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Clayton Fuller has been appointed a White House Fellow for 2018-2019. He will learn from and work alongside top government officials until the fellowship ends in summer 2019. (Contributed photo)

A North Georgia native and local prosecutor has headed to Washington, D.C., following his appointment to the highly competitive White House Fellows Program earlier this fall.

Clayton Fuller, an assistant district attorney for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, has joined 13 other professionals from around the country selected for the 2018-2019 class.

Throughout the year, the appointees will participate in an education program to expand their knowledge of leadership, policy-making and contemporary issues, with opportunities to meet notable alumni of the program, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former National Security Advisor Robert "Bud" McFarlane. They will also work as fellows to senior White House staff, Cabinet secretaries, and other top-ranking government officials.

Fuller has been appointed to the Office of the Second Lady, where he will assist with Karen Pence's recently launched campaign to "elevate, encourage, and thank" military spouses throughout the nation. The placement was based on Fuller's military experience as a major and a deputy staff judge advocate in a reserve force of the U.S. Air Force, where his responsibilities included advising commanders on difficult ethical issues and helping them maintain discipline and order.

Drawing from his work as a civilian prosecutor, Fuller said he will also be providing a local voice for the administration's nationwide fight against the opioid epidemic. His goal will be to show the impact the opioid and methamphetamine crisis has had on local communities, he explained.

Between 2012 and 2016, Walker County saw 50 deaths from drug overdoses, according to data compiled by the National Opinion Research Center. The data shows a total of 67 overdose deaths in Catoosa County over that same time frame.

As he takes on the fellowship, Fuller said he believes the most valuable part of the experience for him will be the opportunity to be a "fly on the wall," watching some of the country's most powerful leaders as they operate in a highly pressurized environment.

Among the leaders he has been able to meet through the fellowship so far, Fuller said the Rev. Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, had the most profound impact on him. Through the nonprofit, Boyle has worked to rehabilitate hundreds of former gang members in Los Angeles each year by offering job training, educational services, legal assistance and more.

"It's an incredible model, equally applicable to every community," said Fuller.

While many successful alumni of the White House Fellows Program have used the experience as a foothold to obtain crucial roles within the federal government, Fuller said his goal for now is to become a change-maker at the local level, much like Boyle.

"I want to be a part of building sustainable small-town communities that will last a 100 years," Fuller said. " Then, when one of my fellowship classmates becomes president, I'll convince them that I should be their Chief of Staff."

Fuller said he has his community to thank for molding him into a man worthy of securing one of the coveted fellowship positions.

"I wouldn't be here but for the teachers, coaches, school counselors, priests and family and friends back home who have made a positive impact on my life — and more importantly, believed in me when I didn't believe in myself," Fuller said. "That debt can never be repaid, but I try every day to repay it."

Email Myron Madden at mmadden@timesfreepress.com.

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