Justin Jeffers got a taste of community service at a young age.
“I remember going with my mother to various sorority organizations around Sparta,” Jeffers, 31, said. “They would play bingo and take food baskets around, so I was exposed to serving others at a young age. As I was deciding what to do, I kept that at the forefront.”
He decided early on that one way to serve others was as a funeral director.
“A few years back, my third-grade teacher showed me a journal entry and it was on what I wanted to be when I grew up,” he said. “I used the term undertaker, but I don’t think I really knew what the job entailed, but by the sixth or seventh grade, I did. It was some sort of calling ingrained in me.
"I had no real reason for it, but a strong urge. I was 12 and begging the local funeral home to let me work. When I turned 16, they offered me a job. I went to Southwestern Illinois College on a golf scholarship and then transferred to Worsham College in Chicago. I graduated in 2006 and returned as a licensed funeral director.”
Remembering what he learned with his mother, Jeffers, 31, immediately got involved with causes in Sparta and Randolph County.
“Once I returned from school, that’s when I really got involved on the community level, mostly with not-for-profit charities, the Knights of Columbus and Lions Club, plus just being active in the community.”
After eight years in the funeral industry, Jeffers felt the need to contribute in a different way.
“I decided to take the next step and maybe be able to help people on a larger scale. That’s when I ran for county treasurer,” he said.
After his election in 2014, he found ways to fulfill that goal of helping people. He established a mobile office, traveling throughout the county to help residents understand their property tax bills and to help make sure they get all of the exemptions to which they are entitled.
“We set up a prepayment program so people could make tax payments year-round. It’s easier for people to pay $100 a month instead of $1,200 all at once. We have a lady who pays $10 a month and it makes a difference. She says that without it, she couldn’t pay her taxes and would lose her house. To me, that’s what it is all about — going outside the box and finding something that works for everyone while alleviating a burden.”
Jeffers also finds ways to help people outside of Southern Illinois.
“I don’t think the media coverage of the flooding in Baton Rouge in 2016 was what it should have been,” he said. “I have friends there that told me people were pushed out of their homes, so we decided to do something.”
He organized a clothing drive and identified four drop-off points.
“It took off like wildfire,” he said. “People just came together. One company donated an entire trailer of new clothing. We took 26-foot trailers that you couldn’t even get another sock in and went to Baton Rouge.”
Jeffers admits bewilderment as he describes the effort.
“It was amazing,” he said. “What started as ‘we should do this’ and so many people joined in and helped. It still moves me. By far it was the best thing I have ever been part of, hands down. It is amazing that Randolph County — home of just 33,000 people, could generate that much support for people many, many miles away. It tells me that people do care.”
What’s next for Jeffers? He says he’s not certain.
“I would like to stay as Randolph County Treasurer for a few more years, then I’m not sure,” he said. “The ambitious part of me wants to try to keep on helping people on a larger scale, but right now, I’m where I belong.”
He says he wants to continue to help people, both in Randolph County and wherever it is needed and plans to do that with a focus on community organizations.
“The groups are the backbone of what is good about America. If there are not volunteers, most of these groups will not last. I would hate for there not to be a Sparta Rotary or no scholarships because there is not a Lions Club. There needs to be people who are willing to stand up and carry the torch,” he said. “Our perception of our society needs to change to see the good in everyone. If we can come together and do that, our service to ourselves will be better and our relationship will be much better. There’s a lot of goodness left in this world, and it’s all around us.”