Kenosha native Felicia Dalton spent 10 years in the military before moving back home to be closer to family seven years ago.

Little did she know, she’d find herself at the Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha, where she spent many days after school.

Honorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force, she and her husband, who also served in the military, initially had come back to the U.S. from Italy and were living in Washington state in 2011, when he tragically took his own life. She was left to raise her son, then a baby, by herself.

Dalton, now the director of prevention and outreach for the Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha, said the plan for them after they left the military was she’d be a stay-at-home mom raising her son Zach. Instead, the Tremper High School graduate, who grew up in the Lincoln Neighborhood, found her way back to the Midwest — first to Chicago where she thought she’d study to become a physician’s assistant, having worked as a medical technologist while in the service. But then, she found her true calling in social work.

Over the next three years, she earned degrees in social work, a bachelor’s from Carthage College and a master’s at Loyola University. In 2016, she had plans to move to Virginia, but the Boys & Girls Club was hiring part-time for the summer.

Before long, she was the site coordinator for the club at her old stomping grounds at Lincoln Park, which progressed to director of teen services and eventually taking over the role of outreach and prevention director — a job previously held by longtime director Dennis Bedford, who has since retired.

Last week, the Kenosha News caught up with her at the club.

Q: How are you liking what you do?

A: I love it. I actually get to do what I went to college for. It’s always great when you can use that degree.

Q: What are some of the types of programming you do at the Boys & Girls Club?

A: We do our postsecondary education programming, “Diplomas to Degrees,” making sure our kids are ready for college and that they’re graduating from high school. And that they have some sort of plan after high school. We also focus on “Money Matters,” its our financial literacy program because, unfortunately, a lot of bad financial habits are passed on generationally. We actually have Educators Credit Union come in and work with them. And they can talk with the kids. Of course, I can tell you how to budget your grocery bill, but I can’t really talk to you about the 401k’s and stuff like that so that’s where we have them come in.

Q: Why is this important for them?

A: I grew up in the same neighborhood as a lot of these kids. I understand where they’re coming from and a lot of the needs that the kids have. They haven’t changed. They’re the same needs I had as a kid.

Q: How did you come to choose social work as a profession?

A: I was always that person you could count on to get resources from. I liked to know what the rules and regulations were. I was always that person — I may not know all the answers, but I could point you in the right direction. Social work is providing tools and resources to people so they could be their best self. I felt it was a natural fit. And, I had a bad experience with a social worker when I was a kid.

Q: What was that experience?

A: I got in trouble. I was in seventh grade at Lincoln Junior High School, and the dean had left the keys in my locker because he was opening my locker and he left the keys in my locker and instead of being a great student and returning the keys, I kept the keys. So my friend and I would go into the school, and we were caught by a teacher in her classroom. So, anything that happened pretty much during the time I had the keys, we were blamed for, even though we probably did half the stuff.

Before that, I was a good kid, didn’t have any issues. I’d been really active in school, great grades, I’d never got in trouble. But, instead of that social worker being there to advocate for me, which is what they’re supposed to do, I felt as though she was advocated for me to go to “juvie” even though I’d never gotten into any trouble. I hope the kids I work with know I’m on their side. I’ll let them know when they’re wrong, but what they see is what they get from me. My family was very supportive. I had the staff from the Boys & Girls Club, and of course, I got the “I’m disappointed in you” speeches, but I didn’t internalize it and they didn’t make it that I am this bad person because of this. I didn’t let this define me.

Q: How has the club changed since your days there as a kid?

A: When I show people when we go to conferences what the club looks like, so modern and the way it’s furnished (IKEA), they’re like, “What?” We’ve come a very long way. Back then, at the Madrigrano Center, there weren’t as many kids as we have now. There are days I’m working with 50 to 60 kids.

Q: Tells us about your time in the Air Force.

A: It was definitely (a positive) experience hands down. Actually, the first time I’d ever traveled it was because of the Boys & Girls Club. I was an exchange student to Japan for a year, so that was the first time I had traveled, and I had this travel bug that had been sparked. When I joined the military, it was a bit out of the ordinary. The 10 years I was in I was stationed at eight different bases. The longest I’d been at one place was two and a half years when I was in Virginia. I got pretty lucky with my time in the military. I learned so much being exposed to different cultures overseas, but here domestically as well.

Q: What was Japan like?

A: I loved it. I went back a couple years ago. I still keep in touch with my host family. We’ll be going back. I’ll be taking my son, Zach, in 2020 for the Olympics so he can go and visit. My son is 7 now. It’ll be nice. He’s got a passport. We’ll do a little traveling. His dad and I traveled a lot. And, now, he gets to travel as well.

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