Leveling the Playing Field for our Families


Children learn and play in a safe environment at the Jennings Early Head Start Center.

Yesterday, The Huffington Post published its video story on the ECMHSP Jennings Center in Florida.  It features farmworker, Vianey Lopez, who serves as the President of the center’s Parent Committee.  ECMHSP owes a debt of gratitude to Vianey for sharing her incredible story.  It is truly amazing advocacy and a shining example of the parent leadership at ECMHSP!

ECMHSP dedicated staff work to ensure we are offering high-quality Head Start services to our families every day.  The video brought to the forefront two of our many Head Start stars.  Sheri Anastasio, the Jennings Center Director, and Marimar Ramirez, the center’s Family Services Coordinator, could not have done a better job telling our story.  They went above and beyond!


Sheri Anastasio, Center Director at the Jennings Early Head Start Center.

ECMHSP is so pleased and proud with the finished product.  The video showcases the best of what ECMHSP has to offer.

This is who we are.  This is what we do.

We ask that you now, sit back, relax, and enjoy the film! Click on the image below to view the video.


Advocating for Early Childhood Education at the National Level

Daniel Jaime's Family Pic

Daniel Jaime’s childhood memories always take him back to the fields.  He was the youngest of five boys.  His mother was a single mother, who despite facing many obstacles as a migrant farmworker, always stressed the importance of getting an education.  Check out my recent phone interview with Daniel.

Could you tell me a little bit about your background?

I was born in Winter Haven, a city in Polk County, Florida.  I was part of a migrant farmworker family.  I recall spending seasons in North Carolina, Georgia, and Michigan.  At the age of 19, I started my own family.  I enrolled my firstborn in the Head Start Program offered through Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA) in 2002.  My second and third child also attended RCMA.  As a migrant farmworker parent, I was very involved in my children’s education.  I was elected as the center’s President of the Parent Committee.  I also served on the Board of Directors for three full terms.  At the time, RCMA was a delegate agency of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, and I participated as the Treasurer for its Policy Council.  In 2005, I stopped migrating for work.  RCMA offered me a position as an Outreach Worker in Polk County.  The following season, I became a Center Coordinator for RCMA’S before and after school programs, serving more than 140 children that season alone.  After four years of being at RCMA, I decided to continue my career at the ECMHSP La Familia Center as Center Director in October 2009.

I know you’re currently enrolled in college. Can you tell me more about the degree you’re pursuing?

In 2013, I graduated with my Associate in Science degree from Polk State’s Early Childhood Education and Management program.  Next year I will be getting my Bachelor’s in Business Management from Polk State College.  I want my kids to know how important education is.  I have five kids ranging in the ages of 18 and three.  Two of them will be graduating high school next year and are already looking into what college programs they want to pursue.

La Familia Center - Nov 2018

The ECMHSP La Familia Center opened for the season on Thursday, November 15.

What is the most exciting part of opening the center?

You must have a passion for children and their families.  My greatest thing is working with the ECMHSP La Familia Center staff and getting them ready to provide the best services for our children.  I enjoy seeing staff that start with a high school degree, then obtain a CDA, and work hard to get an Associate Degree.  Although every season includes different obstacles, I’m always hopeful that we’ll have a successful season.  All our staff from last season have returned, which is very exciting.

How do you maintain strong relationships with parents?

Always making our families feel welcomed at our center.  I want them to feel that it’s a good place to be.  I always take the time to present myself to our new families.  I tell them about the policies and procedures that we all follow.

What countries are primarily represented by your center’s farmworker families?

Most of our families are from Guatemala and Mexico.  Last season, we served 11 kids from Puerto Rico that were part of displaced families from Hurricane Maria.  Two kids are back this season.

GFWC Florida at La Familia Center

The GFWC Four Corners Junior Woman’s Club visits our ECMHSP La Familia Center.

What are the center’s community partnerships?

We have community partnerships with Community of Faith, Catholic Charities of Winter Haven, Helping Hands Angels, The Veterans of Davenport, and the GFWC Four Corners Junior Woman’s Club.  During the last few years, the GFWC Four Corners Junior Woman’s Club has been making a holiday donation of more than 100 stockings for the children at my center.  I know our families look forward to their support next month.

