Marietta College Students Give Back to ECMHSP

Blog image 4On Sunday, March 10, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project staff hosted students from Marietta College, located in Marietta, Ohio.  They arrived at the ECMHSP Whiteville Center for their service trip to help with cleaning up after Hurricane Florence.  This trip was made possible in collaboration with Church World Service staff, Krista Camp and Kim Powell.

Blog image 1

Marietta College volunteers get familiar with the Head Start services we offer our migrant and seasonal farmworker families. 

Cathy Cobb, ECMHSP Whiteville Center Director, gave them a warm welcome and a presentation on who ECMHSP is to familiarize all volunteers with the Head Start services offered to the migrant and seasonal farmworkers in our program.  A light breakfast and lunch were provided to the volunteers, which worked hard to beautify our center.


Our Marietta College volunteers work hard to clean our ECMHSP Whiteville Center.

ECMHSP would like to send a special thanks to our volunteers for all their hard work:  David Erzen, Raynne Parsons, Abbey McNaught, Embrey Roberts, Janice Yao, Emily Brown, Hannah Miller, Alex Blackston, Carter Lang, Lisa Scott, and Maribeth Saleem-Tanner.  As a token of our appreciation for their hard work, we presented the Marietta College volunteers with copies of our preschool book, “De mano a mano y del campo al plato – From Hand to Hand and from Field to Fork.”

Blog image 5

Left to right: Amanda Powell, Early Childhood Education Coordinator, Jenny Guzman, NCDS Head Start Administrator, Cathy Cobb, Whiteville Center Director, and Mia Morris, Health Disability Services Specialist.

ECMHSP has worked with college volunteers to help improve our MSHS centers.  We look to grow our partnerships with different colleges and universities around the country.  If your college or university would like to support ECMHSP through volunteer work, please contact your local Head Start center.  Click here to view the different locations on our website.

CEO Dr. José S. Villa to Retire in 2020

Dr. Villa - blog post

The Board of Directors of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project held its most recent meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina, on January 10.   During the meeting, our esteemed Chief Executive Officer, Dr. José S. Villa, announced his intention to retire in April of 2020.

Palmetto - pic 1

Our ribbon-cutting ceremony at the ECMHSP Palmetto Center was led by Dr. Villa, CEO. Photo credit: Ted Hoffman

Dr. Villa’s accomplishments during his five years at the helm of ECMHSP have been significant.  ECMHSP has delivered high-quality and comprehensive Head Start services to more than 10,000 children under Dr. Villa’s leadership.  In addition, ECMHSP expanded services into Palmetto, Florida, and Jennings, Florida.  Since opening these two new centers, farmworker parents have been able to enroll more than 200 children to receive much-needed Early Head Start and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start services.  Furthermore, Dr. Villa executed an ambitious strategic plan and he led ECMHSP in the development of the new strategic plan that will secure our future growth in the coming years.

Dr. Villa is committed to working in partnership with the Board of Directors to plan a thoughtful succession of his responsibilities.  His successor will be identified by the ECMHSP Board of Directors and Policy Council prior to the end of 2019.  To ensure a smooth transition, Dr. Villa will provide mentorship to his successor during the first quarter of 2020, leading up to his retirement.


Dr. Villa visits one of our Head Start centers. 

“As we transition to the next phase of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, I can assure our community that East Coast’s staff will continue to develop stronger programs and provide excellent services to the migrant and seasonal farmworker families we serve and their children,” says Dr. Villa.

“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to lead staff that, had it not been for them, these accomplishments would not have been possible. Furthermore, I am indebted to the Board of Directors and Policy Council members for having the faith in me that allowed me to lead this excellent organization.

“Finally, as the son of migrant parents and having experienced the life, and on behalf of the migrant workers, I tried to follow the belief of Robert F. Kennedy, as shared by his brother, Ted: [he] saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it.

“As I move into the next phase of my life, I will, one way or another, continue to advocate on behalf of migrants.”

Okeechobee County School Superintendent Visits East Coast Migrant Head Start Project

IMG_0056 Superintendent

On February 27, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project had the pleasure of welcoming Okeechobee County School Superintendent, Ken Kenworthy, and Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, Pat McCoy, to our Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Center in Okeechobee, Florida.  Mr. Kenworthy and Ms. McCoy were hosted at the center by Center Director, Rosalind Brown, and Early Childhood Education Coordinator, Briceida Perez.  Also, in attendance was Director of Program Operations, Angel Casiano, and Head Start Administrator, Loretta Jones.

Rosalind and Briceida began by providing our distinguished guests with a tour of our center.  Both Mr. Kenworthy and Ms. McCoy were impressed with how our teachers implement our curriculum and how knowledgeable Rosalind and Briceida were in implementing best practices in early childhood education.

