Supporting our Immigrant Families

Children at our centers benefit from the multiculturalism celebrated in our classrooms.

Children at our centers benefit from the multiculturalism celebrated in our classrooms.

ECMHSP is proud to serve America’s farmworker families, a challenging task that we have lovingly undertaken for more than 35 years.  Many of these farmworker families immigrated to the United States, bringing with them their rich cultures, languages, and beautiful traditions that are passed down to their children.  The children enrolled in our Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program benefit greatly from the multiculturalism that is celebrated in our classrooms and in our communities.

However, in recent weeks, this country’s immigrant community has been facing much uncertainty and fear.  The looming threat of deportation weighs heavy on their minds, especially in families with loved ones that are undocumented.  Like every family, they want to remain together.

Yesterday, the quarterly magazine, Modern Farmer, shared the story of Rosa Garcia and her family.  The article carefully examines the effects the new immigration enforcement policies can potentially have on American farming and the farmworker families that provide us with a secure source of fresh fruits and vegetables.  It also discusses the challenges Rosa’s family is facing to try to stay together.

As Rosa’s father, Hector, shares, “We didn’t come here to take anyone’s jobs away.  We came to escape the poverty that we have in our country and to provide our children with a better future.  We are doing work that most Americans are not willing to do.”

Farmworkers enroll their children for Head Start services at the Field of Dreams center.

A farmworker parent enrolls her child at a ECMHSP Head Start center.

ECMHSP opens its center doors to families just like Rosa’s every day.  Our organization knows it is critical for the families we serve to be informed with accurate information regarding immigration, especially when they are making decisions that can impact their family’s safety and well-being.  In response to requests from parents at the centers, ECMHSP has developed collaborative partnerships with immigration advocates to ensure we are bringing the most up-to-date information to our families.  Resource guides are under development, guest speakers are presenting at parent meetings, and materials are being distributed to our families through our centers.  We will continue to provide our families with the support they ask of us.

In this time of uncertainty, ECMHSP stands by our farmworker families. Each day at our centers, we see the resiliency and strength of our farmworker families, and most importantly, the deep and unconditional love they have for their families.

All families deserve to stay together.

College Students Give a Helping Hand in Cheriton

Lynn Bowen is the Head Start Administrator for ECMHSP’s Direct Services in Virginia. This is her experience at a community service project in one of our centers.

As part of ECMHSP’s ongoing efforts to expand the reach of our mission, members of Old Dominion University’s Alpha Phi Omega and Gamma Sigma Sigma were invited to conduct a service project at the Cheriton Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Center in the Virginia Eastern Shore on February 11.

Alpha Phi Omega is a national coeducational service organization founded on the principles of Leadership, Friendship and Service. It provides its members the opportunity to develop leadership skills as they volunteer on their campus, in their community, to the nation, and to the organization.

The national service sorority Gamma Sigma Sigma commits to creating and engaging in opportunities to serve on campuses and in the community to address local, national, and global needs. Gamma Sigma Sigma’s vision is for members to demonstrate the capacity for and lifelong commitment to service and leadership.

Members of Alpha Phi Omega and Gamma Sigma Sigma improved the Cheriton Head Start Center in their community service project.

Members of Alpha Phi Omega and Gamma Sigma Sigma improved the Cheriton Head Start Center in their community service project.

Currently, the Cheriton Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Center is taking part in a Quality Enhancement Project. The sixteen college students braved the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel and spent their Saturday scraping, sanding, and painting the preschool classroom and outside lattice. In addition, they also helped unpack new cribs, toddler tables, and toddler chairs. The college students from Alpha Phi Omega and Gamma Sigma Sigma were invited to return during the summer and fall to meet our families, spend time with the children, and to present a family learning activity during a parent meeting.

ECMHSP and the families we serve are grateful to our volunteers who support our mission through their service. The value of volunteer services is an integral and necessary part of the program as well as the communities that we serve. We thank you for your generosity of your time and skills!

