About John Menditto, General Counsel and Director of Risk Management, ECMHSP

John has worked at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project for more than fifteen years. He holds a law degree from The University of Virginia School of Law and is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of The George Washington University.

Dr. Deborah Bergeron Visits ECMHSP’s North Carolina Centers

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On Wednesday, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project had the pleasure of hosting the newly-appointed Director of the Office of Head Start, Dr. Deborah Bergeron for a visit of our North Carolina Head Start centers.  Dr. B –as she likes to be called—was eager to learn about the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) program, and ECMHSP staff and parents were excited to showcase the high-quality and comprehensive Head Start services we offer at our MSHS centers.

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Dr. Bergeron playing guitar for the children, as Omar admires her talent. 

The day began at the ECMHSP’s MSHS center in Faison, North Carolina, where staff focused on school readiness.  Two parents at the center shared with Dr. B their experience receiving Head Start services from ECMHSP and how those services have prepared their children to succeed in the public school system.  The visit then continued into the preschool classroom, where Dr. B entertained the children with her guitar and her song, “Reach for the Stars” (sung to the tune of La Bamba).  All of the children enjoyed the opportunity to sing and dance, but none more so than Omar, who did a special pogo dance of appreciation.  Afterwards, the visit continued to Cottle Farms, where Ron Cottle provided a tour of his operations, and then drove through and by farmworker housing.  The housing conditions for farmworker families made quite an impression on Dr. B.

Next, the visit continued at the ECMHSP’s MSHS center in Newton Grove, where Hortencia Montalvo, Center Cook, and Elizabeth Vega Velasquez, Center Cook Assistant, prepared a delicious lunch for the special guests.  Community partners were also invited to the lunch, at which they shared their experience partnering with ECMHSP in the areas of health, dental services, nutrition, and mental health services.  Following the lunch, Dr. B was provided with a tour of our local federally-qualified health clinic.

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Dr. Bergeron with ECMHSP parent, Gloria Castillo, who’s also a member of our Policy Council.

The day ended at the ECMHSP MSHS center in Angier.  Again, two parents, one which is a farmworker DREAMer, shared their experience and joined us as we visited the center’s classrooms.  We provided a life changing experience for Dr. Bergeron and in her weekly communication with her OHS staff, Dr. Bergeron observed that “in one day I got to get a sense of the Migrant Head Start experience from the family, farmer, center, and community partner perspective.  It was a 360 degree view for sure!”

Beyond Beyoncé: Farmworkers Fear the Worst While the Music Plays on

IMG_6464“Let’s just cut to the chase,” writes Jon Caramanica, pop music critic in today’s New York Times, “There’s not likely to be a more meaningful, absorbing, forceful and radical performance by an American musician this year, or any year soon, than Beyoncé’s headlining set at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/15/arts/music/beyonce-coachella-review.html

About seven miles down the road from the scene of Beyoncé’s great triumph, a farmworker family spends a blistering hot afternoon in their double-wide trailer, shades drawn.  Gabriel Thompson, a journalist based in Oakland, California, shares this family’s story and the fear that permeates their life in Coachella, Underground, a piece for which I and others at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project were interviewed.

I don’t mean to dis Beyoncé.  In fact, I am a huge fan.  “Sorry” has been a rallying cry for our project since the song’s release in June of 2016.  Our farmworkers celebrate the song’s chorus.  It resonates: Why should we apologize for our presence when “rich or poor, what Americans have on their dining room tables is what we are giving them from our hands.” https://vimeo.com/158226128  I also love the video for “Sorry”, with its allusions to farm work, crew buses, and the stark dividing line that often exists between farm labor and farm capital.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you of the fear of family separation farmworkers experience each day they leave their children in our care and head to the fields and to the packing houses.  When all that stands between our parents and the loss of their American dream is a “broken tail light” and a sheriff’s deputy without a heart.  There are no music festivals to draw attention to it, but in Florida, Alabama, and the rural Mid-Atlantic, our farmworker communities remain persecuted as traffic stops lead to immigration holds that too often lead to removal proceedings.

In the face of these attacks, it’s important to support the causes that serve and uplift farmworker families.  East Coast Migrant Head Start Project is just one non-profit among many that have built a capacity to help farmworkers involved in immigration removal proceedings.  You should support us and you should support our partners.

Meanwhile, our farmworkers will no doubt do what they’ve always done: be resilient, work hard, and have faith that their resilience and hard work will be rewarded.  Until then, deuces up.

 

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.

Tis the Season of Hope & Giving

Today, we are thrilled to kick-off our end of year, annual Friends & Family Giving Campaign.

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project is committed to preparing the children of migrant and seasonal farm workers for success.

Our Giving Campaign funds vital support for farmworker families – such as the Michael P. Murphy Family Emergency Assistance Fund and our pro bono immigration services practice. You can learn more about the services and support we provide by visiting our website: http://www.ecmhsp.org

We raised just over $20,000 in our 2016 Giving Campaign and this year we have set a goal of $25,000. We know we can accomplish our goal with your support.

The 2017 Giving Campaign will run from today through January 5th. You can get us off to a great start by donating directly through: https://www.razoo.com/organization/The-East-Coast-Migrant-Head-Start-Project

This holiday season, help us provide hope to our farmworker families. We hope you will join us in supporting East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s mission in 2018. We could not do the work that we do without your generosity.

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project wishes you and your loved ones a happy holiday season!

Norma Flores López on a Global Stage

Photo of Norma Flores López, Governance and Collaboration/Development Manager at ECMHSP.

