The primary concern of public school is to feed the minds of students, thus nurturing their potential –but how can we nourish the minds of children whose bellies are not fed? Can the mind and soul of a child thrive if that child is literally starving and/or malnourished? Today we honor a woman who knows firsthand that this is not a question we ask for the children of Africa or even of poverty-stricken areas of crowded US cities. In this district, in our own backyards, children are hungry. Because they are repeatedly told they do not deserve a dependable source of food, invalidation of their worth is constant, complete and ruinous. It is the goal of Becka Ryder that every child in our district and beyond is regularly given a backpack that is filled with nutritious food and the message, "Someone does care and you DO matter." As one abandoned 15-year-old girl told Becka, "Until I got a backpack, I didn't think anyone cared if I was alive or not."
Becka Ryder does care and cares enough to put her passion, drive and energy into affecting real change. As the daughter of an abusive alcoholic mother, she lived a life most of us find unimaginable. She begged for food and lived in constant fear. The fear and hunger ended when she was twelve and she and her three siblings were adopted by BISD teachers, Bob and Millie Jackson, who had two children of their own. No longer worried about surviving, Becka thrived. She was senior class president and voted most popular. After high school she worked to put herself through Brazosport College and University of Houston. She earned a degree in dental hygiene. She has three children and is married to local restaurateur, Drew Ryder. She has carved out a comfortable life but did not forget the girl she was or that there are children today who suffer as she had suffered. Becka admits, "I could tell you things that would break your heart about my childhood and beyond. But these things have only made me stronger."
Becka Ryder was never bitter, but instead lives in gratitude and the conviction that what she suffered was for a greater purpose. As her best friend Charla Harkreader says, "Becka is one of those people who refused to sink into it. She rose above it." As Becka had been given help to rise, she took on the challenge of helping children rise. It was a decision and task with which she wrestled but soon, "submitted to a greater calling." She decided, "I could put food in backpacks for hungry homeless children –not by myself but I was going to ask others to help. This is an undertaking far too big for one person or group to do alone!!!" She has enlisted help of local dentists, too, because as a dental hygienist, she is well aware mouths need more than food. She writes, "I also make sure the Operation Backpack kids get new toothbrushes, floss and paste. All donated by our wonderful dentist in our community!"
Becka's visionary calling, compassionate energy and humble leadership have attracted many volunteers and donations. Because so many have followed her example of generosity, Becka is now free to do speaking engagements that recruit more people to join her in this vital mission.