If you are interested in volunteering, please contact one of our centers. You can find a list of centers near you on our website: http://www.ecmhsp.org/locations.html

Indiantown Center Hosts the ECMHSP Board

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Parents in Indiantown leave their children at the ECMHSP center to learn and play while they work in zucchini fields.

On January 20, the Board of Directors of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project had the opportunity to visit children and staff at our wonderful center in Indiantown, Florida. The day began as days begin for many of our children – with a bus ride. And like the preschool children who ride our school buses, the ride to Indiantown was a learning experience for everyone on board, as ECMHSP Head Start Administrator Loretta Jones shared lots of wonderful information about the Indiantown center and the community of farmworkers who are served there. We learned, for example, that families speak a variety of languages at the Indiantown center including Spanish, Creole, English and dialects of Mexico and Central American countries, such as Guatemala.

Before visiting the children, we had the opportunity to meet with Geraldo and Maria Rivera of Lakeside Ranch of Indiantown and see our farmworker parents hard at work harvesting organic zucchini. Geraldo and Maria were generous with their time. They shared that as small, organic farmers they were deeply reliant on the labor and skill of our parents to harvest their crops. Board member Jaime Delgado shared his knowledge of the zucchini harvest, noting where to cut the vine and how young the zucchini needs to be for peak return.

Head Start children at the ECMHSP Indiantown Center.

Head Start children at the ECMHSP Indiantown Center.

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ECMHSP Board members visited center classrooms, where they interacted with the children.

Following the visit to the farm, the Board received a tour of the Indiantown Center. Center Director Floria Pachecho and her core team did an excellent job of explaining on how the Indiantown center prepares young children for educational success. Particularly noteworthy was the presentation by Early Childhood Education Specialist Karen James of the center’s school readiness results. As always, the teaching staff impressed us with their dedication and knowledge of best child care practices. And, as always, the Board members enjoyed all of their interaction and engagement with the 63 children in attendance.

The day after the site visit, our Board dedicated their Saturday to a full day of governance work. A packed agenda included discussion of a new five-year strategic plan for ECMHSP, and our implementation of the new Head Start Performance Standards. We are so fortunate to have a committed group of mission-driven individuals to guide our work.

Ringing in the New Year After 35 Years of Service

ecmhsp-35-year-anniversary-logoThe year 2016 was special for us: it was East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s 35th Anniversary.

ECMHSP has grown so much since the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and Sister Geraldine O’Brien founded the first Head Start center for farmworker families on the east coast in Palatka, Florida. Since those humble beginnings, we have expanded up the east coast, providing more than 200,000 farmworker children with an opportunity to learn and play.

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Children enrolled in ECMHSP’s Head Start program receive dental exams and immunizations.

What’s the secret to our success? Our dedicated parents and committed staff in our centers and offices. Season after season, the families we serve leave their loving imprints at our centers and in our hearts, and eventually move on to a successful education in the K-12 schools. Yet, in our centers, our staff remain to welcome the next class of smiling faces. ECMHSP has been fortunate to have incredible staff that have dedicated their careers to educating and nurturing young children of farmworker families in our centers.

Celia Tigerina –Sally, as she is lovingly known in the La Familia Head Start center—is one example of a staff member that has been with the organization since 1976. She understands first-hand the struggles the families we serve face, having grown up working in the Texas cotton fields and migrating herself. When she settled in Florida, her friend invited her to work with her at ECMHSP. She started her journey at ECMHSP by preparing nutritious meals in the center’s kitchen, then went on to help bring the children to our centers in the buses, and eventually worked her way into the classroom. Sally is known by her fellow coworkers as a quiet but very happy person. She loves to sing and dance with the children, and she especially enjoys seeing the young children she used to carry in her arms all grown up now.

Sally credits ECMHSP with changing her life as well. Through her hard work and with the support of ECMHSP, she was able to get out of the fields and get an education. She now has a GED and has been licensed to work with the young children in our Head Start center. ECMHSP also provided work opportunities for her sisters as well. She is grateful for the opportunity to work with children of different backgrounds and to ECMHSP for giving her the chance to make a positive impact in the world.

The infants & toddlers participated in age appropriate activities while they were getting to know their new teachers.

