Summer is Here and We’re Ready!

Lynn Bowen is the Head Start Administrator for ECMHSP’s Direct Services in Virginia. This is her experience as she and her team prepare to serve farmworker families at their centers.

This week, Memorial Day marked the unofficial start of the summer. For many, the warmer days of the summer season offer the perfect time for family vacations, outdoor fun and trips to the beach.

At East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, the summer season has a slightly different meaning. It is growing season for many farms across America and workers are called to harvest the fresh fruits and vegetables grown under the summer sun. The migrant and seasonal farmworker families we serve begin their migration journey from Florida up along the East Coast to the states to the north, such as South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

These families bring along with them their most precious possessions—their children—and look for a safe and nurturing place to entrust their care while they work long days under the hot summer sun. East Coast Migrant Head Start Project wants to make sure our centers are ready for these families when they arrive.

Parksley Center team recruitment training and planning.

The dedicated employees of the two Migrant and Seasonal Head Start centers on the Eastern Shore of Virginia know the families are on their way and we are excited to welcome them with open doors. In anticipation, staff have been attending various training sessions, which have served to both enhance current skills and increase knowledge of our evolving component areas. These pre-season preparations ensure we are able to provide high-quality holistic services when we open our Head Start centers in Virginia.

In addition to learning new skills, these sessions have given staff members the opportunity to spend time together and continue the process of becoming effective teams. Managers and other training providers have also helped affirm and strengthen our relationship with content experts based at the ECMHSP headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Presentation led by Lisa Fernandez, Family Community Partnership/Health Specialist for Virginia Direct Services.

The time spent together has reminded us of the bigger picture; we are part of a larger team. Center actions and regional actions reverberate throughout ECMHSP. As center and regional teams, and as an agency team, we must remember that our actions have major impacts within ECMHSP and within our communities. Pre-service has given us the opportunity to ensure that the ripples we send forth from our region are positive and mission focused. Our goal is for these ripples to turn into waves of positivity and advocacy for our staff, families, and children in our centers.

As we welcome the start of a new season, we proudly welcome our farmworker families to our centers with a renewed sense of commitment and love for the work that we do.

Virginia Services Advocate for Our Farmworker Families

Lynn Bowen is the Head Start Administrator for ECMHSP’s Direct Services in Virginia. This is her experience as she and her team advocate for farmworker families.

The ECMHSP Virginia Direct Services team has been actively participating in opportunities to raise awareness of our Migrant Head Start programs, families, and employment opportunities.

Exhibitor table representing ECMHSP at the regional job fair.

On April 5, LaShundra Weeks, Center Director, and Rhonda Strand, Early Childhood Education and Disability Specialist at the ECMHSP Parksley Head Start Center, represented ECMHSP during the annual Accomack-Northampton Regional Job Fair, hosted by the Eastern Shore Community College in Melfa, Virginia. LaShundra and Rhonda were able to provide information at an exhibitor table to more than 100 participants about our successful Head Start programs.

Lynn Bowen presents during the conference on the needs of the families we serve.

As Head Start Administrator, I have looked for opportunities to advocate for the families we serve. On April 8, I presented a session titled, “Understanding the Unique Needs of Migrant Farmworker Families”, during the annual 2017 Early Childhood Educator Conference in Lake City, Florida. This conference was sponsored by the Early Learning Coalition of Florida’s Gateway and Florida Gateway College. Participants of the Conference hailed from the Florida counties of Columbia, Hamilton, Lafayette, Suwannee and Union.

Lisa Fernandez showcases ECMHSP high-quality and comprehensive services.

