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Photos by Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Josette Rider, right, accepts the 2014 Athena Award from 2013 Athena recipient Debra Williams on Wednesday at Ceruti’s Summit Park.

Big achievements net Athena award

Rachida Bejja, head of a mental health-counseling center, accepts the 2014 Athena Young Professional Leadership Award.

Throughout her life, Josette Rider has been surrounded by inspirational men.

“Those who know me also know that I have six brothers, 10-plus uncles, 20-plus nephews and two boys,” Rider said. “So I know men.”

But it was a very special 7-year-old girl who brought the “girl” back into Rider’s life when Kayla Watkins became her Little Sister nearly 15 years ago.

Rider, chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Indiana, was named the 2014 Athena Award winner Wednesday.

Watkins, now 21, celebrated her Big Sister’s success from the crowd.

Rachida Bejja, a clinical director at Quality Counseling & Psychological Services, was given the Athena Young Professional Leadership Award.

The international Athena Award program recognizes women who demonstrate excellence, creativity and initiative in work while also giving back to the community and empowering women.

The Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce, one of the organizations that merged into what is now Greater Fort Wayne Inc., launched the local contest in 2005.

More than 6,000 individuals have received Athena Awards worldwide.

Eleven were nominated this year for the local award and 11 others were nominated for the Athena Young Professional Leadership Award.

As more than 300 people celebrated the local success stories at a luncheon at Ceruti’s Summit Park, Rider used her moment in the spotlight to highlight something she said was more important than her own achievements – the 600 children who still need a mentor.

“When you get nominated for these kinds of things, all you think about are the things you’re not doing well,” she said. “(You) think about the child who still needs a big. The donor you didn’t thank properly. All of the things that you’re not doing.”

That’s also why the recognition is so important, she added.

“There are still 600 kids on a waiting list who need bigs. And 70 percent of those are young boys, 65 percent who are minorities,” she said.

Under Rider’s leadership, Big Brothers Big Sisters Northeast Indiana has been recognized nationally and awarded Board of the Year in 2012, Agency of the Year in 2006, 2009 and 2012, and Big Sister of the Year in 2009 and 2012.

Rider has been instrumental in growing one of the largest, most cost-effective and successful Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies in the country, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. officials said.

Before becoming associate executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters in 1999, Rider was executive director of Boys and Girls Clubs of Decatur.

She was also a community service specialist for Community Action of Northeast Indiana and a volunteer teacher for the Adams County Substance Abuse Awareness Council.

Bejja, who won the Athena Young Professional Leadership Award, is a native of Morocco and came to the United States in 2002.

She is a licensed mental health counselor and the co-founder of Quality Counseling Services, which she started in 2012. The center offers counseling for low-income families on topics such as addiction and mental health.

“I am speechless,” Bejja said as she accepted her award. “Thank you very much for all the support.”

jcrothers@jg.net

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