Celebrating a Bright Future in Palmetto

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Our ribbon-cutting ceremony was led by Dr. Villa, CEO, and Layssa Marie Garcia, President of the Palmetto Parent Committee. Photo credit: Ted Hoffman

Surrounded by parents, children, and community partners, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project celebrated its newest child care center for farmworker families on March 15th in Palmetto, Florida, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The ribbon-cut at Palmetto was the culmination of many years of hard work; but the smiles of the farmworker families attending the ceremony was the best evidence that the hard work was well worth the effort.

The Palmetto Center began as the vision of Director of Program Operations, Angel Casiano, and Florida Head Start Administrator, Dora Sanders. Angel and Dora spent many hours, days, and weeks, exploring ways in which to serve farmworker families living in Palmetto. For years, Angel and Dora had partnered with our transportation team to bring children to our Head Start center in Myakka. But the Myakka Center is almost thirty miles from Palmetto, which is a long bus route for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to experience. Moreover, there were more farmworker children in Palmetto in need of services than we could possibly send on school buses to Myakka.

In April of 2015, all of Angel and Dora’s hard work paid off when the Office of Head Start awarded ECMHSP new funding for the creation of a new center in Palmetto.  ECMHSP quickly mobilized to execute on its plans to serve families in Palmetto. These plans were implemented on two fronts. Through the dedicated efforts of Kate Bloomquist, the Migrant Education Coordinator for the Manatee County, Florida School District, ECMHSP was able to lease classrooms at the Palm View Elementary School in Palmetto. The availability of these classrooms allowed ECMHSP to begin serving families within six months of the funding becoming available. This is a remarkable accomplishment when one considers all of the pre-operational issues that must be tackled before a program commences high-quality and comprehensive Head Start services. http://bit.ly/2GdLhvi

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John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, talks to the children during our ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo credit: Ted Hoffman

The second planning front involved the purchase an abandoned cinder block building at 906 17th Street West in Palmetto and the completion of a major renovation of the building to create engaging classrooms, a state-of-the art kitchen and playground space. Yet again, ECMHSP turned to Labelle architect, Ted Hoffman, to design the space and long-time (now retired) Facilities Manager, Michael Wilcox, to oversee construction. The new Palmetto Center, finished in the summer of 2017, is a welcoming space for farmworker families to have their children learn and grow, so that those children enter public school ready to succeed.

We were honored by the presence of many local dignitaries at the ribbon-cut, including Gary Tibbets, Special Assistant to Congressman Vern Buchanan; Jonathan Davis, the Honorable Vice Mayor of Palmetto, the Palmetto Fire Chief; and members of the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County and representatives from the local Palmetto Library. Ramona De Lorea, the Vice President of the Policy Council and President of the Wauchula Center, spoke to our guests about her work with East Coast and the importance of the new center.

But the most important local dignitaries present were the children and families served at the Palmetto Center. Layssa Marie Garcia, the President of the Palmetto Center, did the honor of cutting the ribbon, and each classroom of children performed songs and danced for our entertainment. Our local Palmetto staff went above and beyond in hosting the ribbon-cutting, proving yet again that our center staff are the beating heart of our Head Start mission.

ECMHSP Returns to California for NMSHSA Conference ‘18

John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, thanks the parents that attended the conference during a plenary session.

The National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its Annual National Conference in Costa Mesa, CA, from March 2 through March 6.

A number of our dedicated employees travelled to the conference to make presentations on best practices we have implemented. Sofia Baucom and Consuellis Hawkins-Crudup, for example, presented a session titled, Planning Positive School Readiness Outcomes: A Coordinated Approach Model, while Sue Thomas, ERSEA/Child Plus Manager, co-presented with Andy Pederson, IT Manager, in the session, It’s All About the Data.

Traveling cross-country for our farmworker families has become especially challenging recently, making it even more important to have representation from the East Coast farmworker communities at the conference in California. Joining ECMHSP staff at the conference were Head Start parents elected to the ECMHSP Policy Council Executive Committee: Meiby Mora, President; Ramona C. De Loera, Vice-President; and Leticia Baez, Treasurer.

ECMHSP Policy Council members, along with Maria Rodriguez, Governance Assistant at ECMHSP, met with keynote speaker Sophie Cruz and her family.

These farmworker parents were able to attend the workshops on topics ranging from meaningful learning methods for their children to immigration rights and parent involvement. During the Parent Affiliate meeting, Ramona was elected as Member-at-Large and will represent the group as a member of the NMSHSA Board of Directors. We are very proud to see Ramona’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.

Also serving on the NMSHSA Board of Directors are John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, Patti Kingery, ECMHSP Director of Program Operations, and, after a successful re-election, myself. ECMSHP is honored to bring our perspective from the different levels of our organization as we support the Association’s mission to serve our farmworker families.

At the opening plenary session, attendees heard the inspiring stories of the recipients of the conference’s scholarship and Plate of Bounty awards. Among the members of the Head Start community honored this year was ECMHSP Policy Council community representative and former Head Start Parent, Cristina Hernandez, recipient of the Clint Mitcham Scholarship.  Cristina traveled to California to receive the recognition in person.

ECMHSP Policy Council Community Representative Cristina Hernandez (second from left) was awarded the Clint Mitcham Scholarship at this year’s conference.

Conference participants were able to hear from the Office of Head Start with informative presentations by Sandra Carton, Regional Program Manager for Migrant and Seasonal Programs (Region XII), and Sharon Yandian, Co-Director of the Early Childhood Development Comprehensive Services and Training and Technical Assistance Division. Sharon was introduced at Tuesday’s plenary session by John Menditto.

ECMSHP brought important and much-needed voices to the West Coast at this year’s conference. We look forward to more opportunities to represent our community at next year’s conference in Washington, DC, when the NMSHSA family will celebrate 50 years of MSHS services!