Representing East Coast families at NMSHSA Conference ’16

John Menditto presenting at the NMSHSA Conference.

John Menditto presenting at the NMSHSA Conference.

The National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its Biennium National Conference in Tysons Corner, Virginia, from February 19 through February 23.  A number of our dedicated employees travelled to the conference to make presentations on best practices we have implemented.  Suzanne Jessamyn and Katherine Savage, for example, presented a session entitled, Creating Cultural Storybooks, and Karen McKnight presented, An Integrated Approach to School Readiness Analysis, while Sue Thomas co-presented an informative session on our innovative approaches to data and ChildPlus.  Suzanne presented a second session with Clara Cappiello on our award-winning curriculum, Our Children, Our Families, and John Menditto had the opportunity to share his work with the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Collaboration Office.   

Joining ECMHSP staff at the conference, most for the first time, were the ECMHSP Policy Council Executive Committee members: Cristina Hernandez, President; Claudia Martinez, Vice-President; Jimina Villafuerte, Treasurer; and Leticia Baez, Secretary.  These farmworker parents were able to attend the workshops on topics ranging from indigenous cultures in Mexico to immigration rights and parent involvement. During the Parent Affiliate meeting, Cristina was elected as President and will represent the group as a member of the NMSHSA Board of Directors, while I was elected Vice President of the Staff Affiliate and will serve on the Board of NMSHSA too as well.  Cristina and I were also elected to fill two of the three Member-at-Large positions on the NSMSHA Board of Directors’ Executive Committee. We are very proud to see Cristina’s continued growth and will provide the support she needs as she goes on to represent and lead parents nationwide in the Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Programs.

Policy Council members Jimina and Cristina with ECMHSP Governance staff Maria.

Policy Council members Jimina and Cristina with ECMHSP Governance staff Maria.

At the conference, participants were able to listen from the Office of Head Start, with informative and inspirational presentations from Dr. Blanca Enriquez, Director at the Office of Head Start, and Sandra Carton, Regional Program Manager for Migrant and Seasonal Programs (Region XII). We were also given opportunity to provide feedback at roundtables with organizations leading research projects in the migrant farmworker community and with our Head Start leaders.

Former MSHS participant and NMSHSA Intern Yonny (2nd from right) with his parents and brother.

Former MSHS participant and NMSHSA Intern Yonny (2nd from right) with his parents and brother.

On Sunday, Yonny Castillo, former MSHS child and NMSHSA Summer Intern from 2014, participated in a panel discussion with his parents and others from the MSHSA programs, in which he shared the important role MSHS services played in his success.  At the closing plenary, John helped recognize the conference’s scholarship and award winners, including ECMHSP Governance Assistant Maria Hernandez, recipient of the Clint Mitcham Scholarship. Maria gave a moving speech about her humble beginnings, the service she has provided our farmworker parents, and her dreams to continue her studies.  A special recognition was presented to Lou Struble from Procacci Brothers for their financial support of the NMSHSA Summer Internship Program.

Mitcham Scholarship recipient Maria (center) with NMSHSA Executive Director, Board President and Vice-President.

Mitcham Scholarship recipient Maria (center) with NMSHSA Executive Director, Board President and Vice-President.

While most conference participants headed to the airports, ECMSHP parent Leticia joined me and other MSHS providers on Capitol Hill to meet with our Congressional representatives.  This was Leticia’s first visit to Washington, DC, and had never met with Congressional staff before. She was nervous, but excited to share the importance of the MSHS programs for the farmworker community and urge the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to support funds for our programs. We are so proud of how she represented the needs of farmworker parents and their children.

Policy Council Secretary Leticia with Florida farmworker parent and CHC staff on the Hill.

ECMHSP Policy Council Secretary Leticia with RCMA farmworker parent and CHC staff on the Hill.

This week, ECMSHP brought important and much-needed voices from the fields to our nation’s capital. We look forward to more opportunities to represent our community!

It Takes A Village – And Then Some!

Establishing Head Start services in a local community is one of the most challenging and fascinating journeys we take at ECMHSP.  It involves the coming together of talented and dedicated folks from a wide variety of disciplines, and it involves countless hours of strategizing, planning, and very hard work.

Little girl

Young girl playing and learning in an ECMHSP Head Start classroom in Florida.

On February 5, members of our Board of Directors had the opportunity to meet many of these talented and dedicated folks when they visited two of our three Early Head Start expansion sites in Florida.  We began the day in Wauchula, where we visited our Migrant and Seasonal Head Start center and checked in on the construction status of our EHS addition.  We were greeted at Wauchula by Center Director Leti Enriquez and her core team of Sheana Hamilton, Elizabeth Arcelay, Marlen Zavala, Tina Cortez, Rosa Perez, Mariela Camarillo, and Jean Palmer, who shared with our Board the center’s services and accomplishments.  The Board was able to meet our dedicated teachers and learn about their work, while also visiting with our young children.  ECMHSP Facilities Manager Mike Wilcox and architect Ted Hoffman shared an update on the EHS addition we are completing at Wauchula, followed by a gourmet-quality lunch for everyone from Chef Brian Moore, center cook, and his supporting cast of Mary O’Neal and Juanita Perez.

