Yesterday, shortly after sunrise, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project opened our doors to farmworker families in Jennings, Florida. We couldn’t be happier.
Our newest Head Start center was conceived a number of years ago when our community assessment work demonstrated a desperate and unmet need for Head Start services to migrant farmworker families in Hamilton County, Florida. There, migrant farmworker families arrive in early May to harvest tomatoes before migrating away to points up North at the beginning of July, only to return to the town of Jennings in north Hamilton County at the end of August to continue their work through October.
Farmworker families who work these short, two-season harvests live in very poor conditions. In Jennings, many families live in motels just off of Interstate 75 for the duration of their stay. The motels offer little in the way of amenities. The motel rooms are just places for farmworkers to rest their weary bodies from long days in the hot fields – their young children making do as best they can under very difficult circumstances.
Sixteen months ago we were awarded a grant to develop a childcare center for farmworker families in Jennings. We knew that if we wanted to truly meet the needs of the migrant farmworker families we’d need to locate the childcare center close to where they lived. We considered ourselves fortunate when a local resident with a big heart agreed to allow us to develop our childcare center on land he owned that was located less than two miles from the motels.
With the land in hand, we next turned to designing and building a beautiful childcare center. For this purpose, we turned to Labelle, Florida architect, Ted Hoffman, who wrote a blog post about his experience, and our own Facilities Manager, Michael Wilcox. Together, Ted and Mike moved mountains of dirt — and everything and anything else that stood in their path — until we had a certificate to occupy our new center.
Building a childcare center in rural North Florida is a huge accomplishment, but it only gets one so far down the long and winding road of serving children and families. Before the doors can open, dedicated teachers, assistant teachers, and bilingual caregivers must be hired and trained; family service staff must learn the intricacies of the Head Start enrollment process; and cooks must be prepared to turn fresh fruits and vegetables into delicious and nutritious meals.
We were so very fortunate to bring on board a phenomenal group of individuals who have taken to their new responsibilities with a “can do” attitude. They have been partnered in their work with experienced classroom staff who have relocated from Head Start centers that we operate in southern parts of Florida. Together, our Jennings team has created a culturally-sensitive, early learning environment of which we can be very proud.
As is always the case, there are too many staff to mention each by name. And is always the case, we mention each staff by name because we are so proud of their accomplishment: Ja’Lysa Daniels, Assistant Cook; Enedalia Chacon, Cook; Syreeta Delaughter, Teacher; Christopher Rodriguez, Teacher; Marimar Ramirez, Teacher; Estrella Manso, Assistant Teacher; Rolando Vasquez, Assistant Teacher; Ingrid Rivera Colon, Teacher; Nery Standifer, Teacher; Franni Adams, Teacher; Isabel Mendoza, Teacher; Jose Rodriguez, Teacher; Maria “Blanca” Lopez; Teacher; Roxanna Viar, Health/Disability Coordinator; Marisol Lopez, Family Services Worker; Edelnys Rodriguez, Family Services Coordinator; Jennifer Smith, Program Assistant; Kim Luna, Interim Center Director; Angel Casiano, Director of Program Operation West; Luz Ramos, Family and Community Partnership Specialist; and Mariely Rivera-Rohena, our Early Head Start Administrator.
The long and winding road that leads to your door,
Will never disappear,
I’ve seen that road before
It always leads me here,
Leads me to your door