ECMHSP’s dedicated staff ensure the children have a safe and nurturing environment in which to learn and play.

The ECMHSP community has many stories of special individuals like Sally who have made it their life’s work to prepare the children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers for success. Children that wore their caps and gowns at our Head Start centers years ago are now walking across the stage in caps and gowns to receive their college degrees. That’s what we do at ECMHSP: we change lives, one child at a time.

In looking back to our achievements over the past 35 years, the vision for the future of the organization becomes clear, and it is bright! ECMHSP is proud to continue our legacy of providing high-quality and culturally-appropriate Head Start services to migrant and seasonal farmworker families.

Throughout the month of November and December, our Florida centers have opened their doors to migrant farmworker families returning from their travels upstream, where farmworkers were finishing up the harvest seasons along the East Coast. As of mid-December, ECMHSP has enrolled 538 children in its Florida centers, and there are another 79 children on the wait list as we work to hire more teaching staff to open more classrooms. In addition, our wonderful delegate agency, PathStone Corporation, opened their centers in Berks County and Chester County, Pennsylvania, to farmworkers working in the mushroom industry.

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Our Head Start centers in Florida are now open to provide farmworker families with services.

ECMHSP takes this opportunity to thank all of our dedicated staff for helping us succeed and we invite you to join us in ringing in the new year by celebrating this accomplishment. In particular, we would like to share a special THANK YOU to Sally for her many years of service. We wish you the best in your upcoming retirement.

We are looking forward to our many more accomplishments to come in 2017 – and the next 35 years.

ECMHSP Alumnus in the National Media Spotlight!

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ECMHSP Alumnus Misael visits our Head Start center in Virginia.

This morning, NBC News published the story, “‘Life-Changing’: Head Start Gives Latino Migrant Children Early Education,” which featured ECMHSP alumnus Misael Rangel.

Misael attended the Fort Pierce (Florida) Migrant and Seasonal Head Start center as a young child, and has since been a great ambassador of ECMHSP’s Head Start programs.  Misael was one of the four participants selected for this year’s National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Summer Internship Program and wrote about his experiences in Washington, DC, in a post on our blog, From Harvest to Head Start.

The farmworker parents elected to the ECMHSP Policy Council were able to meet with Misael and his brother Juan at the Policy Council meeting in Clearwater, Florida, last May.  Misael shared with the parents and ECMHSP staff an inspirational account on how the program had a positive impact on the lives of his family, and how his early childhood education ignited a hunger to learn that has helped him throughout his educational career.

Misael and his brother Juan joined the ECMHSP Policy Council and staff in Clearwater, Florida.

Misael and his brother Juan joined the ECMHSP Policy Council and staff in Clearwater, Florida.

Among the parents who met with Misael was Lety, whose family is currently enrolled to receive Head Start services from PathStone, ECMHSP’s delegate agency in New Jersey.  Lety and her children have been a part of the ECMHSP Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program for years, and her involvement in the organization’s leadership is a testament to her dedication to her children’s success.  She too was interviewed in the NBC News story.

ECMHSP is committed to preparing children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers for success.

ECMHSP is committed to preparing children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers for success.

Both members of the ECMHSP community remind us of the important role our centers play in the communities we serve.  East Coast Migrant Head Start Project is committed to preparing children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers, such as Misael, for success. We know that the best way to do this is by providing holistic, high-quality early childhood education services for children and families, such as Lety’s, in a nurturing, culturally-sensitive environment.  We also understand that the needs of our farmworker families extend well outside of the classroom, and in response, we are providing services and advocating for children and families in their other areas of need.

Like the other Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs across the country, ECMHSP is proud to serve migrant and seasonal farmworker families.  Farmworkers work so hard each day to provide us with a fresh and secure source of fruits and vegetables each day.  The least we can do to thank them for their hard work is to care for their most precious treasures—their children—in our classrooms.

Maria’s Excellent Adventure

Maria was one of the first farmworkers to apply for DACA, which would allow her to travel outside of the U.S. with Advanced Parole.

