Choosing to Lead

A woman kayaking on the water.

Melissa Beck, Lowndes County 4-H volunteer leader

4-H volunteer leader navigates new waters in Lowndes County

Meet Melissa, 4-H Volunteer Leader for the Lowndes County 4-H Kayaking Club

Q&A by Leah Barbour • Photos by Kevin Hudson

When her husband moved to Columbus in 2006 to research Civil War history for his next book, Melissa Beck was happy to move, too, and explore, learn, and connect with her new neighbors in Lowndes County. An avid kayaker, Beck loves being on the water, enjoying nature and racing. When a friend mentioned that the local 4-H club was looking for experienced kayakers to help organize a 4-H kayaking club, she volunteered to help. Beyond providing instruction on water safety and kayaking techniques, the spirit of mentorship and a love of nature are driving forces for her leadership.

How did you find out about the opportunity to volunteer?

A family friend told me the 4-H program was looking for someone to help lead a kayaking club. I went to a meeting on the water to observe, and I liked what I saw. The kids were really into it. So I told them I’d love to help out—as long as I wasn’t in charge. Then the person in charge of the program moved, and there I was, heading up the Lowndes County 4-H kayaking club with seven kids, 10–17 years old.

How did you become a certified 4-H volunteer in Lowndes County?

Getting certified as a 4-H volunteer was easy. It was like filling out a job application without the work history and then getting a background check done.

What made you decide to become a certified 4-H volunteer?

I kayak all through the year. It really is a passion for me. There are so many things you can do with a kayak, from fitness paddling and racing to whitewater paddling and paddling on the ocean, lakes, and rivers. Nature is wonderful, and kayaking puts you right in the middle of it. Experiencing the stillness, listening to and watching the water move, seeing and hearing an approaching rain strike the water, being surrounded by dense fog, watching the critters swim—it’s all magical. It’s quiet out there. You can hear yourself think, and you can see and hear lots of nature, if you let yourself.

I want to pass on to the next generation the joy of kayaking and being out in nature. I want them to connect with nature and take care of it. I want them to absolutely love it, the way I do. I’m hoping the kids I’m working with will make it part of their lives, and pass it on to others, too.

Why is teaching kayaking important to you?

My brothers and I grew up boating, fishing, and camping. I’m so glad my parents gave us that experience, because connecting with nature is so important. Kayaking is fun, in and of itself, but it’s also a means to an end. When I look at a bird and I know what kind of bird it is, I feel anchored to the earth. Grounded. That’s comforting. I want these kids to feel grounded and to want to take care of that bird—or whatever it is they develop a connection to. Kayaking gets them out there to discover those connections.

What do you do as a 4-H volunteer leader?

My goal is to expose the kids to the beauty of nature’s water—to respect it and to love it. I want them to feel comfortable in and on the water. It needs to be fun, not all focused on the learning. The learning sneaks in while they’re busy having fun. And it’s good to have a Plan B or Plan C, because things don’t always go the way you think they will. The kids can get really creative sometimes! I try to have at least two adults out there with me to help out.

What are your greatest accomplishments as a 4-H volunteer?

It’s too soon to know, but I hope I’m helping them develop a passion for nature and its beauty—to respect it, preserve it, and help the animals. I think we have a responsibility to take care of them.

I want them to talk about the animals they’ve seen, but not where we saw them. We want to protect them—keep them safe. This is the way we enjoy and protect the beauty—our connection to the earth.

A woman kayaking on the water.


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