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Closing The Loop: Deirdre Clayton Guides Future Of Jacksonville

Deirdre Clayton was widowed at age 30 with two young children, while her career path led back to where she wanted ever since she was a teenager — to help people.

Today, she’s a guidance counselor in a Jacksonville middle school.


Deirdre Clayton grew up in Jacksonville, and became a military wife. They had two young children when her husband was killed in a car accident.

“I was 30 years old, and I was very depressed. I had a six-year-old and an 18-month-old, and I didn’t want them to see me depressed.”

So Deirdre, who had worked part time to make extra money for the family, started thinking about work differently. She got a job at a local credit union.

“I started off in the call center part time because I was raising my kids," she said. "After they got in school, I was able to dedicate more time to a career. Then, I went back to school and was able to dedicate more time to my career. I got my degree in business. As the kids got older, I was able to go into the mortgage department.”

Deirdre became a loan underwriter.

“When I went to college from high school, I wanted to go into social services," she said. "But everyone said, ‘no, you don’t make any money at that.’ So I went into marketing.”

When the housing slump hit in 2006, the thrift sent many of its officers to speak in area schools as community outreach. Deirdre was one of them.

“I loved it," she said. "When I came to work every day, I was hoping that they would say, ‘Miss Clayton,  go to this school and do some work.’ We’re going into the schools and saying, ‘this is how you do your financial portfolio, this is how you save money.’ ”

Deirdre was starting to change her view of what she wanted to do with her life.

“I worked in a program at the International Baccalaureate high school, and that became my project," she said. "I talked with guidance counselors, and I wanted to do what they did. I talked with one of mentors at the credit union, who said, ‘Miss Clayton, you need to follow that.’ I said, “I can’t afford that!’ and she said, ‘when you’re following your dreams, you can afford it.’”

That didn’t mean she could afford it easily.

“I applied to the program and got accepted. I cashed in my 401(k), got some student loans, put in my resignation at the credit union. I got a job at my church — it didn’t pay much, but it was just enough.”

Deirdre graduated from the counseling program, and got a job almost immediately. A year later, she got a phone call about a high school guidance counselor position.

“Someone called me who I interned with and said, ‘hey, they got a school counseling position.’ That never happens. To get a job in here, somebody has to die, or you have to know somebody.”

But she did get the job, at a high school on the north side of Jacksonville.

“This is my second year here. My kids here really need that stuff that we take for granted. They really need what we think kids get automatically — love, someone to show it to them, someone to say it to them. Just to know that we are going to be there, and it’s consistent.”

Deirdre Clayton dispenses guidance on a daily basis now. But as everyone who has raised kids knows, your children pay more attention to what you do and how you act than they do to what you say. And Deirdre sets a pretty good example.

“Follow your heart, and follow your dreams, whatever that is. Follow it, and everything else will fall in line.”

Warren Miller is a writer and financial executive who lives near St. Augustine, Florida.