Daniel Jaime at NACMH

Daniel Jaime, Center Director at the ECMHSP La Familia Center, recently attended the NACMH biannual meeting on November 14, 2018. 

Daniel Jaime is one of our most active staff members.  Not only does he support other centers with training as needed, but he also serves as a Council Member on the National Advisory Council on Migrant Health (NACMH), which has 16 members nationwide.  He was nominated to the NACMH when he was a Board of Director for the Central Florida Health Care.  Last week, I had the opportunity to meet Daniel in Bethesda, Maryland for NACMH’s biannual meeting.  The Council heard presentations from federal officials and experts on issues facing agricultural workers, including the status of agricultural worker health.  The NACMH will now make its recommendations to the HHS Secretary about the organization, operation, selection, and funding of migrant health centers and other entities funded under section 330(g) of the PHS Act.

A Head Start for the Cendejas Family


I recently had the opportunity to conduct a phone interview with Rosa Cendejas, one of our team members at the ECMHSP Fort Pierce Center in Florida.  Keep reading to learn more about her professional growth since joining East Coast Migrant Head Start Project in 1997.

Could you tell me more about your background?

I migrated from Mexico to the United States in February of 1986 and worked picking oranges in Fort Pierce, Florida for six years.  In 1997, I first heard of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project through a friend that was working at the Fort Pierce Center.  I started work with ECMHSP in February of that same year as a Substitute Teacher.  I learned that I would have to go back to school to meet the requirements of the position.  Shortly after, I started classes to get my GED.  This was a difficult experience since I didn’t know how to speak English.  One of the happiest days of my life took place in August of 2012.  I received my Associate’s in Science in Early Childhood Education.  It was a challenge both professionally and personally.  My busy schedule only allowed me to take one to two classes per semester, but thanks to the support of my family, I made it.  Being a professional, mother, full-time wife, and a student wasn’t easy, but the satisfaction was even greater once I achieved my goals.  I’m currently the Family Services Coordinator at the ECMHSP Fort Pierce Center.


Rosa’s graduation from Indian River State College makes the front page of her local newspaper!

What benefits have you received from ECMHSP?

What I appreciate the most is that they motivated me to continue getting an education.  ECMHSP is full of opportunities; it depends on us whether we want to take advantage of them or not.  Over the years, I had the opportunity to complete the Child Care Health Advocate Certificate in 2011 and the Family Services Credential in 2016.  ECMHSP has also had a positive impact on my family.

I heard that two of your three children attended the ECMHSP Fort Pierce Center.

Yes, my sons Armando and Alejandro both attended the ECMHSP Fort Pierce Center as young children.  In 2017, Armando was one of four former Head Start students selected to participate in an internship by the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association in Washington, D.C.  He was placed with the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators for almost two months.  He even wrote a guest blog post about his experience.   Armando, 22, is currently attending Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida.  I’m proud to say that he’s been working with me at the ECMHSP Fort Pierce Center as a Center Bus Caregiver since last year.  I know that Armando has a bright future ahead.

Photo 2

Armando Cendejas, a part of the NMSHSA Internship Class of 2017, shares his story at the closing celebration in Washington, D.C.

What is the most exciting part of opening the center for the season?

I like to see the closeness of our team while preparing to open the center. They are not work colleagues but are part of your family.  I like the feeling of serving our farmworker families.  Many families don’t know how to read or write, so I become their voice.

At your center, what kind of agricultural work do the farmworker families do?

Our families work primarily with oranges and grapefruits.  However, we also serve families that work at nurseries.

How do you maintain strong relationships with parents?

A lot of the new families feel uneasy at first.  I’m good at reading and understanding body language, so I try to make them feel at home from the first moment.


Rosa enjoys serving our farmworker families in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Have you recently worked at any other centers?

During July and August of this year, I was asked to work at the ECMHSP Jennings Center as a Family Services Worker.  This center is more than four hours away from my home in Fort Pierce, so I came back to visit my family every two weeks.  My husband is very supportive of my career.

Thank you so much for allowing me to interview you, Rosa.  Is there anything that you would like to add?

