ECMHSP Celebrates Immigrant Heritage Month

IHM16Today concludes Immigrant Heritage Month. During the month of June, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project joined Welcome.us and other organizations, celebrities, and community leaders in celebrating the contributions and diversity our immigrant communities bring to the United States.

ECMHSP offers Head Start services to farmworker families, which often are immigrants, through centers located from Lake Okeechobee in Florida to Lake Erie in  Pennsylvania.  Our immigrant families come from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Haiti.  They speak Spanish, Creole, and Mixteco. They share family meals of tacos, pupusas, and sos pwa.  While each immigrant community may offer unique cultures and customs, one thing remains true for all of our families — they all work hard to provide a secure source of fresh fruits and vegetables to American dinner tables each day.  ECMHSP thanks them for their hard work by providing their children with the best early childhood education and comprehensive Head Start services possible.

While their parents work in the fields, ECMHSP provides these smiling children high-quality Head Start services.

While their parents work in the fields, ECMHSP provides these smiling children high-quality Head Start services.

Many ECMHSP staff share the immigrant experience themselves and work hard to make our families feel welcomed to this country.  All of our centers have bilingual staff to teach our children in their home languages and communicate the child’s progress with the parents.  Our early education curriculum incorporates immigrant cultural references so that children can see their experiences reflected in the classroom activities and parents can help their children with take-home lessons.  Our menus are developed with the assistance of parents to ensure their children are able to eat nutritious meals that taste like mami’s food.   We also work to empower our parents into becoming advocates for our community by bravely sharing their stories, whether it was on Capitol Hill, national and local media stories, or documentaries.

As we conclude Immigrant Heritage Month, we want to share a powerful short documentary, “Para Los Niños” (For the Children), highlighting one of our ECMHSP families from Alabama.   In the documentary, filmmakers William Johnston-Carter and Danielle Bryant wanted to show how our immigrant parents struggle to provide a better life for their children by working on American farms.  This short film reminds us that this nation is great because it is a nation of immigrants.

To view the film, click here.

ECMHSP parent from Alabama in the film, "Para Los Niños." Photo by William Johnston-Carter.

ECMHSP parent from Alabama in the film, “Para Los Niños.” Photo by William Johnston-Carter.

US Supreme Court Divided on DAPA/DACA+

Today, the eight Justices on the United States Supreme Court divided equally on the question of whether President Obama had the legal authority to implement immigration relief for undocumented individuals who are the parents of United States-born children and for an expanded group of individuals under the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. This non-decision decision by the Supreme Court means that hard-working, law-abiding individuals will continue to live in daily fear of separation from their United States citizen children.  It also means that American children will live in daily fear of being separated from their parents.

Maria is one of the  ECMHSP parents who has benefitted from the DACA program.

Maria is one of the ECMHSP parents who has benefitted from the DACA program.

Since the creation of the DACA program on June 15, 2012, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project (ECMHSP) has provided pro bono immigration services to farmworkers, helping them prepare applications under the DACA program. We have seen first-hand the wonderful impact the DACA program has had on young farmworkers who qualify.  Farmworkers like Maria Sanchez of Gresham, South Carolina, have returned to school, obtained employment outside of the fields, and passed driver’s license tests – all as a result of their approved DACA applications.  More importantly, farmworkers like Maria have been able to go about their daily lives without the fear that they would be detained and separated from their families.

Thousands of farmworkers whose children attend Head Start programs operated by ECMHSP would have benefitted from a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court.   We are heart-broken that their path to a better, less-fearful life, has been blocked.IMG_6464

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project joins with our collaborative partners in calling on Congress to comprehensively address our country’s broken immigration system. Farmworkers ensure that our country has a safe and secure source of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Indeed, what we, as Americans, have on our dining room table is what is given to us from the hands of farmworkers.   The least we can do in return for this bounty is allow our farmworkers to live among us without fear.

NMSHSA’s 8th Public Policy Forum

Last week, the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its 8th annual Public Policy Forum in Washington, DC on June 6.  ECMHSP staff and parents from the Policy Council advocated for the needs of the farmworker families served by our centers along the East Coast throughout the forum and on Capitol Hill.

On June 4, prior to the forum, parents from Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs from across the country received training on how to participate in Capitol Hill visits with their congressional representatives.  They also participated in a workshop on how to share with policy leaders their personal experiences and the issues that matter to their communities.  During the afternoon, the parents received training on the DACA program from Farmworker Justice, at which they learned about deferred action, eligibility for the program, how to find immigration resources in their community, and how to avoid fraudulent immigration practices.

