Doing the “Heart” Work

A group of 14 men and women stand on either side of a woman wearing a bright green hat and holding up an award.
Ruby Beckley accepts honors for her years of service at the 2018 Mississippi Volunteer Leaders Association.

Decades of service to children betters community

Story by Leah Barbour

It all started back in 1966, when former 4-H’er Ruby Beckley decided to become a 4-H volunteer leader. During her own days in 4-H, she won corn-growing competitions, and she knew, even though she wasn’t a mother yet, she needed to share her talents with the next generation.

Beckley’s goals were simple: motivate children, teach them to do their best, and ensure they have the life skills needed to become successful adults.

Longtime Mississippi 4-H volunteer Ruby Beckley explains how 4-H helps young people learn and grow.

So, Beckley went to the Lee County office of the Mississippi State University

Extension Service. From there, she helped organize the county’s first 4-H group: the Starlight Club. 4-H’ers from the rural community of Shannon learned to sew, cook, and garden, but, even more importantly, they learned how to serve others.

Fast-forward 53 years, and Beckley is working with a group of Cloverbuds, aged 5 to 7, and teaching them life skills. She even continues to recruit new volunteers.

Beckley’s service and leadership are making a difference.

“Parents are working and don’t see everything the kids are doing,” she continues. “It takes volunteers to get your children motivated in something that’s going to help them in life.”

Helping children to become good citizens is one of Beckley’s greatest accomplishments, and she’s just as passionate about it today as she was in the 1960s.

“I’ve always wanted to help the children, even at school. I volunteer for 4-H, and I volunteer in the school. People say, ‘You’ve gotten that old, and you still love it?’ and I say, ‘Yeah,’” Beckley laughs. “That’s my job: to motivate and help. That’s what God wants all of us to do.”

“I tell people get your children in 4-H. Let them join, so they can learn something. Get them motivated. Get them to do the best they can. Get them to be good citizens.”

Over the years, Beckley has partnered with numerous Extension agents and program assistants. She has worked with Brandon Alberson, the current agent in Lee County, during the past 3 years, and she remembers Shelton Shannon, former Extension program associate, and Sherry Smith, former director of the Extension office in Lee County, as being significant motivators and partners.

“Shelton stood out! He taught us, whatever was going on, whatever we needed to know. And Sherry did, too. There were some good agents back in the day. And we’d work together, all for the children. It was all for the children,” Beckley affirms.

When she marked her 50th year of service to 4-H’ers, personnel in the Lee County office, along with leaders of the Mississippi Volunteer Leaders Association, the statewide organization that oversees 4-H volunteers, organized a special recognition ceremony.

“This place was packed,” Beckley explains. “I got rich that day. My 4-H’ers sent me so many cards and flowers and money. That was a grand day, praise God. Thank God that I have been an impact on somebody, that I could show somebody that they want to be like me.

“We’ve got to show these young people that they can look up to us.”

A young girl wearing a purple shirt, a young girl wearing a striped shirt, and an older woman wearing a large brown hat and a bright green jacket smile at the camera.
"I love doing things in 4-H: painting, building, public speaking. I love doing 4-H with Ms. Ruby!"
MIRACLE SATTERWHITE, 7-year-old 4-H’er
A woman in a large brown hat and a bright green jacket smiles next to a young boy wearing a dark blue shirt.
"Ms. Ruby is my grandma, and she wants kids to be in 4-H and learn more. 4-H is fun for me!"
DAVION EMENIKE, 11-year-old 4-H’er
Two young girls and an older woman with a large brown hat and a bright green jacket talk to each other.
"Ms. Ruby makes sure we won’t miss 4-H. I like her taking me because we get to play with Legos and paint and do fun activities. I really love 4-H."
SHILA OSBORNE, 7-year-old 4-H’er
A young boy stands next to and looks down at a woman wearing a large brown hat and a bright green jacket.
"Ms. Ruby is a nice, caring person, and she would do anything to help somebody. If you participate in 4-H with her, you can learn something new every day."
SHIRO OSBORNE JR., 15-year-old 4-H’er
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