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Felton's work life and home life are connected

When not working with the Working Together Coalition, Kelly Felton of Hackensack spends time with her favorite people, son Logan, daughter Everly, and husband John. Photo by Travis Grimler.

To Working Together Coalition (WTC) coordinator Kelly Felton, substance abuse prevention is not just a job, it's personal.

Felton said she was lucky enough to grow up without much exposure to addiction in Moorhead, Minnesota. In spite of that, she's committed to prevention. Not only does she have two children growing up in Hackensack, but she takes pride in her community.

When she started college at Moorhead State University, Felton had no idea she would end up working in criminal justice. She says she stumbled into it by "accident."

"I started in business, and probably would have been successful if I stayed there, but I decided I would probably do better in a field helping people and working with people to try to do something," Felton said. "When I started taking Criminal Justice 101, I thought it was kind of interesting and just decided to kind of continue down that path."

Felton got her Bachelor of Science, and by 2003 she was working as a probation officer in Cass County. In the beginning, she worked as a juvenile agent, but moved on to gross misdemeanor adults. In 2008 she took a "leap of faith," moved from probation into prevention and hasn't looked back since.

"It's been probably one of the best career moves for me. Prevention is kind of fun, working on the other end of it trying to prevent kids from getting into the system, prevent them from having substance abuse. I saw a lot of that when I was working probation. I've seen a lot of families hurting and my ability to do that during the prevention side is a lot more rewarding," Felton said.

While working in probation, Felton said most of her clients could trace their offenses back to substance abuse.

"They weren't bad people that came into my office. They were people that made a bad choice, most likely while they were under the influence of a substance, or they had a family upbringing of not knowing how to make healthier choices," she said.

Working in prevention helped to change Felton's perspective on people.

"It allowed me to see how when you are working in probation, all you see are the bad things. Prevention has allowed me to see that our community is awesome," she said. "We don't have a lot of bad problems. Obviously, I have a job for a reason, we have a very high substance abuse rate among our youth, but when you work in probation that's what your day is."

Felton's work with the WTC has connected her to three local school districts, local businesses, the Cass County Sheriff's Department, police departments and local organizations. Together, they work to identify reasons behind substance abuse and risky behaviors in local children and put their heads together to educate students and offer them assistance in making healthy, safe decisions.

"In the end we all have the same goal, and I think that is what's so exciting about prevention. I get to work with the entire community," Felton said. "The beauty of it for me - why I love it and want to do well in my career - is because we all want kids to be safe and healthy. Who doesn't? That's what's exciting."

Felton said that the WTC uses community surveys to identify issues, and solid data to identify effective ways of responding. It is for this data-driven model that she and the WTC have received recognition state and nationwide.

In 2010, the Minnesota Prevention Resource Center named the WTC as "Coalition of the Year." In 2012, the National Prevention Network chose the WTC as the pilot site for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Prevention Week.

During her time as coordinator, Felton has personally spoken at many regional, state and national conferences about the success of the WTC. For someone who came into her position accidentally, Felton and the WTC have received a lot of recognition.

Looking back, Felton said she realized substance abuse always interested her as a subject.

"My mom brought me all these big bins from my high school days ... What I found was this apparently was an interest of mine since I was in high school, because I kept all these things that are pertinent to what I am doing now, like ways to say no," Felton said. "I think it's kind of who I am. By accident I may have gotten into this field, but it's really where my passion is."

Like anyone else, Felton's life doesn't begin and end with work, however, her work life and home life inevitably intersected.

In 2003, attempting to get to know people from the community, Felton joined a dart league with friends from work. It was there that she met John Felton, another dart league members.

"We really met and kicked it off and have been together since," Felton said.

They married in 2007. Today, they have two children: Logan, who is four, and Everly, who is two. As a family, the Feltons love the outdoors. Since the kids are so small, the family often rides bicycles together in the driveway, and they also enjoy camping and boating. Felton recognizes that someday, she will use her knowledge of prevention at home.

"I think we're realistic, not just me as an individual, but as a coalition, that kids are going to experiment. I think what we do know is if we can prolong that as long as we can, our kids will be less likely to become chemically addicted," Felton said. "Of course we do a lot of strategies around healthy families, healthy everything, and we can all strive to be that poster family, but families are families. None of us are perfect. The more we can help each other. It kind of goes back to that old cliché, 'It takes a village to raise a child.' "

Felton said one of the keys to keeping her family safe is in keeping her community safe.

"I think for me, even though we have three different school districts, we're all one community in my eyes. We're all friends across those school district borders, and if I can do one thing to help families out, the better we're going to be as a community," Felton said. "The more that I can do to make our community safe and healthy for my kids to grow up, the better it is going to be. Not just for my kids, but for the neighbor kids. Not just for my neighbor kids, but the kids in our community."