Two Decades of Serving Farmworker Families

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We have many employees who dedicate their lives to serve our farmworker families.  Mireya Garcia has been with ECMHSP since 1999.  Please keep reading to learn more about her story at our ECMHSP Fountain Center, located in North Carolina.

Could you please tell me about your background?

My name is Mireya Garcia.  I was born in Mexico City, Mexico.  I came to the United States of America at the age of 16.  I am a U.S. Citizen.

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Mireya, her husband and son are pictured having fun outdoors. This picture was taken at the ECMHSP Fountain Center. 

How did you begin your career at ECMHSP?

In 1999, I enrolled my three boys into the Head Start program.  At the time, my husband and I worked in tobacco, sweet potatoes, cucumber, and nursery plants.  Later that year, one of the teachers informed me of an open position, so I applied and was called to begin my career at ECMHSP.

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Why did you want a career at ECMHSP?

I had a tough job working in the fields and wanted a stable home.  My husband and I settled in Farmville to raise our family.  I wanted a career and not a job.  Every year I get to form new relationships with new families and children.  I enjoy every moment as I am taking care of each child.

Is there anything unique you would like to share about this center?

All teachers at the Fountain Center have been with ECMHSP for five seasons or more.  Our families work with tobacco and sweet potatoes.

Throughout these years, how have you maintained strong relationships with ECMHSP staff?

Every year before I begin my first day, I pray to God to bless me with consideration and patience for each of my co-workers.

How do you maintain strong relationships with parents?

Communication is key to building healthy relationships with parents.  Getting to know each parent is important.  The best time to build a relationship is during parent orientation.  Home visits and parent teacher conferences help me to continue getting to know the parents.  Also, during drop-offs and pick-ups I greet every parent that comes.

What is the biggest challenge you have had to overcome in your position?

Going back to school to obtain my Associate Degree.  Also obtaining my CDA credentials were tough for me to overcome.

We want to thank Mireya for her commitment to serving our farmworker families!  It’s because of mission-driven leaders like her that our migrant and seasonal farmworker children successfully transition into public school.

Guest Post: It’s My Turn

Monica Vicente is part of the 2019 NMSHSA Summer Internship Program and as a child was enrolled in a Head Start Program. 

Monica's First Pic

This summer I was given the opportunity to intern with East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.  With my interest in studying communications, this placement was a perfect fit.

As I reflect on my first day of being introduced to Norma Lopez, John Menditto, Rita Rey, and Diane Santo, I was very nervous.  They welcomed me with open arms and would often spoil me with coffee dates.  I was filled with exuberance as I saw them working as a team to comply with the organization’s goals.

I had no prior knowledge in communications and hoped to gain some skills to apply into my field of interest, nursing.  My main goal this summer was to assist in hosting The Foundation for Farmworkers’ first event, which I can now check off my list.  It was a success with the assistance of my colleagues!

One of the tasks that I have worked on personally, has been my self-confidence.  Being able to express my story and who I am in a professional manner.  I remember one of my first tasks was conducting a phone interview with a Head Start parent.  I found myself stuttering or cutting off the parent as they shared their story.  As I went around Columbia Heights cookie tasting, it was difficult to introduce myself and explain why I was there.  I wanted Norma to come with me to do all the talking or have her make the phone calls.  I started with phone calls and improved my communication skills as I made more.  I was able to develop communication skills that will not only help in the working environment, but in my life overall.

I am altruistic.  When arriving I was reminded of how unique I was compared to other interns in Washington, D.C.  As I started attending events and hearing families from opposite ends of the country share a similar story as my own was humbling.  Coming from a small town, I didn’t know other migrant families faced similar challenges.  Seeing the lines of worry crease in the mother’s face when sharing her story publicly reminded me of my own mother.  That is when I knew of my purpose here in Washington, D.C.  In the tasks that I was given I tried to fully engage and find ways to improve.

The Farmworkers Foundation Inaugural Event


July 19th, the day of the event was like my birthday.  I was filled with joy to see it all come together in such a great venue that represents the organization, the Mexican Cultural Institute.  My favorite part of the event was hearing the stories that our Head Start parents shared.  Hearing them speaking a foreign language, and sharing their struggles when trying to obtain DACA, or struggling financially is something only a handful of people would do.  Their act of courage reminds me of my parents.  A few tears streamed down my face, because I understood why John and Norma work so hard to assist parents, just like my own in their time of need.