From Wauchula, the Board traveled to Palmetto to learn about the phenomenal work being accomplished at our new site at the Palm View Elementary School.   Three parents from the center’s Parent Committee — Livina Aguilar, President; Evidencia Ventura, Vice President; and Cecilia Cedillo, Officer Alternate — took the lead in showing off the new center.  Their sense of pride was clear and inspiring, as was the pride of all of the dedicated Head Start staff who have made this new center such a success:  Estela Tapia, Edna Gracia, Dora Santana, Sherry Bauer, Linda Cornelius, Ingrid Rivera, Nancy Romero, Arlene Torres, Mariel Gonzalez, Enrique Torres, Kim Luna, Darleen Schaible Jorge Velazquez, Suzanne Jessamyn, Annette Betts, Mariely Rivera, and Angel Casiano.  But the best part of the educational adventure may have been the smiling faces of the children.

Little boy

One of the children served by the ECMHSP Head Start centers in Florida.

Our newest Head Start center is under construction just four hours away in Hamilton County, near the Florida/Georgia state line.  While the Board was unable to visit the site, Mike Wilcox and Ted Hoffman are working tirelessly to ensure our new center is one that we can be proud of.  The modular units have been delivered and set and work has begun in earnest to finish the project before the migrant farmworker families arrive for the tomato harvest in mid-May.  This week, Mariely Rivera, Early Head Start Administrator, brings members of her core team to Hamilton County for interviews of potential staff, as well as important meetings with key partners such as the Hamilton County School District, Florida Migrant Education, and the local migrant health program.

Our growing success has been made possible through the support and partnership of our Board of Directors, our Policy Council, our dedicated staff, and the local communities in which our centers operate. Our hearts are full of gratitude to our village – and then some!

Guest Post: Growing through the Policy Council

Jimina Villafuerte is the ECMHSP Policy Council Treasurer and a farmworker parent. This is her story.

I am Jimina Villafuerte and I have the privilege to be the Treasurer of the Policy Council for East Coast Migrant Head Start Project (ECMHSP).  This is the story of how I came to be on the Policy Council and what that means to me.

It all started by just enrolling my son this past year at a Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Center in Whiteville, North Carolina.  The Niños Migrant Head Start Center, where my son attends, is operated by Telamon Corporation, which is a delegate agency of ECMHSP.  This was my son’s first time ever attending a Migrant & Seasonal Head Start program, although I remember attending many Migrant & Seasonal Head Start programs when I was a young child.

The Niños Migrant Head Start Center in Whiteville, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

The Niños Migrant Head Start Center in Whiteville, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

I went to the first parent meeting at Niños Migrant Head Start in April 2015.  I arrived a little late from work, just as parents with children enrolled at the center were about to start making nominations for the election of officers for the center’s Parent Committee. I knew many parents there and I was nominated for President and the other parents were expressing how I was a good candidate. Well, I thought to myself: “If other people think good things about me, then I must be saying or doing things right.  Then yes, I would do it.”

I was delighted to accept the position for President of the Parent Committee in our center. Then, as a responsibility of the President, I went to the Regional Committee meeting of Telamon Corporation, where all four centers came together. I didn’t know any of the other parents from other centers, but chit-chatting and getting to know each other helped us get a feel of who would represent Telamon Corporation. I was nominated by other members to be President of the Regional Committee and the Representative for Telamon.  Well, I thought to myself:  “Other people want me to do it and they see me capable for the position.  Then yes, I would do it.”

After accepting the position, I had Rosa Maria Matthews, the Regional Coordinator of the Migrant & Seasonal Head Start program for Telamon, asking me if I could participate in the following week’s Policy Council orientation! I remember thinking later on that day, “Wow Jimina, what did you get yourself into? You better do a great job and succeed in the position.”

When I arrived in August for the orientation I was scared — not because I didn’t know anyone, but I was scared I wasn’t going to be smart enough to understand all the information. The fact that I was going to meet very important people from ECMHSP and I had to represent Telamon was nerve-racking. But once the meeting began and the introductions started, I began to feel comfortable because those people were just like me. Everyone was so humble, even Dr. Villa, the CEO. The CEOs I had seen in movies wouldn’t meet with the “smaller people” per se.  But here, no one was smaller.  On the contrary, the parents are a super important part of ECMHSP.

From the first meeting on, I knew I was in the right place. Everyone has been very welcoming; I’ve never felt alone or lost. ECMHSP makes sure the children, parents, and families are meeting all of their needs and that the ECMHSP mission is first.  I have been able to participate in the ECMHSP Self-Assessment in September, the Policy Council meeting in October, and in December and January, I was even able to participate in job interviews for candidates of positions of work at ECMHSP. It was just when I came to Clearwater, Florida, for the February Policy Council meeting when I realized how East Coast has helped me think outside the box and review aspects of my life, and where I stand.

Photo of Jimina, Treasurer of the ECMHSP Policy Council and farmworker parent

Photo of Jimina at the ECMHSP Policy Council meeting in Clearwater, Florida.

If I wouldn’t have put my child at Niños Migrant Head Start, I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be thinking about bettering my future. I’ve worked hard to obtain my Associate’s Degree in Applied Science, which I am very proud of, but I have set my mind to go back to school and get another degree in another field. Hopefully, with the support of my family, I will be able to obtain another degree.  I know it won’t be easy, but ECMHSP has given me the confidence in myself to believe that anything is possible, as long as you don’t give up and work very hard. I want to continue to advocate for all migrant families and one day I will achieve all my goals. Thank you, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, for the opportunity to educate myself and for supporting all of us parents, children, and families.