Valdosta Daily Times

July 8, 2013

Translating the love in her heart

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

LAKE PARK —  When Julissa Clapp was growing up in Honduras, she formed a friendship with the son of American missionaries. It was a friendship that would go on to change the rest of her life.

Years later, years after the boy and his family had moved back to America, they invited her to come visit them in Minnesota to study English as a second language at Hamlin University in Minnesota.

Clapp took to the language, burning through class after class.

It was at the end of them that Clapp was given a second offer, to attend the University of Minnesota. It was an offer that humbled her.

“I asked them, when I finished all of my classes, how can I ever pay you back?” said Clapp. “They said, ‘Julia, what you’ve learned to do, God will use you. That’s how you can pay us back.’”

Clapp did just that. After moving to Valdosta in 1993, she did what most people who are looking for a job do: she prayed. And then she walked into an unmarked building, unsure of what was inside.

The building turned out to be the public health building. After being told there were no jobs available for bilingual translators, Clapp turned to leave but was stopped.

“A man stopped me, asking if I had just said I was bilingual.”

The man, Russel, was looking for someone to work with migrant farmworkers as an outreach worker, someone to drive farmworkers to their doctor appointments.

Clapp has been working with migrant farmworkers ever since. Now, she works as clinic coordinator for the Migrant Farmworker’s Clinic in Echols County, just outside of Lake Park.

“I don’t think of myself as a

coordinator. I don’t like to stay behind a desk; I like to get out with the people.”

The clinic strives to work around the schedules of farmworkers, which can lead to some chaotic hours. But no matter the hours, Clapp’s days all start the same, with her cell phone going off and someone speaking Spanish on the other end.

“After working with them for so long, they trust me. They love me as much as I love them. To us, this clinic is a gift from God. It is the body of Christ for us. If we do something in a negative way, that’s going to destroy that. But if we do it in a positive way, that will help.”

Some people come to her with needs that are physical, some emotional. Clapp and the clinic have become close to the people they serve. When one worker’s brother died, Clapp helped him bury his brother. When a woman came with hunger and an empty kitchen, Clapp found her food. With the hours she works and the difficulty of the job, you wouldn’t begrudge Clapp for second guessing herself, for wondering if there’s not another job out there for her, but it’s not a thought that comes to her mind.

“For the last 19 years, I’ve never felt like I was coming to a job. I come here with a smile, and I leave here with a smile. Of course, sometimes I leave with tears as well. There are a lot of people who are hurting. It’s impossible to ignore when you see the need.”

Clapp isn’t alone. The clinic and the people it serves are aided by a number of local churches that donate to the clinic.

“Whatever people can give us, it helps these people a lot.”

And she works with a group of men and women who can only be described as dedicated.

“We have a great group of coworkers. Anybody who comes here doesn’t want to leave … but you have to have a heart of God.”

One of these co-workers is her sister, Tomi McCain. After Clapp got settled in the United States, members of her family started to join her, including her brother who teaches migrant children in Jennings, Fla.

“Everything we get, we get from our mother. She was a very loving woman. I can remember her dedicating her life to helping others. She was the best example.”

The same is true of her grandmother, who was known for her altruism.

And the same is true of her daughter, Elaine. Still in high school, she works with her Key Club and Key Clubs across the state to raise money for charities. Currently, she’s working raising money for the Sheriff’s Boys Ranch.

“My daughter, Elaine, is one of the reasons that I live, why life has meaning. If I didn’t have God in my heart, I’m not sure I’d be able to do this. He’s the only one who can put that love in your heart.”