In the end, the sacrifices and everything I’ve done throughout my life has been worth it.  Seeing the happiness of my family, parents, and the Fort Pierce community is priceless.


Rosa Cendejas poses for a picture with some of the families she serves.

At ECMHSP, we look forward to sharing more success stories like Rosa’s.  Make sure to check back next week for new blog posts.

Going the Extra Mile in Florida West

Mexico Family

Marimar Ramirez is the eldest of three children in a farmworker family.  Her parents have been working in the fields for more than 20 years, and Marimar began to follow in their footsteps until one day, while working in the fields, a coworker told her about East Migrant Head Start Project.  This conversation changed the direction of her life.  Keep reading to learn more about Marimar’s story from my phone interview with her.

Daughter and Me

Marimar and her daughter Natalia (7).

Tell me a little bit about your story at this center?

In 2016, I was out working in the fields.  I remember I was packing fruit when a coworker asked if I was interested in furthering my education.  At the time, my daughter was five years old.  I wanted to give her a better future, so I listened carefully.  My coworker told me about career openings at the ECMHSP Jennings Center (in Florida).  Shortly after, I personally went to get more information.  I learned that I would need to get accredited in order to teach in Florida.  May of 2016 was my first season as the Assistant Teacher at the ECMHSP Jennings Center.  After one season, I obtained a position as a Family Services Worker.  I successfully completed the Family Services Credential [through ECMHSP] in April of 2018 and became the Family Services Coordinator for the ECMHSP Jennings Center.

First Parent 05-21-18

Marimar Ramirez, Family Services Coordinator and Migneris Ruiz, Health Disability Services Coordinator.

What do you enjoy most about each season?

The most exciting part is being able to build a bond with our families as well as sharing knowledge with them, so they can become leaders and advocate for their children.

Can you share a challenge that you’ve had to overcome while working at ECMHSP?

A challenge that I overcame was learning to travel without having self-condemnation.  I leave my seven-year-old daughter in care of my mother when I transfer to another ECMHSP center to provide services.  There have been months at a time when I’ve only been able to see my daughter during the weekends.  I’ve learned to be proud of myself when I’m far away from home, as I am providing for my family and supporting families in need.  I keep in mind that I work with families that face bigger challenges, such as traveling most of the year to make ends meet.

What other centers have you worked at?

I’ve worked at the ECMHSP Palm View Early Head Start Center and at the ECMHSP Palmetto Center.

What are the resources that you use to provide a high-quality education to the children at your center?

The resources that we use to provide a high-quality education to our children is by using the creative curriculum provided by ECMHSP, as well as having dual-language teachers in each classroom.  Also, the three assessments per season to follow the developmental milestones of each child enrolled in our center.  And most importantly, incorporating and encouraging parents to support their child’s growth.

How long do the different seasons last?

Our [Jennings Head Start] center typically operates from May to October.  However, the seasons vary depending on the weather.  The ECMHSP Jennings Center operates during the tornado/hurricane season.

What kind of agricultural work do the farmworker families perform at your center?

Our families during their stay here in the Jennings area work mainly in the tomato fields.  Once they travel up north or further down south, they will work with bell peppers, squash, and watermelon. Some of our parents also work at nurseries.

What are some of your center’s community partnerships?

The center’s community partnerships include: Hamilton County School District, North Central Early Steps, Sysco Jacksonville, Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, North Florida Pediatrics, and the Department of Community Dentistry.

Digital Camera

Our preschoolers engaging in the art therapy program.

Are there any new partnerships you’re excited about?

I’m excited about a pilot program that was offered this past season by Florida State University (FSU).  Throughout the season, Theresa Van Lith, Assistant Professor of Art Therapy at FSU, came to our center’s preschool class for more than 10 sessions.  The initiative used art therapy for our 18 preschoolers to express their feelings through art of their own.  The children enjoyed every session. We hope to continue this program during our next season.

Digital Camera

Emily proudly shows the certificate she received from Florida State University.

How do you maintain strong relationships with parents?

I maintain a strong relationship with parents by providing a welcoming environment and being understanding to their needs.  I’m humble and share my farmworker story with them.  I make sure they know they have a voice at our center.


