Riya Rahman, a senior political science student, was recently named as a White House Champion of Change recipient for her work toward helping end child hunger. She received recognition at the Summer Opportunity Workshop on February 26 at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C.
Rahman spoke on a panel to nearly 100 people about her work to end child hunger with the Texas Hunger Initiative and Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. Her panel was facilitated by acting Secretary of Education, John King. This event also had the secretary of labor and secretary of agriculture as panel leaders, making it the first with three cabinet members present.
“It’s a testament to how important of an opportunity this was. It’s just the honor of being recognized by the White House and being able to say that someone at the White House thinks that I’m worthy of this award,” Rahman said.
Rahman began her service when she attended a Hunger in America mission trip in 2014. This experience spurred her to reach out to a volunteer center in Dallas. After volunteering for a few weeks, she was offered an internship position with THI at the Dallas office. She was later was given the role of Youth Ambassador with the Share Our Strength campaign and worked for the year in THI’s Central Office. Rahman then returned to the Dallas office and worked with the Excellence in Summer Meals Campaign, which is engineered to see what is and isn’t helping with food distribution. She then was able to declare herself as an undergraduate policy analyst and is currently working in that position with THI in Waco.
“It was just kind of a boom, boom, boom,” Rahman said. “All my ducks aligned in a row.”
When first notified of the award, Rahman assumed that it was a spam email. She sent the invitation to her boss and was urged to respond immediately. Rahman told very few about the opportunity after her initial response.
“I didn’t want to get my hopes up, so I was very nonchalant about it,” Rahman said. “I didn’t actually tell anyone because I really didn’t think that it was real or that it was happening, that I was going to get it at all.”
One person was allowed to attend the ceremony with Rahman, but she had two very important mentors that she wanted to bring with her. Her wishes were granted after speaking with organizers for the event.
The first was Loretta Landry, regional manager of Child Hunger Outreach at the Dallas office. She was one of the first people who spoke with Rahman in the organization and suggested she be an intern, allowing for growth within her job.
“She’s always been really supportive and also let me learn to take control of my work. She let me be in charge of things and really didn’t treat me like an intern. She treated me like I was a capable staff person,” Rahman said. “It was really a great learning experience and I attribute a lot of my work ethic to her.”
Her second guest was Sam Reads, online organizer for Share Our Strength, who continually supports Rahman in her work. He nominated Rahman for the award after working with her as a youth ambassador.
“If I had an idea and I wasn’t ready to share it with people I would just call him. Almost 99.9 percent of the time he was completely supportive and told me that I could change the world if I wanted to, and it takes people like that to really believe that you can,” Rahman said. “He is a great person to have in your corner.”
Rahman is currently working on Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which helps children who are eligible for free food for the government and is reinstated every five years. The Senate recently passed the bipartisan bill and the House is currently working on legislation for the bill. Rahman said she hopes it passes before the summer so that children can have programs for this year.
“I feel like my passion for the cause is reignited in the home stretch… I needed something to really push me into wanting to be motivated more to continue to make a difference. I think this award really did that for me, and made me realize how lucky I am to be working in a cause that I love,” Rahman said.
She will be graduating in May, but is not yet sure what she will be doing after graduation.
“I’d love to be in D.C. but I’d love to be in Texas too. I’m just waiting to find the right opportunity,” Rahman said. “I really love love love lobbying and advocating for these programs but I really see the value in implementations as well, so honestly as long as I get to stay in this issue I would be happy.”