For the past 19 years, Office Manager Melissa Kuwahara has been a critical member of the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) organization, doing everything from answering phones to managing payroll to assisting with special events. Whether she wants to admit it or not, Melissa might just be one of the most important spokes in the wheel that makes the BOEC operation turn.

Melissa Kuwahara at a BOEC Special Event

Melissa works at a BOEC fundraising event

“I really don’t feel like the center,” she says bashfully. “I think that the programs are the heart and soul of the BOEC. Sometimes it feels like I do so many things that are little bits and pieces here and there that I can’t really summarize what I do on a daily basis. I just know that I am really busy all the time.”

Melissa’s journey started in 2002 when she responded to a Summit Daily classified ad for a combined office support position with both the BOEC and Summit Huts Association (located in the same building) and the rest is history. After running back and forth between the two offices and answering two phones for 2 years, she hopped on board as BOEC’s full-time office manager after her longtime predecessor, Roch Horton, moved on. In her 19 years she’s seen three executive directors, one interim executive director, six finance directors and many, many staff come and go, but she’s also seen a tremendous amount of growth and change as one can imagine.

Melissa Kuwahara and BOEC coworkers

Melissa poses with current and former BOEC employees

“I am sad to have seen so many amazing people move on, but the BOEC has grown so much in my time here,” she says. “I loved seeing the creation of the Keystone Adaptive Center, the Breckenridge Ski Office expansion and the beautiful remodel of the administration building, including the much-needed staff housing upstairs. It’s so exciting to see all of this come to fruition”

The amount of change she has seen with the BOEC has been a kind of metaphor for her life. She moved to Breckenridge at the age of two before moving to Aztec, NM for a year and back to Breckenridge from first grade to 10th grade. The family uprooted once again and moved to Denver, but after graduating in Recreation Resources Management from Colorado State University (CSU), the mountains came a calling again … this time permanently after completing her college internship at Keystone Resort in 1993. Fast forward nearly 10 years and not only had Breckenridge become her home again, but little did she know at the time, the BOEC did as well.

Melissa and her dog Yeti

Melissa and her dog Yeti

Before joining the BOEC, however, the now 50-year-old Kuwahara worked in the resort and tourism fields leading Llama lunch hikes, wildflower walks, high alpine tours and beaver walks just to name a few. While she enjoyed working the resort lifestyle, she describes it as “not for the faint of heart” as working with the public one hundred percent of the time was not necessarily her cup of tea. Then came that classified ad that changed her life forever, giving her a job and a lifestyle that really culminates in who she is as a person.

“I get to work with amazing co-workers who all have huge hearts and the most giving people I know,” she says. “While working for the BOEC is a heartwarming endeavor, and we provide incredible experiences for people who normally are excluded from outdoor recreation experiences, what I really love about my job is serving the selfless staff, which in turn supports our programs. I work for the people here and love being able to help our staff provide amazing experiences and get what they need to do their job well.”

Melissa with former BOEC Executive Director Bruce Fitch

Melissa with former BOEC Executive Director Bruce Fitch

Describing the BOEC as hard working, inspiring and adventuresome, she realized the nonprofit was the right fit very early on after a staff hike to Francie’s Cabin in the Fall of 2002.

“It was cold and wet and a bit snowy,” she fondly remembers. “We made a delicious lunch of fajitas and Roch made the most delicious real Mexican hot chocolate with fresh grated nutmeg and cinnamon. It was super cozy and fun.”

And when she’s not holding down the fort at BOEC’s administrative office, Melissa feels right at home doing a lot of what the BOEC offers its participants including hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, Nordic, telemark and alpine skiing, whitewater rafting, and just about anything outdoors. It seems like a natural fit, doesn’t it?

Melissa and Yeti take in the sights

Melissa and Yeti take in the sights

“I am so lucky to have a job that I love and I am happy doing it in an amazing location,” she says. “So many people struggle to be able to stay in the county and call this their home, and I am lucky enough to say this has been my home for over 40 years.”

And for 19 of those years Melissa’s home has been with the BOEC. We certainly feel lucky that she can call this place home too. Here’s to many more years of running a tight ship, Melissa. Thank you for all you’ve done to help make BOEC what it is today.