The children enjoying circle time on the last day of the season!

Now that the season has ended at the ECMHSP Jennings Center, Marimar is waiting to see if her help will be needed at any of the other ECMHSP Florida Direct Services West locations.  She’s always willing to go the extra mile for all the farmworker families that are served at our centers.  Marimar, we know you have a bright future ahead.  Thank you for choosing to be a part of our family!

Idalia’s Journey: From Harvest to Head Start

Idalia harvesting cucumbers in Ohio

When Idalia has flashbacks of her childhood, many of those memories take place in the fields.  Some seasons she lived in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas.  She is currently the Health Disabilities Services Coordinator at the ECMHSP Palmetto Center in Florida.  I recently had the opportunity to learn more about her and the work she does for East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

My parents are both from Mexico and have been farmworkers for more than 30 years.  I was born in Washington State.  Starting at the age of eight, I helped my parents with the harvest of cucumbers and tomatoes.  While helping my parents, I saw many friends of mine working with their parents as well.  My family spent six months out of the year in Texas, then migrated to Ohio or Michigan between April and September.  I got married at the age of 17 and continued to migrate for work with my husband.

Idalia and family

Left to right: Idalia’s husband, Jorge Castillo, Elisa Castilla (12), Jorge Luis Castillo (19), and Idalia Castillo.

When did you realize that you no longer wanted to migrate for work?

When my son turned eight in 2007.  Having been part of a migrant farmworker family, I knew how hard it was to change schools every few months.  I wanted my son Jorge to have one school and one home.  I wanted him to have the stability that I didn’t have as a child, so I decided to stay in Florida to do seasonal work.

Idalia and son

Jorge’s high school graduation.

How did you start your career with East Coast Migrant Head Start Project?

In 2010, I was living in Florida during the cucumber season.  I heard a new Head Start center in Myakka would open soon, so I went to ask about job openings.  My brother had attended a migrant Head Start center in Texas from birth until the age of five, so I was already familiar with Head Start’s mission. Shortly after, I got hired at the ECMHSP Myakka Center as an Assistant Cook.  I kept this position for two seasons, then became the center’s Health Disabilities Worker for about six years.  This is my first season as the Health Disabilities Services Coordinator at the ECMHSP Palmetto Center.

Field day - Palmetto Center Season 2017-2018

Field Day for the ECMHSP Palmetto Center during the 2017/2018 season.

What is the most exciting part of opening the center?

Being able to serve the children.  I know how hard their parents work from sun up to sun down.  They face many difficulties to find a safe place for them while they’re working.  The children here are well-fed and are given an early childhood education.

What countries are primarily represented by your center’s farmworker families?

Most of our families are from Mexico and Guatemala.  They speak Spanish and English, while many of them are bilingual.

What kind of agricultural work do the farmworker families at your center do?

We have families that pick tomatoes, harvest jalapeño and banana peppers.  Parents also work in a variety of nurseries.  In addition, the strawberry season starts next month.  Our ECMHSP Palmetto center is open year-round to serve more families.

What are the resources that you use to provide high-quality health services to the children at your center?

Our center’s Health Coordinator helps us keep the children up to date with immunizations and physicals.  If there is a special health need, she makes sure that the medication is available.  We partner with organizations to offer medical, mental, and dental services.  In addition, we have several types of assessments to evaluate children and diagnose disabilities.  If therapy is needed, parents have the option of receiving it at their homes or in our centers.

What do you hope to accomplish at your center this season?

We currently have 46 kids enrolled.  I want to serve as many children and families as possible and provide the best services we can give them.

How do you maintain strong relationships with parents?

I come from a family of migrant farmworkers.  My family used Head Start services, so our farmworker families identify with me.  Being able to speak Spanish helps build trust and encourages communication.  I tell parents that this program will prepare their kids to be successful in school.

Idalia and Dr. Villa

Idalia Castillo and Dr. Villa, ECMHSP CEO.

We want to congratulate Idalia Castillo for her professional growth during the past eight years.  ECMHSP is proud to have such passionate individuals that go above and beyond every day at our centers.  Idalia’s parents still work in the fields today, which is why it’s so important for her to advocate for our farmworker families.