White House honors student, State recognizes THI program

Texas Hunger Initiative (THI) collected more honors in February, one from the White House for a student volunteer and one from the Texas Department of Agriculture for the program as a whole.

Baylor senior Riya Rahman was one of only nine people from across the nation chosen as White House Champions of Change. Rahman, a political science major from Dallas, was honored Feb. 26 at the White House for her work fighting child hunger.

Rahman, the youngest person honored, spoke on a panel facilitated by the Acting Secretary of Education with some of the other champions. Specifically, Rahman was named as a Champion of Change for Summer Opportunity. "Summer opportunity" refers to learning, jobs and meals for children during summer vacation in the United States. When schools dismiss for summer break, many students lose their only consistent source of meals.

Rahman's involvement with THI began two years ago on a service learning mission trip to Washington, D.C. She began volunteering in Baylor's THI Dallas office and has worked to end child hunger with the THI and Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign.

"I found myself in this issue. I found something to wake up and be passionate for. I found something to fight for. I found a value in my voice that I didn't know I had," she said.

For Rahman, the issue of child hunger hits very close to home.

"My parents are from Bangladesh and they grew up without a lot of money," Rahman said. "My father is actually from a very rural village, and he often spoke of his youth and how he would wake up hungry, wondering where he would get his next meal. My dad worked extremely hard to get himself out of Bangladesh and build a better life for his family. When I heard about food insecurity in the United States, I was astonished. The mission trip opened my eyes to this issue, and I couldn't rest until I did something about it. I expected food insecurity in developing countries, but never in my own country."

Rahman now works for THI as an undergraduate policy analyst, focusing on child nutrition programs. After graduating in May, Rahman plans to advocate for the hungry and to advance the cause of ending food insecurity for children. This year, THI will partner with Baylor Missions on its fourth Hunger in America trip to D.C. and its first Hunger in Texas trip through West Texas. Rahman is organizing this summer's D.C. trip.

"This May, we get to take a whole new group of Baylor students to D.C.," she said. "Hopefully, their lives change like mine did."

Texas Department of Agriculture award

At the state level, THI received the Texas Department of Agriculture's (TDA) Fresh Perspectives Award for its innovative approach to improving outcomes of the summer meals program. The award was presented Feb. 19 during TDA's 2016 Summer Good Service Program Conference in Austin.

"I am incredibly grateful that the Texas Hunger Initiative is being recognized by the Texas Department of Agriculture for innovation in addressing childhood hunger during the summer months when food insecurity is at its peak," THI Director Jeremy Everett said. "This award is credit to Baylor University's informed engagement approach of using research to inform community engagement strategies which have yielded millions of additional meals each summer to children in Texas. TDA and THI, together with our partners across the great state of Texas, are moving us ever closer to the goal of ending hunger and reducing poverty."

THI's research has helped build community engagement strategies that have resulted in getting millions of additional meals to Texas students each summer--meals that were already budgeted and paid for but were previously going to waste instead of reaching the people they were intended to serve.

For families battling food insecurity, the summer months can be difficult as children's one guaranteed meal each day--lunch at school--is no longer an option. But thanks to THI's plan that engaged organizations across communities and promoted available summer meals in areas of need, thousands of children and families across the state took part in the summer meal program for the first time.