Unsung Hero Awards,” given by the national Communities in Schools organization only every five years.
Clifton’s efforts did not go unnoticed at Western Carolina, either. In fall 2008, the WCU Alumni Association presented Clifton, 33, with its Young Alumna Award. Gwyn Goble Smith ’70, Clifton’s seventh-grade language arts and literature teacher, nominated her for the award. The two remained close after Clifton passed through seventh grade; it was Smith who encouraged Clifton to visit Western Carolina when she was deciding on a college. “Amy had the same feeling that I had when I walked on campus. She looked around and knew she wanted to be there,” Smith said.
Clifton’s former adviser, WCU psychology professor Bruce Henderson, said Clifton was a model student. “She always knew what she was doing and what she wanted to do. She came in organized and was an excellent student – thoughtful and well-prepared,” Henderson said.
An only child, Clifton comes from “a family of givers.” Her father, the Rev. Larry Clifton, is a retired substance abuse counselor and retired Methodist minister who often worked with children and school youth groups. Her mother, Gail, works in Greenville County School’s 4-K program.
His daughter has “always showed an interest in working with others,” said Larry Clifton. “I guess it’s something that she picked up by observation and conversations, hearing her mom and I talk about kids. Her mom and I both love kids, and we both gravitate to them.”
Family and community are integral to Clifton’s personal and job satisfaction. She is happy to be home and enjoys working in the community where she grew up; it’s not unusual for her to encounter one of her mother’s former students or the child of a former classmate. The helping fields can draw individuals with unhappy pasts who want to help others avoid unhappy futures. In Clifton’s case, a happy past inspires her work. “I was very blessed to have a wonderful childhood and a wonderful, supportive family,” she said. “It’s important for me to be able to provide that for children who may not it.”
Clifton plans to continue developing her photography business. She recently launched a new Web site and has studied with one of the premier wedding photographers in the world. She draws a parallel between her devotion to children and photography. “The goals are kind of the same,” she said. “Helping people to appreciate the world around them and the moment that they’re in.”