Last week, the Tompkins County Legislature unanimously confirmed J.R. Clairborne as director of the new Office of Veterans Services, a state-required office that will connect local military veterans with state and federal services. He will report to County Administrator Jason Molino, who appointed him from a pool of 37 applicants.
Clairborne is the first person to serve in the role for the newly-created agency in Tompkins County. It was approved in February of this year, and the department will have an office in the Office for the Aging on West State Street.
Since 2012, Clairborne has been the advocacy coordinator for Loaves and Fishes of Tompkins County, and is currently affiliated with the United Way of Tompkins County, the Tompkins County Public Information Advisory Board, and the Community Housing Development Fund (of which he is a founding member). From 2006 to 2015, he represented Ithaca’s Second Ward on the Common Council and served on the Tompkins County Council of Governments.
Clairborne has also worked in communications and marketing for Cornell University and Ithaca College, as a reporter and assistant editor for The Ithaca Journal for six years, and served eight years in the United States Navy and U.S. Naval Air Reserve, where he reached the rank of Petty Officer Third Class; Aviation Boatswain’s Mate – Handler.
In a Q&A with the Ithaca Times, Clairborne detailed his expectations for his new position, which he will begin in late July. Responses have been edited for clarity.
IT: Why did you apply for this position?
JC: I put my name in the hat for this role after being approached by people who thought I’d be a good candidate. After looking deeper into the position, I saw it as an opportunity to serve my fellow veterans in a greater way. During my time at Loaves & Fishes of Tompkins County, I’ve worked with our staff and others to make our dining hall a welcoming place for veterans, as well as anyone who joins us as a guest. Becoming director of veterans services puts me in a position to use my knowledge of local resources available to connect veterans when they need those services.
IT: What will you bring to this new role?
JC: A vast wealth of experiences gained from my professional and civic roles coupled with a solid base of knowledge of our local resources. I also think I know a few people around town, at least, I can call on when I need more information to help meet a need for a veteran and his or her family.
IT: What local entities do you expect to work closely with?
JC: Any of the local social, medical, mental health, housing, veterans, and any other service agencies that will work with me in service of local veterans. In addition, I plan to look toward our financial and business communities, as well as any other willing entities, for potential partnerships or assistance.
IT: You served in the military. How will that guide your work?
JC: Being a veteran gives me a place for connection with other veterans. Chances are good that we have some shared or related experiences in common, be it during our times of service or since then. I also believe I share a sensitivity to the concerns many of our families encounter or have overcome.
IT: What do you hope to accomplish as director?
Regardless of the reasons we answered the call to serve our nation, the distinction of “veteran” means we served. Today, many of our veterans just want to reclaim their place at home or in the community, without fanfare but with simplicity, dignity, and respect. I want to help as many of our 4,100 veterans across Tompkins County who need it make those connections.
Lastly, to say I am thankful for this opportunity is an understatement. My selection by Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino and members of the search committee, coupled with the show of confidence by the unanimous vote of the county legislature, excites me to no end. I've said thank you to God many times daily since the county tapped me. I plan to use this excitement as added motivation in service to our community of veterans across Tompkins County.