We had the good fortune of connecting with Rebecca Klein Powell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Rebecca, we’d love to hear more about your end-goal, professionally.
In March 2020, I was diagnosed with stage iv metastatic breast cancer. Over the past 15 months, this diagnosis, along with the challenges of a global pandemic, have caused me to put some serious thought into “the end goal”. What legacy do I want to leave in my field and the communities we serve?
On a recent trip to Florida to visit my folks, I had one of those nights where all of the change of the past year overwhelmed me and found myself talking to my dad through the tears and fear, asking “what is all of this for?” My father, who has never been the mushy or sentimental kind of dad, looked me square in the face and told me that I had the opportunity to really make an impact in the lives of others. “Most heroes don’t set out to be one,” he told me that night.
I’ve been thinking about his words ever since.
For the past 12 years, I have served as the Development Director for the environmental nonprofit Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (CRK). This alone is quite the feat, given the national average of development directors staying at a nonprofit is around 14 months. After nearly two decades in the nonprofit sector, I found my family with CRK. And, after an initial breast cancer diagnosis in 2015, I found my own personal connection to our River through a love of fly fishing.
By the end of my career (whenever that may be) I want the community to remember me as one of the driving forces behind CRK’s mission. My job is, of course, building relationships with community members in order to sustain the important work that CRK does to preserve and protect the Chattahoochee River for the millions of people and wildlife that depend on it. I do this through building relationships with members of our community and businesses, working with donors who wish to leave their own personal legacy through a planned gift to sustain the future of the organization, and creative cause marketing efforts which allow CRK to reach populations we otherwise wouldn’t. I want to be remembered as the force of nature who helped make CRK the organization it is today, as the longest serving development director in its nearly three decades of service to our communities.
But giving back is so much more than just my career. It is the core of my lifestyle.
In 2019, CRK hosted the first-ever Water Warriors summit in celebration of CRK’s 25th anniversary and as part of a broader recommitment to inspire the next generation of environmentalists. That year, I came up with an idea – a passion project of sorts – to bring girls from the region out to experience a day of fly fishing and learn more about why protection of our waterways is so important. I wanted to be a part of developing and enabling a new generation of conservation-minded youth who protect the waters that nourish nearly 5 million people and the south’s most thriving trout fishery.
The event was an outstanding success, with media coverage and girls from across the region (some from New Jersey, Colorado, and Texas as well) still talking about the event and bringing lessons learned into their communities. This year, in honor of my long-time service to CRK and as a commitment to my mission of empowering young women in the fly fishing community, the organization announced they were renaming the All Girls Fish to the Becca K. Powell All Girls Fish, which will be hosted annually. If that’s not quite the end goal, I don’t know what else is.
Additionally, I am utilizing my years of experience in the nonprofit sector to start my own nonprofit. Reeling in recovery is a volunteer organization that aims to support women in men in active recovery from alcohol and drug abuse by connecting them to each other and nature through the therapeutic sport of fly fishing. Reeling in Recovery retreats are free, and open to women and men who have chosen to live their personal truth – a life without alcohol and drugs. This passion project is also part of the end goal for me, leaving my legacy in the recovery and fly fishing communities. On August 26, 2021 I will celebrate 5 years of sobriety.
All of this said, by the end of my career I want to leave my mark with CRK, our regions youth, and the fly fishing and recovery communities. I want to be known as the woman who truly made a difference. I want to be remembered as a hero who committed her life to improving the lives of others.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector since 2001, first with my university’s Women’s Center on campus, and then with the National Organization for Women. In 2004 I started with Linville Search and Rescue, moving on to work as a foundation assistant at Grandfather Home for Children. I moved from assistant/administrative support, to a major gifts manager with the American Red Cross – a step up in my career – before taking my first development director job with Catawba Riverkeeper in Charlotte, NC. In 2009 I accepted a development director job with Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, where I intend to stay until I am unable to work anymore. I went from managing a 1.2 million dollar budget, to a now nearly 2 million dollar budget. I have seen my development team grow from three, to eight employees.
What sets me apart from others? I am not afraid to ask for anything. After all, my mother always said “you never know unless you ask…the worst you’re going to get is a ‘no’.” Also, one of my biggest strengths is to think big picture, having started a number of cause marketing campaigns for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, rethinking our events and outreach activities, and being the longest running development director in the history of the organization.
I am most proud of my work to establish the Becca K. Powell All Girls Fish. You can learn more about this event at www.chattahoochee.org/allgirlsfish.
How did I get to where I am today professionally? A lot of hard work and determination. The ability to go with the flow. And the willingness to make mistakes and grow from them. My most important growth has been over the course of the past two years as the development team has grown under my management. I have made mistakes as a manager, and I have learned from them. One of my biggest take-a-ways (lessons learned) has been that I need to be a mentor with the younger staff on my team. To remind myself that I didn’t know how to do everything with my job when I first started, so I need to give the next generation the tools to do so instead of expecting them to be at my level from day one. This is an ongoing process and I’m grateful for the opportunity to grow as a manager every day.
I want the world to know that a career can be so much more than just a paycheck. It can be a passion. It can be family. It can be making a difference in lives of others. I want the world to know that I was a warrior. A fighter who made my mark in the nonprofit, fly fishing, and recovery communities no matter the obstacles that were put in my way.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would take them to the Chattahoochee River, specifically the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. To show them the river that saved my life and makes a difference in the lives of so many. I would book a trip with River Through Atlanta and put a fly rod in their hand in hopes of catching (and then releasing) one of the trophy brown trout that the Chattahoochee River now sustains.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Linkedin: Chattahoochee Riverkeeper
Facebook: Chattahoochee Riverkeeper
Youtube: Chattahoochee Riverkeeper
Other: Ticktock: ChattRivKeep SnapChat: cr_keeper
Credit: Winged Reel (they took the photo of the little girl fishing, and the group of girls standing in the field with fly rods in their hands.