Most recently, the first Kids Count on the Eastern Shore Forum was held on April 12 in Melfa, Virginia. The forum was sponsored by Smart Beginnings Eastern Shore in cooperation with other community partners, and brought together leaders in government, business, education and various fields in non-profit. Data provided during the forum was presented by Dr. William O’Hare, a senior fellow with the KIDS COUNT project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Dr. O’Hare has more than 30 years of experience as an applied demographer, specializing in making socio-demographic data available to the public and to policy makers. Also in attendance were Virginia State Senator Lynwood Lewis Jr., Virginia House of Delegates Member Robert Bloxom, Jr., and a representative from U.S. Congressman Scott Taylor’s office. As a member of Smart Beginnings Eastern Shore’s executive committee, I led roundtable discussions while Lisa Fernandez, Family/Community Partnership and Health Specialist, introduced ECMHSP and the services we provide via a poster presentation.

The opportunity to raise awareness of our organization and those we serve comes at a particularly critical time. Many of our families are living in fear and are unsure of what their future holds. By continuing to advocate and raise awareness, we are demystifying the misconceptions about our families and showing how they are a vital part of our community.

2016 Annual Report: A Year in Review

ECMHSP is excited to announce the release of the 2016 Annual Report. The report showcases the great success ECMHSP experienced in providing comprehensive and high-quality services to farmworker families along the East Coast.

Some of the highlights from this year’s report include:

  • An overview of our indigenous language curriculum with parental involvement
  • A red carpet rollout of a documentary featuring a ECMHSP family
  • A parent’s effort to bring her congressman to her Head Start center
  • Total number of children and families served

Cover of the ECMHSP 2016 Annual Report

Each year, ECMHSP releases its annual report, pursuant to requirements in the Head Start Act. The report includes information on funding sources, results of the most recent financial audit, and other information required by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

You can view the full 2016 Annual Report and past annual reports on our website: http://www.ecmhsp.org/reports.html

ECMHSP thanks our staff for their wonderful work and Head Start parents for their participation throughout the year. The hard work, love, and dedication is felt every day at our Head Start centers, and is reflected in this report.

Parent Leads Move to Honor Chávez Day

Photo of Chavez, founder of UFW and civil rights leader.

César E. Chávez is the late founder and president of the United Farm Workers of America. He was born on a small farm near Yuma, Arizona, on March 31, 1927, and began working in the fields at the age of 10. In 1942, Chavez quit school in the seventh grade. Despite his hardships and lack of education, he went on to create a movement in support of farmworker rights and dignity.

Silvia Rodarte, the ECMHSP Policy Council Vice President, sees many similarities between her own life and that of César Chávez — a man she admires greatly. And like him, she tries to inspire positive change in her own community.

Silvia has lived in Belle Glade, Florida, since she was a little girl. When she was seven, her parents would pack up a few things into a car and drive up with the family to North Carolina to work in the green bean and pumpkin fields during the harvest season. When their work was done, they would make their way back to Florida.

Silvia, ECMSHP Policy Council Vice President, at work.

Silvia remembers fondly how as a child, she would spend hours playing in the chile and cucumber fields, occasionally helping her parents. Once she turned 15, she began working full time in the Florida’s lettuce field. By age 16, her priority became her newborn daughter. She dropped out of high school and focused on making ends meet for her new family; she continued the family’s tradition of migrant farm work.

After having her second child in 2005, she enrolled her newborn and her 3-year-old daughters into the ECMHSP’s Head Start program in Belle Glade, Florida. She was determined to give her children every opportunity to get a high-quality education so that they could have a better life than she had.

Today, Chávez’s legacy is honored on what would have been his 90th birthday. In 2014, former President Barack Obama proclaimed March 31 as César Chávez Day and hosted a celebration at the White House in his honor, but this day is not recognized as a federal holiday. Yet each year, many states and cities host parades, marches and ceremonies in his honor.

For the first time, ECMHSP will be joining organizations across the country in celebrating César Chávez Day as an official holiday in our offices and centers – and this is thanks to Silvia. While reviewing the ECMHSP holiday calendar, Silvia noticed an important holiday missing: César Chávez Day.

“César Chávez is a very important person in the lives of farmworkers,” she says. “He started the first farmworker union, and made sure people in this country heard the voices of farmworkers and honor their rights.”

