SANFORD — Success can be a long time coming, but that makes it all the sweeter.
Jackie Brooks Clayton, 41, now has a future before her that she never anticipated when she graduated from Western Harnett High School back in 1985.
Clayton, of Olivia, graduated from Central Carolina Community College in December 2008 with an Associate in Arts Degree-University Transfer. Since then, she has been nominated by the college for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship to continue her education.
Only 800 nominations are accepted annually from across the country and only 50 awards are given. Clayton said she doesn’t know if she will win, but the honor of being nominated is overwhelming.
“I cried for three days when I was told I was nominated,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it — where I had been when I started at the college in 2007 and where my experiences here have taken me. I felt very honored and humbled to be nominated. I couldn’t believe they had considered me for this kind of honor.”
The nomination stemmed from the respect Clayton has earned among the college's faculty and staff, said Barbara Rusher, interim dean of curriculum.
“Jackie exemplifies what is good in the world — a person taking the time to put others first and choosing an educational field that focuses on helping others,” the dean said. “The college is proud to know it provided an educational opportunity for her success.”
Clayton has also received other good news: Campbell University has awarded her a Presidential Transfer Scholarship, worth $24,000 over two years, and a N.C. Legislative Tuition Grant of $1,950. She will start at the university in the fall.
Clayton said she is overwhelmed with both the nomination and the awards, grateful for her opportunities and those who have helped her along the way.
Six years ago, life was very different.
“I went through a black time in my life,” she said. “I crashed and burned.”
Then an acquaintance invited her to attend Crossroads Church, in Broadway. That was her new beginning.
“I gave my life to Christ,” Clayton said. “I became involved at church. Then, I prayed for a year for something more to do. When Bread of Life Ministries started at the McIver School, in Sanford. I began volunteering there.”
She had attended Central Carolina C.C. previously, but didn’t graduate. In 2007, she felt she should return. Clayton enrolled in human services, still not sure what her career goal was, but trusting that God would lead her. She decided by her second semester that she wanted to go into social work.
“When I came back to Central Carolina, I didn’t have a direction,” she said. “I came back because I wanted something to lift me up. When I was asked in my human services class why I was there, I said, I want to be a social worker and go to Campbell University. People said, how are you going to get to Campbell? I said, I don’t know, but if the Lord wants me there, I’ll be there.”
She credits God’s blessings of hard work, service opportunities, and the encouragement of her instructors for the successes she’s had. While at college, in addition to being a full-time student and volunteering at her church and Bread of Life Ministries, she worked part-time at the Stevens Foundation Center and Head Start.
“Working with those with developmental disabilities at the Stevens Center changed my life for the better,” she said. “They have to deal with life and try to find joy in the smallest accomplishments. They helped me see life in a whole different way.”
Clayton also excelled in her studies, maintaining a 4.0, straight-A, grade point average.
“The staff and instructors at Central Carolina encouraged me,” she said. “They have such a passion for what they’re teaching and such knowledge. They were there every step of the way for me — they made it seem like I was the only student in the whole school. They’re awesome.”
Clayton continues to serve and the blessings continue to come. The acquaintance who first invited her to church back in 2004 was Carl Clayton Jr., now associate director of Bread of Life Ministries. Their friendship blossomed and, since July, they have been sharing the happiest of marriages.
Clayton said she wants to show her gratitude for all she has received by giving back to her community. It’s already happening. Several women she met who came for help at the Bread of Life Ministries have enrolled in Central Carolina’s adult education program at its Jonesboro Center. Three are current students and one is completing her studies and applying to the college to continue her education.
“I’m really excited,” Clayton said. “I don’t think I can give back everything I’ve been given, but I’m going to try really hard. All the hard places God had taken me through — it was all worth it.”