BY RENEE HENDRIX –
Shannon Clifford is a testament that “we get what we give.” She has spent the majority of her life caring for the vulnerable and is now grateful to live in a community that shares the same philosophy.
Shannon Clifford was born and raised in Poconos, Penn. She, however, was never a fan of the cold wintry environment. Even from childhood, she wanted to move to the south and escape the blizzard type conditions. “My family still lives there. I visit often… just not when there is snow,” Clifford joked.
When she was 18 she went to visit a friend in Oklahoma. She had no idea that this would set her on a path for her future. Her friend was employed by one of the largest sanctuaries for exotic animals in the United States. “They housed a huge variety of animals, ranging from lions, tigers and bears… oh my, to monkeys and snakes,” Clifford said. “I went for a week visit and ending up staying for 5 years.” She found her passion and went through 3,000 hours of intense training before she could work with the ‘big guys,’ the tigers. Clifford lived on site and was ‘on call’ day and night. When Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch was closed, this facility took in several of his animals. Clifford stated, “We had a total of over a hundred large cats. This included lions, leopards, tigers and mountain lions, 18 primates… some of them being chimps, baboons and lemurs. We had 18 bears ranging from the intimidating grizzly bears to Siberian brown bears.” She raised over 120 animals from baby squirrels to baby ligers. Clifford spent many of her hours bottle feeding diverse baby animals, which included feeding every few hours.
In 2003 Clifford made a trip to the outskirts of Mena, where she helped in a black bear rescue. The sanctuary had been called in on a bear that had been purchased off the internet.. The bear had been declawed and would never survive in the wild, and therefore when authorities found out, Clifford’s sanctuary was contacted where they would provide him with a home and daily care the remaining days of his life.
Clifford now has been employed for 4 years at Mena’s own Skyline cafe. She said that one of the things she really enjoys is that everyone is always “happy.” She stated, “I have never worked anywhere where the customers are just always happy. I love it and working there.” In the coming and going of customers she has come to know the daily patrons. She became aware of the needs that local widowed veterans face, many are without family and or transportation. She decided to step up to the plate and lend a helping hand. Clifford began her volunteer work by transporting them to doctor visits, cleaning their homes or just spending time with them. She has conducted a food drive for an elderly lady who was trying desperately to stretch her $16 a month she received in food stamps. She and a friend set up a Go Fund Me account and within 24 hours had raised money and an enormous amount of food. They were able to stock the lady’s home with essential food and clothing. “See a need, fill a need,” Clifford said.
Clifford has even transformed one of her hobbies into a way to care for many of the elderly ladies she has come to know and love. Clifford and her boyfriend Joshua Faught love to fish and both are avid storm chasers. Joshua has an impressive setup of high technology computers that help them know before a storm hits which enables Clifford to be able to help in another fashion. Before the sirens go off, she is able to pick up and transport several home-bound people to shelter and safety. This has proven to be an invaluable service to many people. In keeping with James 1:27 “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this, to look after the orphans and widows in their distress.”
Clifford was recently recognized for all of her ‘quiet kindness’ by the Polk County Disabled American Veterans. She was awarded a plaque and standing ovation for her service to area veterans.
She exclaimed “ I love it here, so much. I love the people here!: Clifford relocated to this area three months prior to the 2009 tornado. She was residing in Ink, AR at the time of the tornado and her house was completely destroyed. Being new to the area and knowing no one, Clifford was forced to live out of her car for 2 weeks. People from a local church came to her aid and helped her get back on her feet again. Clifford was placed in a hotel and received much needed love by the community. “I have traveled a lot and I have never seen a community like this. They didn’t know me from Adam and yet they still gave me a helping hand. This community is awesome,” Clifford said.
Clifford expressed “ I know each person in my life is hand picked and they are there for a reason. God can use you to serve no matter what you are doing in life.’