She wanted to make sure that he would be remembered by the ECMHSP community, even if it meant one day less of Head Start program services for her own children. She brought this up at the October Policy Council meeting and got the approval from both the Policy Council and the Board of Directors to add this day in place of another federally-recognized holiday. She is so proud of her accomplishment.

On this day, Silvia will be working in Florida’s fields, but with her usual smile even brighter. She is finishing up work in the corn harvest before preparing her family to move to Willard, Ohio, in May for the onion harvest. She works hard to provide many of the fresh fruits and vegetables we are eating, and it’s important to her that everyone remembers that March 31 is the day we honor of the man that continues to inspire farmworkers across the country.

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”
— Cesar E. Chavez, 1984

Guest Post: A Country Without Immigrant Labor

Dr. David Conde is the President for North America of the Chamber of the Americas.  He currently serves as the President of the ECMHSP Board of Directors and is a contributing writer for La Voz Bilingüe.  This is his latest article.

Dr. David Conde has seen the contributions of the immigrant community from his years of service on the ECMSHP Board of Directors and his personal experience.

You may have been watching a replay of Roots, the Alex Haley classic that traces American Black origins in West Africa.  Roots chronicles their capture and ordeal characterized by centuries of slavery and the loss of identity tied to race, color and place.  The novel and the television series is an expression of an epic attempt to recover what was lost by reconnecting the heritage line to its origins.

Even then, the more recent Black immigrants would fret about their American-born contemporaries’ inability to remember or care about where they came from.  Perhaps this is because their struggle for survival was such that history telling them who they are became a luxury.

Curiously, the over 41 million immigrants in America today could very well repeat the words of Kunta Kinte in a different time, in a different setting and to a different people.  The answer now compared to the answer then from a people facing slavery could sound more like an excuse for not guarding our freedom.

The immigrant community is now facing their own set of issues being played out in the national social, legal and political arena.  Yet, their true place is in the heart of America’s economic well-being.

On Thursday, February 16, a national day without immigrant labor took place in an effort to insert an economic argument that counters the political climate created by a campaign to discredit the value of immigrant work.  Extensive coverage was given to restaurants where 1 out of every 4 workers and almost half of the chefs are immigrants.

The 2015 records indicate that 26.3 million or 16.7 percent of the workforce are foreign-born and half of them are Latinos.  The three principle areas one can find immigrant workers is in the service industry, construction and farming.

The farmworker families served by ECMHSP are a part of the immigrant community that help this country thrive. 

One of the developing outcomes associated with the present administration’s deportation policy is that wages for the farm industry are going up.  The law of supply and demand is making farmers the victims of a political process that they themselves largely supported.

Wages for farm work is up 36 percent in the last decade compared to 27 percent in non-farm work and farm profits have been going down for the fourth consecutive year.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects farm wages to increase another 40 percent in the next 15 years.

This will force farmers to reduce their production by over half of what they are producing today. Fruit production for example, will drop by 61 percent.

That means that since the consumer will require 100 percent on the dining table, the country will have to import that fruit most likely from Mexico and Central America and pay the extra costs of tariffs since there will be no NAFTA.  By the way, this contradicts the very policy that is the basis for an America first theory that questions agreements like NAFTA.

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, is on record as saying, “The farm labor discussion is around whether or not our country wants to import our labor or whether they want to import their food.  I think the American people want to eat food that’s grown in America.”

Given the current political climate, food production may be an unpredictable affair depending on whether the immigrant farm worker feels safe from police raids and is wanted and appreciated.  Americans stand to get a significant hit on their pocketbooks before coming to understand the real value of the worker in the fields that puts food on the table at very economic prices.

[Published in La Voz Bilingüe on March 1, 2017.]

College Students Give a Helping Hand in Cheriton

Lynn Bowen is the Head Start Administrator for ECMHSP’s Direct Services in Virginia. This is her experience at a community service project in one of our centers.