We were quickly cheered up by a brilliant group of high school students that performed mariachi.  Their performance was the highlight of the night.  Similarly, they come from a farmworker family background.  Seeing the energy they brought to remind us of our culture was fantastic!  We were all so gleeful that as guests were leaving, I completely forgot about the gift bags that I had worked so hard on.  I had made nice little bows, designed the buttons and bookmarks, 200 to be exact!

As I spend my last days in the office, I reminisce on some of the best few weeks of my life.  At first it was difficult; I didn’t know how to get to the office by taking the metro.  I didn’t know how to cook either, so I would come home from work and experiment in the kitchen.  It was frustrating at first, but I adjusted quickly.  I now have a schedule that I will miss.  I have been offered great opportunities these past eight weeks.  None of this would have been able to happen without the National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association and East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.

Head Start Center Visit!

Monica at Parksley

The National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association interns and I got the chance to visit one of the Head Start centers on the Eastern Shore.  Visiting the ECMHSP Parksley Center brought back memories of my family and me.  At the young age of two, I was introduced to Agri-Business Child Development, where Head Start teachers would care and educate me.

We walked in right during lunch.  The kids were excited as their plate of various healthy food arrived, macaroni, peas and applesauce.  As the children ate the applesauce, they would point at apples and repeat the word.  This brought back memories, as I remember trying different meals that were different from the Mexican food I was raised with.  It was the best of both worlds.

We then headed out to visit the chicken company, where some of the parents of the children work.  We were introduced to a family, who are in charge of caring for the chickens 24 hours a day.  We met their daughter, Jimena who assists them in their work.

During this visit, we went to the camps in which the migrant and seasonal farmworker families live.  This part of the trip was very eye opening because growing up my family didn’t migrate between states.  I learned more about migrant farmworkers through my internship with East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.  I was able to see their housing conditions, which consist of two families living in one small house that includes one room and one kitchen.  The bathrooms are in the center of the camps, where children must run to when they need to use the restroom at midnight.  I saw the laundry room that was chained up, only accessible to the families in their scheduled time of the week.  As I was walking, I saw clothes being hung up, shirts that were originally white but were now brown due to dirt stains.

Through the experience this internship has offered me, I know that my role does not end here.  I will continue to be the voice of farmworker families.  I know that my parents’ sacrifices were done for the purpose of a better lifestyle for my family.  And it all started with Head Start.

Monica’s Purpose as a Head Start Alumna

Monica at Capitol Hill

Monica Vicente is a 2019 Summer Intern for the National Migrant Seasonal Head Start Association.  She lives in Middletown, NY and is a proud Agri-Business Child Development alumna.  She’s currently a rising sophomore at Lehman College, where she studies nursing.  Her goal is to become a nurse practitioner after having first obtained a master’s degree in nursing.

She considers nursing a noble career, having high morals and principles that reflect on her parents’ teachings growing up.  This career is her way of giving back to her community.  Please continue reading this interview to learn more about how Head Start shaped a better future for Monica.

What is your family’s background?

 My parents migrated to the United States from Mexico for the same reasons many families do: to provide a better life for my family.  My parents arrived at this country with nothing.  My father started working in the fields, as there was no other choice.  I have vivid memories of my father coming home from work with no designated time of arrival.  He would turn the barrels of paint to sit and eat his dinner.  That is what our life was like for the first few years, it was our only choice. 

What is an obstacle you overcame?

The most difficult challenge I faced was growing up with parents who had migrated to the United States.  My mother would stay home to care for me and taught me everything she knew.  However, I lacked some basic academic skills and only knew the Spanish language.  I was enrolled in Head Start at a young age where I was given the opportunity to interact with students that were going through the same circumstances as myself.  Through this I was guided by great teachers that showed me the life of education, through this program I learned the English language, the alphabet, and numbers.  Being part of the Head Start program gave me an insight in my society, showing me how some of us faced similar struggles.  The only difference was the effect it had on us.  I learned to embrace it, to be proud of my parents for the sacrifices they made to provide me with the great opportunities this country has to offer.


What do you remember from the ABCD Head Start program you attended?

