Irma Rodriguez and her co-workers at East Texas Food Bank often think about the children they help feed.
“We worry about them,” she said of the kids they serve through the Backpack Program and Summer Food Service Program. “It’s like they’re our kids, and we don’t even know who they are.”
In 2008, Ms. Rodriguez, 40, became the executive assistant at the food bank. Serving as the executive director’s assistant, she does office management, helps board members and does a little bit of everything. “I’m the go to,” she said.
Ms. Rodriguez loves working at the food bank, where everyone works hard toward their common goal of ending hunger.
“Just being here is a blessing, and actually getting paid for it is a bonus,” she said.
During the school year, they work to provide backpacks of food for children to eat on the weekends, when they are not getting a hot meal at school. Throughout the year, they work to find more communities that need to be served during the summer program, where kids are fed lunch each day.
When she’s not working for the food bank, Ms. Rodriguez volunteers her time to just about anyone who needs it. Throughout the years, she has been active in several organizations involving children and education.
“As an advocate for education, my passion is to educate our youth about the opportunities they have in this country,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “I want to guarantee that our future can dream big dreams and give them the resources to attain those dreams. Whether it’s through an organization like Junior Achievement or just a quick conversation I have with a child, I have a responsibility to make sure our children have the tools they need to reach their potential.”
It’s that mentality that most likely made her one of this year’s Women in Tyler. Six local women were honored in March for being “Women Who Care.”
Ms. Rodriguez said she was very surprised to hear she was being honored and still doesn’t know who nominated her.
“I would like to personally thank the person that nominated me. … I would like to know what they saw in me,” she said. “I know this person saw a heart of servitude and compassion. My purpose in life is to serve my God and His children.”
Throughout the process, and especially during the luncheon in March, they made her feel special and repeatedly told her thank you while she wanted to thank them.
She said everyone has a story to tell and they should share it because “you never know who might benefit from it.”
“I have been through several storms in my life. Many have knocked me down and I’ve had to learn to rebuild again and again from the bottom up,” she said. “I don’t fear these storms anymore because I’ve learned that they, too, shall pass and when they do, I come out stronger and closer to God.”
She is grateful for the people who made a difference in her life, including her three sisters and her mother, who has been through so much and remains strong, as well as the women at Shiloh Road Church of Christ who have been her strength.
Ms. Rodriguez was born in Laredo but moved as a toddler to Houston when her father took a preaching job there. She has three younger sisters, and her mother was a nurse in Mexico before becoming a stay-at-home mom when they moved to the United States. When she was 17, the family moved to Henderson for her father’s work. She said it was hard being uprooted to a new school for her senior year.
While earning an associate’s degree in business administration from Kilgore College, she worked at H&R Block. She moved to Tyler and became a bilingual teacher at Orr Elementary School for two years. She married in 1999 and in 2000 had her son, Nathan Henson, 14.
She stayed at home with her son before becoming a single mom led her back to work. She became a receptionist at the Smith County Appraisal District, where she had to learn computers.
“I felt so out of touch” after staying home for three years, she said.
In 2007, she began volunteering with the East Texas Hispanic Leadership Council, working with Tyler Independent School District students to ensure they didn’t fall through the cracks. She talked to children about college and careers available to them. She also became involved with the Hispanic Education Alliance, a spinoff of the council, and Junior Achievement.
She said it is important for Hispanic leaders in the community to show children what they can do to give back to the community. Ms. Rodriguez believes kids need to be aware of all the opportunities available to them, to be open minded and know they can reach their goals. She also worked with kids and their parents, teaching them the importance of having them finish high school.
Ms. Rodriguez has been involved with the children’s and women’s ministries at her church and Andy Woods Parent Teacher Association. She was the community representative with the TISD Planning Committee, where she encouraged Hispanic parents to be active in school. She also volunteered for Bethesda Health Clinic and Habitat for Humanity of Smith County and helps at Tyler Junior College. She is a member of Leadership Tyler Class 22.
The other 2014 Women in Tyler include Beverly Beavers Brooks, Jennifer Carson, Jean Coleman, Verna Hall and Rebecca Taylor.
If you know of a professional woman or business service in the Tyler area that should be highlighted in this column, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.