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‘I try to make them feel as comfortable as possible:’ Warm smile welcomes visitors to Milwaukee Vet Center

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MILWAUKEE -- FOX6 recently held a contest called 'Remarkable Women.' It's part of a nationwide initiative to honor women making an impact in their communities. From a plethora of entries, four well-deserving finalists emerged.

Jeri Jefferson

Our fourth finalist is Jeri Jefferson and this is her story.

Jefferson does some of her most meaningful work at the Vet Center on Milwaukee's northwest side.

Some of her proudest moments are on display behind her desk.

They're coins that represent where she's been, from Kuwait to Qutar, in her 26 years in the military.

Jefferson's decision to enlist in the Army happened much later in her adult life.

"At 30, I finally said, 'okay, I need to do this,'" said Jefferson. "I wanted to be part of something bigger."

She knew the time was right.

"I grew up in the inner city and didn't want to be part of the local whatever was going on, so I needed to move away and get out," recalls Jefferson.

She began her military career in Colorado and through hard work, found herself making rank every few years.

At times, it was a rocky road, with a few people telling her she wasn't supposed to be in the Army.

At one point, Jeri says an entire unit made her feel like an outcast.

"They didn`t believe that an African American female was coming to their unit," said Jefferson. "And then was going to be promoted in their unit."

Some disapproval was a bit more direct, happening on a unit run.

"My first sergeant called out in cadence 'he met a wooly bear with curly hair from Wisconsin,'" said Jefferson. "I'm like, 'what?!'"

There were days she just wanted to walk away.

Jeri Jefferson

"I told my mom I can't do it," said Jefferson. "Or I called my husband and said I can't do this anymore."

Her family back home gave her motivation.

"My sister just used to tell me, 'keep it moving,'" said Jefferson.

It was Jefferson's niece who wanted us to know what a difference Jeri is making in our community.

"She's always a spirit to help others and never asks for anything in return," reads Jefferson "Strong intelligent and compassionate are the three words I'd use to describe her."

It was just last year when Jefferson decided to take things in a new direction.

"It was a challenge for me to retire," said Jefferson. "I didn`t want to let go."

In this story

But now, she stays on the front lines at the Milwaukee Vet Center as the first face veterans see when they walk through the doors.

"I just try to make them feel as comfortable as possible," said Jefferson. "I'm the smile they first see coming through the doors, so my job is easy. I love it."

So other veterans have everything they need no matter how many mountains are in their way.

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