In June of 2015, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project lured Norma Flores López away from another wonderful non-profit serving farmworkers, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs in Washington, DC. We brought Norma to ECMHSP so she may work on a number of important priorities here: partnering with Maria Rodriguez and Maria Hernandez in supporting the work of the ECMHSP Policy Council; leading our efforts in collaborating with other organizations through her service to the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Collaboration Advisory Board and as a Board Director to the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association; and broadening our fundraising and grant-writing efforts. Along the way, Norma has created this blog, From Harvest to Head Start, and ECMHSP’s Facebook page.

This week, Norma is featured in an interview by Global March, in connection with her work as a Board member to the Global March Against Child Labour. As she states in her interview:

There is a misconception that child labor is an issue that happens abroad, outside of reach, and Americans remain oblivious to the child labor that is present in their own backyards. More people need to be educated on the human cost of the foods they consume each day, and the exploitation of child labor that is intricately involved in the American food production system.

You can read the full interview on the Global March Against Child Labor website.

We are so fortunate to have such a dynamic leader advocating here in the US and around the world for farmworker families.

Farmworker DREAMers Are Here to Stay

Supporters of DACA gathered outside of the White House following the administration’s announcement.

This morning, United States Attorney General, Jeffrey Sessions, announced that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is ending. Shortly after the announcement, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services released information on how DACA will be wound down.

Individuals with DACA applications and renewal applications currently pending will have those applications processed. Individuals with DACA status that is scheduled to expire on or before March 5, 2018, will have a window of time to file a DACA renewal (until October 5, 2017). Anyone whose DACA status expires after March 5, 2018, will not be eligible to renew their DACA, but they will remain DACA-protected until their DACA expires.

Friends and family of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.

The winding down of the DACA program has focused our country upon the contributions of DREAMers and the need for Congress to protect the DREAMers. In the United States Senate, the Dream Act enjoys bipartisan support and its two chief sponsors, Senator Richard Durbin (D – Illinois) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R – South Carolina), intend to bring the legislation to the floor of the Senate before the end of September. It is expected to pass easily.

The House of Representatives also is considering legislation that will protect the DREAMers. This past weekend, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan (R – Wisconsin), shared his support for the DREAMers: “These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home. And so I really do believe that there needs to be a legislative solution. That’s one that we’re working on. And I think we want to give people peace of mind.”

Supporters of DACA chanted, “Here to stay!” outside of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Washington, DC.

The DACA program has served as a lifeline to many farmworkers served by East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, and we are proud to have provided pro bono legal representation to many farmworker DREAMers. Today, friends and family of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project took to the streets of Washington, DC, to show their support for farmworker DREAMers and DREAMers everywhere. We will continue to advocate for relief so that our farmworker DREAMers can proclaim proudly, “We are here to stay.”

Homecoming 2017: A Trip to a Field of Dreams

About 15 years ago, Priscilla Garza, Cheyla Moranchel, Armando Cendejas, and Juan Rangel were young children enrolled in the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program. Priscilla’s MSHS experience was in Texas and Maryland, in programs operated by Teaching and Mentoring Communities and East Coast Migrant Head Start Project. Cheyla’s was in Oregon in a MSHS program operated by the Oregon Child Development Coalition, while Armando and Juan both attended ECMHSP’s MSHS center in Fort Pierce, Florida.   This summer, these four MSHS graduates had the opportunity to put all of their intellectual talents to work in Washington, DC, as recipients of the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association’s summer internship program.

NMSHSA Internship Class of 2017 with John Menditto and the Pathstone staff members.

The NMSHSA summer internship program provides paid internships each year for four college students who previously participated in the MSHS program. This is the sixth year that the summer internship program has been in place and 24 MSHS students have now had the opportunity to come to Washington, DC, to live and work. This summer, Priscilla (an aspiring lawyer) worked at the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization, and Cheyla worked at Farmworker Justice, where she worked on a variety of farmworker health projects. Armando worked at the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators and was involved on issues impacting the Hispanic community, such as healthcare and the environment. And Juan worked at the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute where he helped plan and execute a number of special events and projects.

Juan Rangel, a former ECMHSP student enrolled in college, is carrying a little boy from the Fields of Dream Head Start Center.

This past Friday marked the last day of work for the 2017 NMSHSA Summer Internship Class. To mark the occasion, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project and our phenomenal delegate agency partner, PathStone Corporation, hosted a homecoming for Priscilla, Cheyla, Armando, and Juan in Adams County, Pennsylvania, where PathStone operates a MSHS center serving hardworking farmworker families.

The NMSHSA Interns were able to learn about the apple harvest in Adams County, PA, during their tour of Rice Fruit Company’s processing plant.

Our day began with a tour of the Adams County MSHS Center, Field of Dreams. There, the summer interns had an opportunity to play with the young children, which led them all to recall their own experience as MSHS students. From there, PathStone employees Carla Herrera, Family Services Coordinator, and Iris Perez, Center Administrator, brought us to Rice Fruit Company’s fruit processing facility, which was just down the road from the center. Leighton Rice and Policy Council member, Fernando Estrada, provided us a thorough education on the harvesting and production of apples and peaches in Adams County. We were particularly inspired by the farmworker moms packing apples, a number of whom came off the production line to thank East Coast Migrant Head Start Project and PathStone for the services we have provided, including two moms whose oldest children were now in college.

Priscilla Garza shares her story at the Field of Dreams center, including her experiences in DC for the summer.

Priscilla, Cheyla, Armando, and Juan’s homecoming was made complete back at Field of Dreams, where PathStone hosted a lunch in their honor. At the outset of the day on the way to PathStone, each of summer interns was asked about their best experience this summer. For some, it involved a work accomplishment; for others it was a particular cultural event. By the end of the day, though, the 2017 NMSHSA Summer Internship Class was unanimous in their assessment: the 2017 Homecoming Visit to the Field of Dreams MSHS Center was the best experience of a summer filled with amazing experiences.