Clayton's bywords: hope and growth

(08-13-2010)

"I sometimes do take a nap, to disconnect," said Darlene Clayton, Adams State College alumna '04. Her work as a child advocacy director often requires separating self from job. Her office space is lit with floor lamps and light from a small window. Comfortable couches, chairs, and a diversity of wall hangings help provide an atmosphere of relaxation and safety. She works mainly with teens and children who have witnessed or experienced violence, through Alternative Horizons, in Durango, Colo.

"I am a survivor of partner violence," Clayton said. Growing up, her mother was often in abusive relationships. It was one factor that compelled Clayton to choose Adams State. "I wanted to get away from my mom and her boyfriend."

Photo by Linda Relyea

Now, Clayton has her "dream job" and will take her licensure test in September.

The "dream job" includes seeing clients individually and facilitating group sessions. She works with ages 4 to 55 years who are victims of partner abuse or domestic violence. "It isn't always physical; some abuse is emotional or mental." Her clients come from a diversity of social, economic, and cultural backgrounds. "I have worked with a woman with a doctorate in psychology."

When Clayton learned she was selected the Adams State 2010 Exceptional New Almuna, her first reaction was: "But I am not a lawyer, doctor, or teacher." It is apparent, however, that she is all that and more. She helps heal wounds, stands against injustice, and guides her clients to safer and more trusting choices and relationships. She will receive the award at this year's Alumni Banquet and Annual Meeting at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8, in the Student Union Building, room 131. Call Adams State Alumni Relations at 719-587-8110 to reserve your ticket.

The spring 2004 A-Stater, Adams State alumni magazine, is almost a Who's Who of future Exceptional Alumni. Clatyon is profiled along with classmates Renee Hawkins-Timar, and the 2008 and 2009 Exceptional New Alumni, Dr. Opeyemi Daramola, and Philip Lopez.

Lopez, an associate attorney with White & Jankowski, said he admires Clayton's courage and commitment to her profession. "It is completely selfless. She inspires me to be a better person. She gives me confidence that people are capable of doing good things. It is so impressive to me to think about the lives she is touching, and the positive impact she will have on these children for the rest of their lives"

Hawkins-Timar, a children's case manager/group coordinator for Sumner Mental Health Center, in Wellington, Kan., said: "Darlene gently knocks down walls and builds bridges within her community. She sees the good in every situation and person. She provides hope where hope is hard to find."

Embraced by Adams State

As a student, Clayton said she felt embraced by Adams State. "There is a real sense of community on campus, and in the town of Alamosa." Her many activities kept her busy, a state she enjoys, and she always makes time to volunteer for organizations or causes she supports -- it was how she started working at Alternative Horizons.

Having volunteered for the ASC Sexual Alert Response Team hotline, she applied for a similar volunteer post at Alternative Horizons in Durango. A few months later, the director urged Clayton to apply for a paid position. She was hired even though she was leaving to spend four months in Nicaragua -- yes, volunteering -- and picking up another Spanish dialect.

She tutored elementary-aged children in a rural school five hours a day. "The schools were miles out of town with no electricity or running water, to have a blackboard was a big deal." She lived in a volunteer home with roommates from Europe and Australia. It is the kind of experience Clayton treasures, meeting others with different viewpoints.

Back in Colorado, Clayton worked full-time and started graduate school through Denver University. "Receiving my master's in social work is my greatest accomplishment, so far." She also completed course internships and held another part-time job. "I had no social life." Soon after graduating she and her director at Alternative Horizons wrote a grant for her current position.

Celebrating Small Steps

Facilitating group therapy sessions, such as her middle school girls group, is the most satisfying part of Clayton's work. "Once the group dynamic is established, and the girls have established trust and have built good communication skills, they offer each other honest feedback. Older girls take on a mentoring role with younger girls. It is fulfilling."

Survivors of domestic or partner abuse may take years to recover, and some never receive the chance. Clayton said in her work, success is not measured by society's standards. She considers it a success when clients choosing safe and trusting relationships a success. "I concentrate on small steps and hope they grow into whatever they are supposed to be."

Disappointments can be traumatic. "It is so hard when clients are murdered or suffer a horrific injustice." But she is supported by coworkers and participation at professional conferences. "I feel a sense of camaraderie. Hearing stories of women who have been with the movement for thirty years, who have dedicated their whole life to ending violence against women or in relationships is awe inspiring."

Whitney Manning, Alternative Horizons court advocate, said Clayton is capable of handling the grief and tragedy of trauma work while still maintaining her positive self. "Dar is a joy to be around; encouraging, helpful and above all, hopeful."

By the time Clayton graduated from Adams State, her mom had ended the last of her abusive relationships. "She is so proud of me," Clayton said. "She has finally come into her own." Finding oneself is something Clayton thought would happen to her at about age 25. Now she realizes self-discovery is a much longer journey. "I am enjoying learning who I am."

During Homecoming weekend, Clayton plans to reconnect with Dr. Kim Kelso, chair of the psychology department. "I love Kim. She made psychology exciting and interesting."

Kelso recalls Clayton as "a great student, conscientious, smart." She admired Clayton's attitude and her commitment to the campus. "Darlene always had a smile on her face and was pleasant to be around. I admire students who can balance a schedule with tough demands. It is an indication of her giving nature."

Kelso encountered Clayton once as they were both dropping off donations at the Alamosa Homeless Shelter, La Puente. "I thought she was working, but she was there to donate." That action impressed Kelso, who said most college students struggle to just feed themselves. "She is a wonderful and unique person."

By Linda Relyea