President of the NMSHSA Parent Affiliates and parents from the American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Program share ideas on a panel discussion.

President of the NMSHSA Parent Affiliates and parents from the American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Program share ideas on a panel discussion.

The NMSHSA Public Policy Forum was a historic event. For the first time, NMSHSA collaborated with the National Indian Head Start Association to bring together both communities to discuss the state of affairs in their communities and the policies needed to address their needs.  Parents from the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs were able to learn from and share ideas with parents from the American Indian and Alaskan Native Head Start program through panel discussion and hallway conversations.

The highlight of the forum took place on June 7, when staff and parents from both Head Start programs visited the Congressional delegations on Capitol Hill to educate them on the importance of Head Start services for our communities.  In total, ECMHSP completed 14 visits to Congressional offices, including a meeting with Congressman Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania’s Third Congressional District.  During the visit, Leonor Saldaña, ECMHSP Policy Council member from Erie, Pennsylvania, shared her personal story with Representative Kelly and explained how her family has benefitted

ECMHSP parents and staff visit members of Congress to educate them on the benefits of Head Start programs for the farmworker community.

ECMHSP parents and staff visit members of Congress to educate them on the benefits of Head Start programs for the farmworker community.

from the Head Start services provided by the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, an ECMHSP delegate agency.  Representative Kelly, as well as Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey accepted invitations to visit our centers in their districts this summer.

The NMSHSA Public Policy Forum concluded with a Hill reception that evening, at which parents and staff from the Head Start programs had an opportunity to interact with staff from the Congressional offices.

ECMSHP staff and parents are proud to have led in the advocacy efforts for our Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program in the nation’s capital. We will continue to voice the needs and the contributions of our farmworker communities from Lake Okeechobee,

Florida, to Lake Erie, Pennsylvania. To learn more about our programs, please visit our website.

ECMHSP Opens Center in St. Helena Island

St. Helena's farmworker families drop off their children at the center.

St. Helena Island’s farmworker families drop off their children at the center.

This week East Coast Migrant Head Start Project opened its heart, and its Head Start center, to migrant farmworker families in St. Helena Island, South Carolina. The opening of each of our centers requires a lot of planning and hard work.  This is particularly true for our centers that serve a highly mobile population and are open for a short duration – like the St. Helena Island center, which can be open for as short as six weeks.

Our planning and hard work began in the spring when our regional team from South Carolina traveled to Florida to recruit and pre-enroll families in the program.  It is always such a thrill for our South Carolina team to re-connect with the children and families we have served in prior years.  This year was no exception.

ECMSHP staff visit farmworker families in Florida to find Head Start eligible families.

ECMSHP staff visit farmworker families in Florida to find Head Start eligible families.

Then, a host of activities began at the administrative level as our Human Resources professionals worked tirelessly to plan for the relocation of employees from our Florida centers to work in the St. Helena Island Center. This year a total of 13 mission-driven individuals relocated from their homes, families, and communities so that ECMHSP could be successful in St. Helena.  We, and our farmworker families, are so fortunate to have so many dedicated employees.

Children learn and play at the St. Helena center while their parents work in the fields.

Children learn and play at the St. Helena Island Head Start center while their parents work in the fields.

Meiby, farmworker parent, works in South Carolinas tomato farms.

Meiby Soto, a Florida farmworker parent, works in South Carolina’s tomato farms.

Farmworker families in St. Helena Island work primarily harvesting tomatoes. One such farmworker is Berenice Meiby Mora Soto.  Meiby and her son, Jovani, live in Immokalee, Florida.  I first got to know Meiby through her service on the ECMHSP Policy Council.  More recently, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of getting to know Meiby by helping her with her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) application.  DACA is a program administered through United States Citizenship and Immigration Services that creates opportunities for eligible individuals to obtain an employment authorization document.  Through the DACA program, Meiby is enrolled in school in a course of study designed to lead to her General Equivalency Development (GED).

Meiby is a wonderful mother and a tremendously hard worker. She has dreams for herself and dreams for her son, Jovani.  In this way, she is like so many of the migrant farmworkers we are privileged to serve in St. Helena Island and all along the East Coast.   With the opening of the St. Helena Island center, as with the opening of all of our centers to the north of Florida, we reaffirm our commitment to helping our families make their dreams come true.

ECMHSP staff work with children to ensure they have a head start in their education.

ECMHSP staff work closely with children to provide them with a high-quality early education.