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 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!
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.
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.”