 One of my favorite memories was spending time with my mother while learning.  The Head Start program is unique, it is not only educating children and preparing them for kindergarten, but also caring for the parents as well.  My mother started volunteering at ABCD while I attended.  She loved her experience as a volunteer! It was her first interaction with people upon arriving to the country.  The staff at ABCD took my family in with open arms, just like they continue doing so today with thousands of families around the country.  My mother is now working as a Head Start teacher and is a Parent Ambassador.  She also came as a parent to Washington, D.C. to advocate, and now it is my turn!  The growth I saw in my family and in the Head Start program today is the reason why I continue to proudly represent Head Start.

What do you expect to gain from this internship?

 From this internship I hope to become more educated in the Head Start program and continue advocating for it.  I would like to take this further and apply it into my profession.  I would do this by participating as a Policy Council member.  Being on Capitol Hill and speaking to the staff of United States Senators and Members of the House of Representatives is life changing.  Having them hear my story, being there as a product of Head Start proves the effectiveness of the Head Start program.

Please check back soon to read more about Monica’s summer with East Coast Migrant Head Start Project!

ECMHSP Named UnidosUS Southeast Regional Affiliate of the Year!

Dear Reader,

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project is proud to announce we were named the 2019 Southeast Regional Affiliate of the Year by UnidosUS (formerly known as National Council of La Raza).  We will receive the recognition at the UnidosUS Conference, which is being held this year in San Diego, California, on August 3-6, 2019.  Along with the recognition, ECMHSP will receive an award of $5,000.


Now in its 37th year, the UnidosUS Affiliate Awards recognize community-based organizations from its Affiliate Network whose partnership with UnidosUS has helped empower Latinos to achieve positive and meaningful change in their community.  The honor is bestowed on six organizations representing each of UnidosUS regions – California, Far West, Midwest, Northeast, Southeast, and Texas – who demonstrate exemplary progress in serving Latinos, as well as the National Affiliate of the Year.

ECMHSP is a proud member of the UnidosUS Affiliate Network, which is comprised of community-based organizations that directly serve the Latino population across the country.  As Affiliates, we know the practical concerns and policy issues that affect the community we serve and are engaged in implementing innovative solutions to meet their needs.

Awardees are selected via a comprehensive evaluation process, with an emphasis on five indicators, including:

  1. UnidosUS-Affiliate Partnership: as demonstrated by the impact of joint UnidosUS- Affiliate programmatic and advocacy initiatives; and partnering with UnidosUS to lift the Latino voice through joint communication and cobranding efforts.
  2. Commitment to the Latino Community: as demonstrated by the organization’s mission, program offerings, and program effectiveness in meeting the needs of the Latino community.
  3. Leadership: as measured by organization’s efforts to building a pipeline of Latino leaders both internally and in the wider community.
  4. Financial Sustainability: as demonstrated by the organization’s efforts to ensure the long-term sustainability of effective programming and operations.
  5. Reputation within the Latino Community: as demonstrated by community views of the organization as a credible voice and service provider of Latinos.

The Affiliate of the Year awards is made possible through the generous collaboration of Ford Motor Company Fund, a longstanding partner of UnidosUS in its commitment to advancing the interests of the Latino community.  Ford Motor Company Fund is the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company.

Cheriton Center - Unidos Pic

ECMHSP is proud to share this wonderful recognition with all of our staff, leadership and community partners.  In particular, we are especially honored to share it with the farmworker families we serve.  We are grateful to UnidosUS and the Ford Motor Company for recognizing the miracles that take place in our centers every day, and for their investment in our mission- driven work.

ECMHSP will use the award to fund our commitment to preparing the children of migrant and seasonal farm workers for success; and to provide services and advocate for children and families in their other areas of need.

Dr. José S. Villa
Chief Executive Officer at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project

Giving Back to East Coast!

Fam de Antonia

Antonia Rios was an ECMHSP parent a few years ago.  However, she’s still involved with our Head Start program. Keep reading to learn more about her story.

Could you please tell me about your background?

