By Mark Ward, Sr., PHD 2015-06-11 12:11:56
Meet Dora Rivas Reflecting on her youth, growing up near Brownsville, Texas, SNA Past President Dora Rivas, MS, RD, SNS, remembers her father’s advocacy for education. “His own parents took him out of school after kindergarten,” recalls Rivas, now executive director for Food and Child Nutrition Services for the Dallas Independent School District. “And though he became a successful farmer and rancher, he was always involved with the PTA and local school board issues.” Rivas also recounts how her father attended adult education classes in order to learn English. “I went with him and was inspired by his example,” she says. Dietary Dreams When Rivas entered (what is now) Texas A&M University–Kingsville in 1968, she was the first member of her family—after five generations in the United States—to attend college. But when a professor suggested that she major in dietetics, Rivas hesitated. “There were only three hospitals in the Rio Grande Valley. Could I get a job?” she wondered, before being told of a range of options. “The thought of working in a school really appealed to me.” Helped by money earned working summers in a cotton gin, Rivas graduated in 1972. When a dietitian job did not open up right away, she volunteered at a migrant worker health clinic in Brownsville to build her resume. The next year, she interned at a local hospital, gaining more experience and earning her registered dietitian credentials. “My stipend was only enough to cover my car payment,” she recalls, “but I stuck it out.” Ultimately, Rivas spent five years at the hospital, becoming its chief administrative dietitian. Through her tenure, she married, started a family and still dreamed of a job in school nutrition. In 1977, when the Brownsville Independent School District offered her a position as its dietitian, she took a pay cut to jump at the opportunity. Educate to Elevate Rivas joined SNA and, in mulling her potential professional development track, decided that she needed a graduate degree to “master” the management side of her new profession. For one thing, “I was working with principals and teachers who had master’s degrees,” she recounts. For another, in 1978 she was promoted to assistant director, fully aware that her boss was nearing retirement. A professional mentor suggested that Rivas consider the graduate program at Kansas State University; her best option was a two-year degree plan consisting of remote learning courses during the academic year, plus summers in residence. “But money was an issue,” Rivas recalls. “My husband had just become a teacher in our district and was paid only $6,000 a year. How would we pay for my grad school?” She discovered available funds from various sources, including scholarships through the School Nutrition Foundation (SNF). With that assistance, Rivas enrolled at Kansas State in 1979 and graduated a year later with a master’s degree in restaurant and institutional management. She was promoted to run the district’s meal program two years later. Since then she has built a storied career, serving 27 years in Brownsville and then in 2005—despite being eligible for full retirement—accepting her current post in Dallas. Her many distinctions include serving as president of both the Texas Association for School Nutrition (1995-96) and SNA (2009- 10). Her innovations also have earned her a 2000 FAME Golden Star Award and the 2004 Silver Plate Award from the International Food Manufacturers Association. Rivas has championed professional education and development for her staff. “We incorporate professional standards into our job descriptions and have set up a career ladder so that our staff can aspire to leadership,” she explains. “And I’ve always had interns—and have always encouraged them to apply for SNF scholarships to further their education.” It’s a topic that is close to her heart. “Education is the great equalizer. My husband—who was once a migrant worker— and I were both the first generation in our families to attend college. Education is the path to get out of poverty, pursue a fulfilling career, give back to your family and community and leave a legacy.” Current Title: Executive Director for Food and Child Nutrition Services City, State: Dallas, Tex. Favorite School Lunch as a Kid: Home-style yeast rolls with butter and honey Profession You’d Choose if Not School Nutrition: Fashion Designer Book at Your Bedside: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo Top of Your Bucket List: Climb Machu Picchu, ride a gondola in Venice—plus a lot more!” Favorite Subject in School: Biology Meet Jill Kidd Over the course of nearly 30 years that she’s served as director of nutrition services for Pueblo (Colo.) City Schools, Jill Kidd, MS, RD, SNS, reports that six of her staff have received helpful scholarships from the School Nutrition Foundation (SNF). “Each earned an associate degree in culinary arts,” she says, “and each went on to become an area supervisor and a leader in our department.” Given Kidd’s appreciation for the far-reaching benefits of SNF, she was humbled to be recognized this year by SNA’s sister philanthropic organization as a School Nutrition Hero, cited for her work as a longtime state leader in public policy activities. Since 2001, when Kidd took office as Colorado School Nutrition Association (CSNA) president, the group has spearheaded efforts that have reaped more than $100 million in state funding for school meals. A decade later, Kidd returned to an official advocacy role, agreeing to serve a three-year term as chair of CSNA’s Public Policy and Legislation (PPL) Committee. She restructured the group, recruited new members and showed them how to interact with legislators and give testimony. Practicing what she preached, Kidd and her team helped secure legislation that now allows K-12 students eligible for reduced-price meals to eat breakfast without a copay requirement. Under the new law, eligible students from preschool through fifth grade also can eat lunch without a copay. Recruitment & Research Kidd pursued a multi-pronged strategy for this legislative success. “First, we had to get more members involved in PPL activities,” she reports. “Over time, people retired from the profession, and we were down to just a handful of the usual committee members. The key to recruitment was focusing on just one or two main issues, so when we called on people to get involved, they could easily see the importance of these issues and get excited.” Second, Kidd and her committee stuck to basics in getting across their message to legislators. At the heart of this effort is establishing yourself as the content expert— having the research to bolster your positions, while also having a compelling story that puts a human face on the issue. As 2013-15 chair of SNA’s Research Committee, Kidd represents this group on the organization’s Board of Directors. This diverse panel of practitioners and researchers does not have a direct relationship with SNF, —but it certainly values the role SNF plays in providing seed money to advance research efforts in school nutrition and support the organization’s advocacy positions. “For example, there’s been a lot controversy about the requirements of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act,” Kidd says. “We have a compelling story to tell about the impacts of the regulations on many school districts. But more overall research only helps our cause.” Colorado Cool Kidd’s own exposure to research began early. A native of Colorado, her father was a researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey. Kidd herself entered college in 1974 with the aim of being a forester—“Then I realized I didn’t want to live alone in a forest!” she says, with a laugh. She decided to change her major to home economics, got married, relocated, ultimately finished a degree in elementary education and then, in 1981, added a master’s degree in dietetics from the University of Idaho. “Given my combination of elementary education and dietetics,” Kidd recounts, “I focused on nutrition education in my thesis research.” Eventually, she moved back to Colorado and found work in a Pueblo area hospital. Yet education remained on her mind and, in 1986, she applied for and won what she considers her “dream job” as Nutrition Services director for Pueblo City Schools. Through nearly 30 years, Kidd has continued to head up the child nutrition team in Pueblo for a variety of reasons. “I have a family ranch,” she explains, “and would have a long commute if I changed jobs. Besides, Pueblo is already the largest school district in southern Colorado. We’re making a difference for kids in 33 schools. At the same time, I’m helping train a new generation of leaders for our profession. Our work is always changing, never boring and the challenges are new each year!” Current Title: Director of Nutrition Services City, State: Pueblo, Colo. Favorite School Lunch as a Kid: Austrian ravioli and cinnamon twists Book at Your Bedside: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand Someone You Admire: The Founding Fathers Top of Your Bucket List: Visit Australia and New Zealand Dream Dinner Guest: Walt Disney Mark Ward is a freelance writer based in Victoria, Texas.
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