Following the tour, we met to discuss ways we can better collaborate to make certain the children of farmworkers transition from East Coast Migrant Head Start Project ready for elementary school with the necessary skills to succeed.  On this important topic, we discussed the School District’s STAR assessment tool and how it measures what the children will need to know within the first 30 days of kindergarten.

We also discussed our annual transition to kindergarten field trip.  We explained the challenge of transporting children to this activity.  Mr. Kenworthy and Ms. McCoy agreed to research how the School District can assist us with providing transportation for the transition field trip to the local feeder schools for both of our Okeechobee Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Centers.  Additionally, we discussed the possibility of the Okeechobee County School District training ECMHSP employees to become school bus drivers and how the School District and ECMHSP can collaborate for substitute drivers.  All in all, it was a very successful meeting!

A follow-up meeting is scheduled for March 27, 2019.  At this follow-up meeting, we will provide list of individual credential staff with a Bachelor’s degree or higher and Ms. McCoy will bring the Florida state VPK requirements so we may explore how we can become a VPK site.  This will enable those teachers to work during the summer months in the VPK program.

Forging New Partnership with NC State Rep. Chuck McGrady

Representative Chuck McGrady

On Friday, March 1, Representative Chuck McGrady of North Carolina’s House of Representatives met with ECMHSP staff Jenny Guzman, NCDS Head Start Administrator, and Carrie Jo Fiene, Hendersonville Center Director, at the Underground Baking Company.  This downtown Hendersonville bakery is one of Representative McGrady’s favorite places to have coffee and pastries, and we enjoyed the opportunity to share with him the services ECMHSP provides to agricultural families in and around Henderson County.

We opened our conversation by presenting Representative McGrady with our preschool book, De Mano a Mano y de Campo a Plato – From Hand to Hand and from Field to Fork, along with the ECMHSP 2017 Annual Report and other important information about our Head Start services.  Representative McGrady took the time to read our wonderful book while Jenny Guzman explained to him that the book is one of the lessons in the resource educational curriculum, “Our Children, Our Families.”

Representative McGrady mentioned he was familiar with Head Start; however, he was not aware that ECMHSP existed to serve the unique needs of farmworker families.

“This was a great opportunity to start building relationships,” Representative McGrady said during the meeting, adding that he was willing to assist us in any way possible.  He is aware of some of the challenges and needs in serving North Carolina’s migrant and seasonal farmworker families.

Carrie Jo Fiene invited Representative McGrady to visit our Hendersonville MSHS Center during our operational months — an invitation he readily accepted.

Overall, this meeting was a great opportunity to start building stronger collaboration and relationship with our community partners, and continue to advocate for our migrant and seasonal agricultural worker and their children in Henderson County, North Carolina.

In the Right Place at the Right Time

B_Head Start WorksTabitha Shelton has been a part of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project since February 2018.  I had the opportunity to conduct a phone interview with her.  Keep reading to learn more about why she’s such an important member of our team.

Please tell me about your background.  How did you start working for East Coast Migrant Head Start Project?

Before moving to Raleigh to work for ECMHSP, I was living in Arkansas.  My son Bryson went to a Head Start center called Child Development Incorporated, located in Russellville, Arkansas.  He attended from the age of three until almost the age of six.  He was advanced and went to the gifted and talented classroom; he’s academically focused.  During Bryson’s 7th grade year, he served as the Community Project Coordinator on the Student Council.  He arranged for Student Council to raise $300 to purchase books for the local Head Start.  The Student Council members then took a field trip to the local Head Start, read books to the preschoolers, and spent half a day playing with the children.  I attribute everything that my son is to Head Start. Without Head Start, I would have not been able to complete college. I was a single mother at the time.  Knowing that my son was in a safe environment where he was learning and was taken care of, allowed me to get my Bachelor’s in Early Childhood Education from Arkansas Tech University.  At my previous agency, Community Action Program Arkansas, I was the Education Disabilities and Mental Health Coordinator.  In 2017, I attended the School Readiness Institute in Washington, D.C. for work.  It was one of the trainings that my team and I would go to annually.  Sheila Dandeneau, Curriculum Program Development Specialist at ECMHSP, and I were in a session together.  After the session, she approached me to say that ECMHSP was looking for a Disabilities and Mental Health Manager.

Bryson - Head Start

This is a picture of Bryson at his Head Start center in Russellville, Arkansas.

What made you a good candidate for the position?

When I was in college, my placement was at a Head Start center, so I had a strong foundation of what Head Start is.  Also, as a Head Start parent, I served on the Policy Council.  I know what it’s like in the classroom because I taught preschool for four years, so I know the actual struggles of being at the center.  In addition, I taught four years as a special education teacher.  I also got my Master’s in Special Education at Arkansas Tech University.

How was the training you received?