Maria was one of the first farmworkers to apply for DACA, which would allow her to travel outside of the U.S. with Advance Parole.

Twenty-three-year-old Maria Sanchez Martinez is the former Vice President of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s Policy Council. In August of 2012, she was one of the first farmworkers to submit an application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which has allowed her to lawfully work in the U.S. and consequently, has improved the her life and the life of her family dramatically. Since then, she has twice renewed her DACA eligibility.

On October 25, 2016, Maria was able to travel home to Mexico on Advance Parole to visit her ailing grandfather. It was the first time she had seen her grandfather and her extended family since coming to the United States 14 years ago.   We recently were able to chat with Maria about her excellent adventure.

When did you find out that your application for Advance Parole was approved and how did it make you feel?

With the help of John Menditto (General Counsel at ECMHSP), I submitted my Advance Parole application to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in June of 2016. The application process required us to establish my family relationship to my grandfather and to provide a letter from his medical doctor regarding his health. USCIS approved my application on September 26 but they only permitted me to travel for thirty days (until October 26) and they failed to send me my travel document. John had to contact USCIS and had them re-issue the travel document and ask them to extend the travel period.   USCIS extended the travel period, but only for an additional five days.

When John told me my application was approved I was excited, yet nervous. I also was disappointed at the short-notice and turnaround time.

Tell us about your travel plans.  How did you get from Florence, South Carolina, to the village in Mexico where you lived until you were nine years old?

I immediately made flight reservations, which were very costly due to the short time to make the reservations. I drove from Florence to Orlando, Florida, which was seven hours of driving. I then flew from Orlando to Mexico City and then waited overnight in the airport to fly to Veracruz. My aunt, Dulce Maria Hernandez Pavon, and my uncle met me at the airport. We drove to my village Villa Cuitlahuac, which was 90 minutes away.

Maria's flight from Florida to Mexico on Advanced Parole.

On Advance Parole, Maria flew from Florida to her small village in Mexico.

Did anyone travel with you?  If so, why did they come along?

I brought three children with me — my two sons, Jovany Sanchez Arroyo age 6, Martin Sanchez Arroyo age 8, and my younger sister, Vicenta Sanchez, age 11. They are all United States citizens, but none of them had ever met any family members in Mexico. I brought them because I did not know if we’d ever be able to see our family in Mexico.

Tell us about seeing your family?  What did you feel?

Seeing my family after almost 15 long years was the moment that I won’t change for anything. Tears of happiness fell from my eyes and from my family’s eyes. Words can’t describe how my heartfelt to see all of my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. It was the best reunion I have ever had.

Describe a favorite memory about your trip.

When I went back to my childhood home and I found a toy rabbit I used to play with when I lived in the village at the age of nine.

Your Advanced Parole was issued because you were visiting your ill grandfather, can you share with us how he is doing?

Through the help of ECMHSP, Maria applied for Advanced Parole to visit her ailing grandfather.

Through the help of ECMHSP, Maria applied for Advance Parole that allowed her to visit her ailing grandfather.

He had several health issues including heart problems. He has been hospitalized several times due to his health from the time I requested the Advance Parole until now. At this time, he is stable, but I was happy that I was able to be with him and help care for him.

What was it like coming back through Border Patrol and Customs after you landed at the airport in the United States?

I was very, very nervous. I went through Border Control at the airport in Houston, Texas. I was afraid that something would be wrong with my travel document and I would not be admitted. I called John just before going in to the Border Control office and he told me not to be nervous – that my travel document would authorize me to be admitted back into the United States. He was right!

What advice would you have for other DACA farmworkers traveling on Advance Parole?

Don’t be scared. Make sure to have all of the documents before leaving United States. Be ready to answer simple questions like, “What was the purposes of traveling under the Advance Parole?” “What part of Mexico did you visit?” “Where do you live?” “How long have you been in the United States?” “What do you do for a living?” Make sure that you speak truly and clear.

Maria was able to visit the family members she left behind at the age of nine when she moved to the U.S.

Maria was able to visit family members she left behind when she moved to the U.S. at the age of nine.