I’m from Oaxaca, Mexico.  Back home I lived in a very dangerous area with gang violence.  I lost many family members, including one of my siblings.  My parents went through financial hardship and it was hard to put food on the table.  After my mom passed away, my father had to sell most of our things to make ends meet.  I decided to cross over to have a chance at a better future.  In 2000, I settled in South Carolina.  At first, I started working picking peaches, then migrated to Florida to pick oranges and tomatoes.  My son Benny was born in 2002.  I took Benny to work with me in the fields during his first two to three years.  I knew they weren’t the safest conditions, but I didn’t have any other option at the time.

How did you hear about our Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program?

In 2011, one of our bosses told us about these services available to farmworker parents.  At the time, my youngest son was one year old.  David started attending and was part of the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program until he was old enough for kindergarten.  He’s now nine years old and will soon enter the fourth grade.  My son excels in all subjects, especially in mathematics, always bringing home perfect test scores.  His teachers have even discussed whether it would be beneficial for David to skip a grade. 


David at our ECMHSP Colleton Center. 

How has ECMHSP benefited your child since they started attending classes?

Speech therapy has been the biggest help.  They discovered David had a speech impairment a few months before he turned one.  Before attending Head Start, he was behind in basic skills and it was going to be difficult for me to communicate with him. While attending ECMHSP Colleton Center, therapy was provided three times a week. I started seeing the positive results in my son.

Did you maintain strong relationships with ECMHSP staff?

Yes, I always wanted to know how my child was doing in school.  I attended as many parent monthly meetings as possible.  At the center, I got chosen to be a parliamentarian.  I wish I could’ve been more involved, but other positions would’ve required me to travel.  I knew how important education was, so I stopped migrating for work in 2015.  I wanted Benny to focus on his studies since he was about to enter high school.

Can you please share a challenge that you’ve had to overcome with the help of ECMHSP?

When applying for my residency, I received support from ECMHSP staff.  They provided important paperwork to help my lawyer.  ECMHSP always welcomed my family with open arms.  Benny, a junior in high school, comes with me to visit the ECMHSP Colleton Center from time to time.  Alison McCullough, ECMHSP Health & Disability Services Specialist, has become one of his mentors.  She recently encouraged him to volunteer in a pilot project called Promotores de Bienestar.  Through this training, several members of the farmworker community will learn to support themselves and other migrant families as they identify and deal with stress in healthy ways.  Benny is at the top of his class and looks forward to going to college next year.

2018 Annual Report: A Year in Review

ECMHSP is excited to announce the release of our 2018 Annual Report, which unveiled our new logo and brand identity.  The report showcases the great success ECMHSP experienced in providing comprehensive and high-quality services to farmworker families along the East Coast.

2018 Annual Report

Cover of the ECMHSP 2018 Annual Report

Some of the highlights from this year’s report include:

  • An overview of how our Practice Based Coaching (PBC) process is strengthening our teachers in the classroom
  • Total number of children and families served
  • Our best practices when it comes to family engagement
  • The details of our new Strategic Plan

Each year, ECMHSP releases its annual report, pursuant to requirements in the Head Start Act.  The report includes information on funding sources, results of the most recent financial audit, and other information required by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

You can view the full 2018 Annual Report and past annual reports on our website:

ECMHSP thanks our staff for their wonderful work and Head Start parents for their participation throughout the year.  We also thank the countless people involved to make sure our annual report was finished on time.  The hard work, love, and dedication is felt every day at our Head Start centers and is reflected in this report.

What’s in Our New Logo?

On Monday, we unveiled our new brand identity!  Since our start in 1974, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project had undergone many changes to its mission and the services it provides farmworker families.  However, just like our commitment to farmworker families, our visual brand had stayed the same.  We needed a logo that better represented our values as an organization.

Logo components

The new logo visually leverages some of the most important elements of our overall mission for our parents, teachers, and staff.  As you can see, the construction of each element and icons in the logo has a different meaning, created from the great values that define us, the communities we serve, and our mission.  Here, we represent farmworker families and the importance of their work, growth, love, unity, care, education, and overall, hope for a better future for their children.  The open book represents the hopeful future that our Head Start program provides to thousands of kids every year.  Most importantly, the center of our new logo represents who we serve.

While East Coast Migrant Head Start Project has changed its “look”, our commitment to serving migrant and seasonal farmworker families remains the same.  We are proud of this new look and feel for ECMHSP!  We are confident our farmworker families will also embrace our new brand identity.  Thank you for your support!