I spent time with all the teams at our Raleigh office, especially the program support team.  I really spent a lot of time reading the manuals, which are magnificent.  They just really tell you what we do, why we do it, and how you literally document it in the system. When I came up with lots of questions, I scheduled weekly meetings with my program support team.  I had a lot of the foundation knowledge, it was more getting used to how ECMHSP operates.

Shelton Family

The Shelton Family.

How is this role different than your previous one?

I liked the Education Disabilities and Mental Health Coordinator role. It allowed me to get that hands-on experience, working with the teachers.  This position pushes me to grow professionally, how Head Start operates, grants, writing disability waivers, and doing strategic planning.  That has just pushed me to believe in myself and people can really learn from that.  I’m able to provide support to approximately 16 members of my team along the East Coast.  We have a monthly health and disability committee call to provide new updates, training pieces, and the specialists give us feedback.   

About how many children do we serve with some type of disability?

I would say it’s about five to six percent of all the children we serve.  We’re required to have 10% children with disabilities, but it’s common for Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs across the nation to have lower numbers.  An evaluation process for a disability can take up to four months and our families move around so quickly they don’t finish the evaluation process.  Unfortunately, once they move to another state, the state requires parents to start the process all over. 


Tabitha doing a presentation at the 2019 NMSHSA annual conference.

What are your education goals?

I have considered two things as far as my education.  One, I have thought about going back to school to pursue a doctoral degree.  Also, while I know a lot about mental health, I would like to have a mental health licensure to ensure that I can provide more support.  I think we’re going to start seeing more challenging behaviors in our migrant communities because of the things our children are seeing and hearing.  My goal is to do more national trainings.  I get very passionate when I share things about disability, mental health, and trauma. I hope my passion is infectious and others want to make a change as well.

How do you feel you’re making a difference at ECMHSP?

I have a lot of experience from the classroom. I love what I do.  I come with a lot of passion.  It is imperative to me that every child receives services as quickly as possible.  Early intervention is key to these children that have these gaps. The earlier they get the intervention, the better the chance to close those gaps.

Tabitha looks forward to improving the systems in place to preserve the ECMHSP mission.  Her early connection to the Head Start program has been key to the success she shows every day.  ECMHSP is thankful for having such a passionate individual on our team.

An Early Passion for Head Start


I recently had the opportunity to interview Mercedes Hernández, the Child and Family Health Manager at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project for almost three years.  Before her last day, we talked about her experience since starting with us in September 2016.

How did you first learn of the position you are currently in?

I have a friend who had worked for East Coast Migrant Head Start Project before. She had worked in the North Carolina Direct Services region and forwarded the information to me.  She thought I would be a good candidate for the position.  I had also met Christine Alvarado almost 20 years before when she was the Center Director at the ECMHSP Newton Grove Center in North Carolina.  I was interviewing professionals who were working with farmworkers as part of my training in my new job with the North Carolina Farmworker Health Program.

Why did you see yourself working at ECMHSP?

I had worked in farmworker health for many years prior to ECMHSP.  I had a passion for the farmworker movement and farmworker health, but I was not working in that field at that moment.  Second, my mom had worked for Head Start for about 17 years in Puerto Rico until I went off to college.  As a child, I would be around her while she was preparing materials for presentations.  My mom is a speech pathologist.  She was a single mother, and traveled to all the underserved communities of the metropolitan area in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  She would go to the Head Start centers to do trainings, screenings, and evaluate children.  I would go with her and did my homework while she did her trainings.  One of my first memories was seeing children at a Head Start center setting the table for lunch.  Through my mother, I learned to love and admire Head Start.  This position at ECMHSP combined my two passions of Head Start and farmworker health.  Also, being able to have the knowledge and education to serve farmworker families.

How did your previous experience prepare you for the Child and Family Health Manager position?

I was the Health Program Consultant for three years at the North Carolina Farmworker Health Program.  I also worked for the North Carolina Primary Health Care Association and the North Carolina Farmworkers’ Project.

Mercedes at the NMHSA Conference

What was the best part of your career at ECMHSP?

Working with the specialists and visiting the centers throughout the East Coast.  I have worked with more than 10 specialists.  I admire their professionalism, their commitment to the families and children, and their pride in their work. 

What was the most successful part of the training you received?

The specialists gave me the best training that I could get and the most support.  The manager position had been vacant for quite some time, so the specialists were doing their best to get the job done.  They were very patient with me during the training period.

What would you consider your team’s biggest strength?

My team consists of the managers within Program Support and Christine Alvarado, Chief Innovation Officer.  My team are all leaders in their specialty.  They all have tremendous knowledge.  Some of them have been here for a long time.  They have such a positive attitude and are hard workers.  My team takes Head Start services to the next level.  I’m honored to have worked with them all this time.

Is there anything that you would like to say to your team before leaving the organization?