As part of ECMHSP’s ongoing efforts to expand the reach of our mission, members of Old Dominion University’s Alpha Phi Omega and Gamma Sigma Sigma were invited to conduct a service project at the Cheriton Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Center in the Virginia Eastern Shore on February 11.

Alpha Phi Omega is a national coeducational service organization founded on the principles of Leadership, Friendship and Service. It provides its members the opportunity to develop leadership skills as they volunteer on their campus, in their community, to the nation, and to the organization.

The national service sorority Gamma Sigma Sigma commits to creating and engaging in opportunities to serve on campuses and in the community to address local, national, and global needs. Gamma Sigma Sigma’s vision is for members to demonstrate the capacity for and lifelong commitment to service and leadership.

Members of Alpha Phi Omega and Gamma Sigma Sigma improved the Cheriton Head Start Center in their community service project.

Members of Alpha Phi Omega and Gamma Sigma Sigma improved the Cheriton Head Start Center in their community service project.

Currently, the Cheriton Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Center is taking part in a Quality Enhancement Project. The sixteen college students braved the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel and spent their Saturday scraping, sanding, and painting the preschool classroom and outside lattice. In addition, they also helped unpack new cribs, toddler tables, and toddler chairs. The college students from Alpha Phi Omega and Gamma Sigma Sigma were invited to return during the summer and fall to meet our families, spend time with the children, and to present a family learning activity during a parent meeting.

ECMHSP and the families we serve are grateful to our volunteers who support our mission through their service. The value of volunteer services is an integral and necessary part of the program as well as the communities that we serve. We thank you for your generosity of your time and skills!

If you are interested in volunteering, please contact one of our centers. You can find a list of centers near you on our website: http://www.ecmhsp.org/locations.html

ECMHSP Alumnus in the National Media Spotlight!

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ECMHSP Alumnus Misael visits our Head Start center in Virginia.

This morning, NBC News published the story, “‘Life-Changing’: Head Start Gives Latino Migrant Children Early Education,” which featured ECMHSP alumnus Misael Rangel.

Misael attended the Fort Pierce (Florida) Migrant and Seasonal Head Start center as a young child, and has since been a great ambassador of ECMHSP’s Head Start programs.  Misael was one of the four participants selected for this year’s National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Summer Internship Program and wrote about his experiences in Washington, DC, in a post on our blog, From Harvest to Head Start.

The farmworker parents elected to the ECMHSP Policy Council were able to meet with Misael and his brother Juan at the Policy Council meeting in Clearwater, Florida, last May.  Misael shared with the parents and ECMHSP staff an inspirational account on how the program had a positive impact on the lives of his family, and how his early childhood education ignited a hunger to learn that has helped him throughout his educational career.

Misael and his brother Juan joined the ECMHSP Policy Council and staff in Clearwater, Florida.

Misael and his brother Juan joined the ECMHSP Policy Council and staff in Clearwater, Florida.

Among the parents who met with Misael was Lety, whose family is currently enrolled to receive Head Start services from PathStone, ECMHSP’s delegate agency in New Jersey.  Lety and her children have been a part of the ECMHSP Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program for years, and her involvement in the organization’s leadership is a testament to her dedication to her children’s success.  She too was interviewed in the NBC News story.

ECMHSP is committed to preparing children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers for success.

ECMHSP is committed to preparing children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers for success.

Both members of the ECMHSP community remind us of the important role our centers play in the communities we serve.  East Coast Migrant Head Start Project is committed to preparing children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers, such as Misael, for success. We know that the best way to do this is by providing holistic, high-quality early childhood education services for children and families, such as Lety’s, in a nurturing, culturally-sensitive environment.  We also understand that the needs of our farmworker families extend well outside of the classroom, and in response, we are providing services and advocating for children and families in their other areas of need.

Like the other Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs across the country, ECMHSP is proud to serve migrant and seasonal farmworker families.  Farmworkers work so hard each day to provide us with a fresh and secure source of fruits and vegetables each day.  The least we can do to thank them for their hard work is to care for their most precious treasures—their children—in our classrooms.