This article is online-only content from the Spring 2011 issue of SSA Magazine.

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Darryl Clayton was well into a 13-year career in social services when, at the urging of his supervisor at Adoptions Unlimited, Inc., an agency devoted to matching and supporting parentless children and prospective parents, he decided to pursue a graduate degree. "My supervisor was always talking to me about furthering my education and getting all that I could get out of my career," says Clayton. After a while, the advice sunk in, and Clayton, a 46-year-old married father of two, enrolled in SSA's part-time master's degree program, with a concentration in social administration, in 2009.

Clayton's path to social services and SSA was somewhat circuitous. A native Chicagoan, he grew up in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side and attended Chicago's Columbia College, earning a bachelor's degree in broadcast communications. "All I ever wanted to do when I was growing up was either work in television or teach gym," he says.

Jobs in television were scarce when he graduated, however, but he did land a gig as a part-time gym teacher at the Good News Educational Workshop, a private precursor to charter schools on the North Side. That job fueled his passion for working with youth. Though he has dabbled from time to time in corporate jobs in fields like banking and insurance, he couldn't suppress his desire to work with children. "Finally I said to my wife, if I have to go crazy doing something, I want to go crazy working for kids," he recalls. "And she said 'go for it.'"

The decision to apply to the master's program at SSA was heavily influenced by Margaret Burke, his current supervisor at Adoptions Unlimited. Though she is not an SSA alumna, Burke was an unabashed cheerleader for the program. "She's been around. She knows a lot about all the programs in the area," Clayton says. "She wouldn't even let me consider other places. Every time I'd bring up another school she'd say, 'Why mess them? Just go to the University of Chicago.'"

Throughout his journey in social services, which has taken him from a job as a welfare specialist with Lutheran Family Services to his current post as assistant project director for recruitment and kinship care at Adoptions Unlimited, Clayton says he instinctively developed his own set of guiding professional principles. His SSA coursework along with his first field study placement at the Gary Comer Youth Center on Chicago's South Side have codified and solidified those intuitive beliefs. "It has reinforced a lot of the core values that I have about doing this work while giving me the opportunity to apply a lot of what we talk about in class."

At the Comer center, Clayton tackles myriad tasks, from data entry on grants to pitching in as a homework helper in the after-school program, a job that harks back to his early days in youth services. He likes the fact that the SSA program provided him with an opportunity to apply the administrative and social service theory he has been exposed to in class to work at an agency. "This experience fills in where classwork leaves off," says Clayton, who hopes to be the executive director of a youth-focused agency one day. "I get to see all sides of how a program like [the Comer Center] works, and that's what I wanted."

-- Charles Whitaker