U.S. Representative Mike Kelly Visits ECMHSP Center in Pennsylvania

Sister Diane Rabe is the Director of Child Development Programs at the Saint Benedict Center. This is her story about the visit of U.S. Representative Mike Kelly.

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” — John Maxwell

On Wednesday, October 19, U.S. Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) visited the Saint Benedict Center, the ECMHSP delegate agency in Erie, Pennsylvania. Leonor Saldaña, the center’s Policy Committee President and member of the ECMHSP Policy Council, visited Representative Kelly’s Capitol Hill office during the National and Seasonal Migrant Head Start Association’s Public Policy Conference last June and invited him to visit the center in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Representative Mike Kelly sits down with children in ECMHSP's Head Start program to read a book.

Representative Mike Kelly sits down with children in ECMHSP’s Head Start program to read a book.

Representative Kelly was greeted at the door and, while touring the center, was given a detailed picture of the ECMHSP’s Head Start program. During his tour, Representative Kelly stopped to read a story to some of the preschoolers,Ten Bright Oranges/Diez Naranjas Brillantes: A Migrant Counting Book,” from the Our Children, Our Families Curriculum, developed by the East Coast Migrant Head Start Project training staff. But, “Mike”, as he directed the children to call him, did much more than read a story. He entered into the life of a migrant worker and made the story real for the children, talking about the fruits and vegetables in the story — “how they were grown, how they were harvested and how they were prepared and served for us to eat?” It was so much more than a counting experience for the children.   He engaged them at their knowledge level and brought in their family experiences, asking who had ever smelled, touched and helped to prepare the fruit/vegetable in the book. He talked about colors, had them counting, and engaged them in thinking by recalling information, making predictions about what produce and number was next. He asked for their opinions: “how many liked apples?” and “what kind?” as he named a variety of kinds. “How many have ever eaten potatoes and how were they prepared: french fries, mashed, boiled?” “Which way do you like them?” “Mike” even told them that he grew up in farm country and talked about his ancestors being potato farmers. It was a magical experience for the children, as 27 of them sat perfectly still for the entire story, counting, exchanging ideas and opinions — and learning along the way!

Representative Kelly addresses farmworker parents about their pressing issues, such as the center's transportation, program funding, and immigration.

Representative Kelly addresses farmworker parents about their pressing issues: the center’s transportation, program funding, and immigration.

Meanwhile, in our meeting area, the parents had prepared a fiesta to share with Representative Kelly as they discussed the life and needs of the migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the Erie area. Leonor, the elected President of our parent committee, presented him with a basket of area produce and wine. Representative Kelly was so very personable to each parent, greeting them and inquiring about their families and the specific work they are doing at this time in the harvest. He asked the group about the availability of services and programs focusing on gaining skilled jobs for the “off season” and adult education. He was interested in understanding how the language barrier affected the families in our area.

He chose not to sit at the head table; instead he went to eat with the Aranda, Garnica and Gordillo families at their table. He entered into a deeper conversation with them about their children, plans for when the season ends, their work in the grape crop and, that, for some, it is a year round crop. In the discussion, he asked their opinion about the greatest need for the program. They immediately answered: a new bus! The center’s bus had just broken down that morning. In response, Representative Kelly stood up and asked across the room, “How can we get a bus for you?” He proposed several ideas and said that we would continue to work on the problem in the near future. The parents were amazed that he shared their concern and had some immediate action proposed.

They had two other main areas of concern that surfaced: Head Start program funding and their citizenship. He left his business card for us to contact him with immigration paperwork issues, promising to handle them personally.

Representative Kelly (center) poses next to Leonor Saldaña (left of the Rep. Kelly), president of the Policy Committee, and the center's farmworker parents during his visit.

Representative Kelly (center) poses next to Leonor Saldaña (left of the Rep. Kelly), president of the Policy Committee, and the center’s farmworker parents during his visit.

ECMHSP is appreciative of the time and attention Congressman Kelly demonstrated our farmworker families during his visit to our center. He is definitely,a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”