I have really enjoyed working with my co-workers here at ECMHSP.  They are all so dedicated to our mission!  I feel very proud to have worked with a group of such incredible people.  I’m going to miss being surrounded by such amazing people every day. 

Mercedes, thank you for taking the time to talk to me.  We wish you the best in your new career path.  We look forward to having you on our team again in the future.  You will be greatly missed at ECMHSP!

A Head Start for the Badillo Family

Iralda - 2019 Christmas party

I recently had the opportunity to conduct a phone interview with Iralda Badillo, one of our team members at the ECMHSP Bowling Green Center, located in Florida West.  Keep reading to learn more about her professional growth since joining East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.

Can you please tell me about your background?

I was born in Mexico and came to the United States when I was eight-years old. We arrived in Jacksonville, Georgia during the tomato season.  My parents worked in the tomato fields for about two seasons, then traveled to Florida to pick strawberries and tomatoes.  Our next stop was up north in a small town in North Carolina named Burgaw.  There, my parents would pick blueberries.  Finding a place to live for the seven of us was always a challenge, but my parents managed to find a small trailer that I shared with my two brothers and two sisters.  About two years later, my parents separated.  My dad found a year-round job and my mom started traveling to follow the tomato, strawberry, and blueberry harvest.  For the next six years, I kept traveling between North Carolina, Florida, and New Jersey, depending where my mom was working.  I grew tired of switching schools every three to four months.  I also felt that I could do much better academically.  While attending Bartow High School in Florida during 11th grade, I was offered a four-year scholarship to any university in Florida, but for personal reasons I wasn’t prepared to go to college.  Instead, I moved to New Jersey for senior year, but didn’t give it my all.  I barely went to classes and was dropped by the school.  Then it really hit me, and I knew I had to at least graduate from high school.  Every state runs their semesters differently, so if I stayed in New Jersey, I would’ve had to go to school an additional year.  I asked my dad to send me money so I could take the bus to North Carolina.  I was determined to graduate during that last semester.  I made the varsity soccer team and played midfielder.  Although my GPA dropped, I still graduated with a good GPA.  I was happy to graduate with friends I had gone to school with throughout the years.  After graduation, I moved to Florida with my older sister and started working at a tomato packing house.  I learned a lot and am always grateful for that opportunity.  Working with this company, we traveled from Florida to Virginia between the months of May and August.  I did this for two seasons, then I met my now husband.  We are currently married and have an eight-year-old daughter, a nine-month-old son, and a baby on the way. 


How did you start working for East Coast Migrant Head Start Project?

I started working with East Coast in September of 2014 as a Family Service Worker at the ECMHSP Myakka Center.  I did that position for almost three seasons, then I found out the Program Assistant position had become available.  I got the position thanks to my experience from previous jobs.  Now I am working at the ECMHSP Bowling Green Center, where Santiago, my youngest child has been attending since December.  I’m grateful to see him receiving Head Start services.  I absolutely love what I do!  The best part is that I get to engage with the families every day.

What does your Program Assistant position consist of?

I help with the daily operations of the center. I have human resources related responsibilities, such as on-boarding new hires and filing the paperwork for them.  I talk to each staff member at my center.  In addition, I process the center’s purchase orders and do a variety of monthly reports.

What are the resources that ECMHSP provides for you to be successful?

I work with specialists who are available to answer any questions that come up.  I enjoy the different trainings that I receive.  We get to discuss ideas from different centers and that helps us with problem-solving. 

How do you maintain strong relationships with parents?

I come from a family that went from state to state following the harvest seasons.  I have lived in similar environments.  We have a lot in common, my dad speaks the Mixteco dialect, which I find that a lot of parents here at Bowling Green speak. I let the parents know I am here to help interpret, or anything I can possibly do for them.  I know the struggles of working all day in the hot sun and rushing home to cook, clean, bathe kids, and prepare for the next day.  I try to do what I can to make life easier for our families and build their trust.   

What countries are primarily represented by your center’s farmworker families?  What kind of agricultural work do the families perform?

We currently have 83 children enrolled.  Our families are from Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala.  They work with blueberries, strawberries, tomatoes, and some orange.

As an individual, what do you hope to accomplish at the center this season?

I would like to get to know each parent by their name, as well as their children.  Serve our children and families to the best of our abilities, providing all the services they need to be successful.

Can you please share a challenge that you’ve had to overcome at your center?

I have been at the ECMHSP Bowling Green Center since October 22, 2018. Staff works differently and that can sometimes take some time to adapt to.  Every day I work with my co-workers and learn from each person’s area of expertise.  We all share the same mission.

What plans do you have for the future?

I want to go back to school and get a degree in human resources or business management.  I’m still trying to decide between the two career paths, but I know I love working to help people.  My goal is to start taking at least two online classes next year.

Thank you for taking the time to let me interview you, Iralda.  Thank you for always putting our farmworker families first.  We wish you a long career at ECMHSP!