"Wait a minute, wait a minute here? This is all happening so fast!" Clifford exclaimed, recalling how she felt when she was nominated for the award. "I felt very honored – the fact that the nomination was actually my name, the fact that someone even thought about me of all the people in South Dakota that could have been nominated. I'm a little overwhelmed."
Four other South Dakotans were nominated. Karen Artichoker of Kyle was nominated for helping to stop child abuse on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation through her work at Cangleska, a domestic abuse shelter. Christine Dillard, a 16-year-old community volunteer from Sioux Falls, was also nominated, as were David Hansen of Irene, who with his own money helps to build and remodel homes and schools, and the late Marlin Weston, a quadriplegic and longtime advocate for the disabled on the Pine Ridge reservation.
Sister Patricia Cruise nominated Clifford for the award. "I met Sister Trish at the lowest point in my life. She saved me," Clifford said. Sister Cruise is a former vice president of the Red Cloud Indian School who now works at Covenant House, a homeless shelter for children in New York City.
Clifford was nominated for her determination in having left an abusive marriage on Pine Ridge to pursue a college degree and make a better life for her children.
Having earned an associate's degree in nursing, Clifford now attends classes at USD and SDSU, where she will graduate with a bachelor's in nursing. She hopes also to earn a master's degree in nursing administration.
The public is encouraged to vote for their favorite hometown hero at www.volvoforlifeawards.com through Feb. 4. After the votes are tallied, a panel of judges, including Hank Aaron, Sen. Bill Bradley, Caroline Kennedy, Maya Lin, Paul Newman, Dr. Sally Ride, Val Kilmer, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and previous Volvo for Life Awards winners, will make selections from the categories of safety, quality of life, and environment.
During the April 5 awards ceremonies, six finalists will win $25,000 for a charity of choice and three winners will win $50,000, also for charity. The grand award winner, in addition to the winners' award, will receive a new Volvo every three years for life.
If Clifford wins, she said she would choose the Covenant House as her charity of choice, but hopes they will let her split it to benefit the Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where she went to grade school.
Clifford ended our conversation with, "I've never expected any of this before. Raising these children on my own is probably the hardest thing I could've ever gotten myself into, but knowing that I have to do it. I went to school for them. I wanted to give them options because I wasn't given an option."