In high school, Dalinda Gonzalez-Alcantar’s dream was to become a missionary. But as fate would have it, she instead pursued a different mission, one that landed her at the Boys & Girls Club of McAllen.

Going on her third year as CEO of the nonprofit organization, and being the youngest to ever hold that position, Gonzalez-Alcantar is also a community leader in other ways: She sits on the city of McAllen’s Mayor’s Wellness Council, the UTRGV Enactus Advisory Board — a global learning platform dedicated to developing college students’ entrepreneurship and social innovation skills — and the Leadership Development Board of Texas State (her alma mater) as a representative of South Texas.

Gonzalez-Alcantar, who has a bachelor of fine arts and a master’s in education, said she’s passionate about community involvement because “being seated at tables where we are not traditionally being seated is really important to me.”

Also as a mother of two, the McAllen native admitted that there are times when she doubts herself, and even wanted to quit on occasion. But she said that her love for the Rio Grande Valley and education will always surpass her uncertainty.

“This is my mission field,” Gonzalez-Alcantar said.

“I get the honor of serving the city that raised me, and I don’t take it lightly any day. And more of an honor is being able to serve children and have a hand in their success and future. Even when it gets hard or overwhelming, I set a high standard for myself and my staff because we’re in the business of children’s futures, and I can’t think of anything bigger.”

Earlier this month, Gonzalez-Alcantar was one of six CEOs of Boys & Girls Clubs selected among thousands nationwide for a Women in Leadership conference in Phoenix. In addition to receiving a $6,000 scholarship for the club that also covered traveling fees, she said that the most important lesson she took from the week-long event was how to “let go of guilt.”

Gonzalez-Alcantar recalled an activity where she was asked: “What particular bias or stereotype have you bought into?”

At the conference, tears strolled down her cheeks as she thought about how difficult it has been to balance the responsibilities in her career and as a mother.

“I hate this, I have had a lot of women ask me, ‘How can you be a good mom and a good leader?’” said Gonzalez-Alcantar, mother of Madlin, 9, and Elijah, 16. “For three years, I have been guessing and second guessing that every day. There have been times when I’ve wanted to quit my job because I feel like my kids needed me.

“But then I thought: I go to all their games; we eat dinner together every night; I am very present in their lives, and the club is doing great. And I realized that everything I thought was not true, and I didn’t have to carry all this guilt on my shoulders.”

Another lesson she took home was the meaning of being a female leader.

“Business was structured and built by men, and that’s OK because that was history, but we are still following those rules. Now, rules look different for organizations that women are leading. It looks different when a woman is making the rules — and that’s OK.”

Gonzalez-Alcantar is no stranger to leadership roles, also serving as the founder and operator of Alablanca Apparel, a clothing line “inspired by humanity on the border,” and co-founder of Border Kids, a limited liability company that teaches students about technology. She also carries a series of 1-minute videos called “Tacita Talks” on her social media platforms, where she shares advice and historical facts.

Dalinda Gonzalez-Alcantar, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of McAllen poses in her office on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Carrying the mission

The Boys & Girls Club of McAllen serves about 6,000 members across seven locations, and its after school programs follow a curriculum that cover a variety of lessons, including positive relationships, health and wellness, and financial literacy.

And whether it’s communicating with sponsors, making lesson plans or organizing events with the athletics department, Gonzalez-Alcantar said that she keeps each member in mind.

“The mission of Boys & Girls Club is to create productive citizens and be there for those who need us most,” she said. “If there’s a shortfall in their life — maybe because of poverty, maybe because of their socioeconomic status or demographic — we are there for them.”

Before taking the position as CEO in 2016, Gonzalez-Alcantar was a college readiness teacher at Robert Vela High School in Edinburg for eight years. After 13 years as a teacher, education remains as her top priority, even without working on a school campus.

“I actually see what we do at the club as an extension of a classroom, as an extension of me as a teacher,” she said. “Now I just happen to oversee 80 adults (her employees) who I teach all the time.

“I remind them all the time that the work they do is great because they are working with kids who I believe that if we didn’t exist, they wouldn’t learn those skill sets from anyone else, and where would they be after school?”

According to the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, juvenile crime peaks between 3 and 4 p.m. — the hour at the end of a school day. About 10 million to 14 million children are left unsupervised after leaving their school campuses, increasing their chances of engaging in criminal demeanors, or falling victim to them.

So, Gonzalez-Alcantar’s mission is two-fold: empowering and educating children, and sharing her pride for the Valley.

“Our community will not be successful if our Boys and Girls Club is not successful,” Gonzalez-Alcantar said. “Like the way people see a school district is the same way I see our organization, because we have the capability of teaching kids the skill sets that aren’t really focused on at school: honesty, gratitude, kindness.

“I really believe that our community is great, but I also believe that we have not completely owned that yet. But I am in the pursuit of showing people how great we are.”

And “owning it,” she said, is when every child has an equal opportunity to be successful, and none living in poverty.

In 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 42.4% of children in the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission area lived in poverty –– the highest rate among Texas border cities.

“Everything that I do is a byproduct of my faith,” she said. “My eyes are open with faith that we are going to be a region where our history and story is going to show poverty, it’s going to need and lack, but that isn’t the end, just a part. In my heart, I believe that we will get to a point where there will be no child living in poverty in the Valley.

“Great things have only been birthed out of necessity. Every great invention has been birthed out of necessity.”