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.

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

ECMHSP on the West Coast for NMSHSA Conference ‘17

The National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its Annual National Conference in Costa Mesa, CA, from March 5 through March 9. A number of our dedicated employees travelled to the conference to learn about the changes to the Head Start Performance Standards, which were rolled out last summer. It was a great opportunity to hear about implementation strategies and the importance of being outcomes-driven in our execution.

Parents from Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs nationwide, including ECMHSP, gathered to learn about their critical role in our programs.

Joining ECMHSP staff at the conference, most for the first time, were the ECMHSP Policy Council Executive Committee members: Cristina Hernandez, President; Silvia Rodarte, Vice-President; Meiby Mora, Treasurer; Leticia Baez, Secretary; and Ramona C. De Loera, Parliamentarian. These farmworker parents were able to attend the workshops on topics ranging from indigenous cultures in Mexico to immigration rights and parent involvement. During the Parent Affiliate meeting, Meiby was elected as Alternate and will represent the group as a member of the NMSHSA Board of Directors. Furthermore, Meiby was elected to fill one of the three Member-at-Large positions on the NSMSHA Board of Directors’ Executive Committee. We are very proud to see Meiby’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 elected onto the NMSHSA Board of Directors are John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, Patti Kingery, ECMHSP Director of Program Operations-East, and myself. The 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.

Staff and Policy Council members representing ECMHSP at the NMSHSA Conference in California.

Each year, ECMHSP staff are invited to present on best practices and cutting-edge techniques that allow us to provide services of the highest quality. For example, this year, I presented a session entitled, “Head Start Champions: Advocacy for the MSHS Community,” with the assistance of Cristina, the ECMHSP Policy Council President. In the session, Head Start service providers from varying backgrounds and positions learned the basics of advocating for our community and effective strategies. Now more than ever, we need advocates that will help us elevate the successes of our migrant and seasonal Head Start programs.

ECMHSP CEO Dr. Villa (right) discusses national issues affecting ECMHSP programs with COO Javier Gonzalez.

Conference participants were able to listen from the Office of Head Start, with informative presentations from Sandra Carton, Regional Program Manager for Migrant and Seasonal Programs (Region XII) and other staff from the Office of Head Start. Welcomed by John Menditto at the second day plenary, the conference attendees were inspired by the presentation of Dr. Ramon Resa, the author of Out of the Fields: My Journey from Farmworker Boy to Pediatrician. For the final plenary, I had the pleasure of welcoming the conference attendees before the keynote speaker, Kevin Carnes of Lakeshores Learning Materials, was introduced.

At the conference, ECMSHP brought important and much-needed voices to the West Coast. We look forward to more opportunities to represent our community!

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 Steps on to the Red Carpet

ef4f9c2dd15779f8e4e0f59bcbc280f6On Friday evening, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project was honored to participate in the Immigration Film Festival of Greater Washington, a three-day festival featuring more than twenty films highlighting both the plight and the contributions of recent immigrants to the United States. The festival aims to put faces on immigrants and tell the stories of global immigration through film, the most popular of media.

Last June, we wrote a blog post to celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month in which we debut the short documentary, “Para Los Niños” (For the Children). Filmmakers William Johnston-Carter and Danielle Bryant, of Impact America – Alabama, had submitted this short film to the Immigration Film Festival and it was selected as one of the short films to be presented at this year’s festival.  The film, “Para Los Niños” features Brigido and Laura, farmworker parents who migrate each year for the tomato harvest and whose children attend ECMHSP Head Start centers in Chandler Mountain, Alabama, and Fort Meade, Florida. You can view the short film here.

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ECMHSP centers serve the children of farmworkers by providing them with high-quality Head Start services while their parents harvest fruits and vegetables. Photo Credit: William Johnston-Carter

Para Los Niños” was presented along with the full-feature film, “Under the Same Moon.” The film presents a heartwarming family story while also offering subtle commentary on the much-debated issue of illegal immigration. For those who have seen Under the Same Moon, you know there is scene in the movie where farmworkers are harvesting greenhouse tomatoes. It was interesting to reflect at how slow the fictional farmworkers are harvesting tomatoes in the greenhouse in comparison to how fast Brigido and Laura work in the fields of North Alabama.

Following the film presentations, ECMHSP was invited to participate in a panel discussion of the development of “Para Los Niños.” Also participating on the panel was Cecilia Rojas, a Director at Community Ministries of Rockville, a non-profit that serves the most vulnerable residents of Montgomery County, Maryland, and three recent immigrants to the United States from Honduras who had fled the terrible violence in their home country and who have received support from Community Ministries.

ECMHSP is honored to have the opportunity to discuss on the lives of the farmworker families we serve.  Opportunities like this – where we are able raise awareness of the contributions of farmworkers – are important opportunities to take.

Summer Interns of ’16 Take a Walk Down Memory Lane

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The NMSHSA Internship Class of 2016 take a lunch break during their visit to Virginia’s Eastern Shore and its farmworker families.

“Going through the center and seeing those little kids I saw my brother, I saw my two sisters, I saw myself – all present in the form of these young souls.”

– Misael Rangel

On Friday, July 22, our Head Start Center in Parksley, Virginia, hosted a visit by the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association’s Summer Internship Class of 2016.  The visit was the culmination of a seven-week paid summer internship in Washington, DC, for Adilenne (Adi) Villanueva from Inspire Development Center, currently attending Washington State University; Luis Aguilar from Redlands Christian Migrant Association, currently attending the University of South Florida; Griselda Tule-Aguirre from Telamon Corporation, recently graduated from Michigan State University; and Misael Rangel from our very own East Coast Migrant Head Start Project program, currently attending the University of Central Florida.

Adi, Luis, Griselda and Misael had been selected for their summer internships based upon their exceptional accomplishments at their respective colleges and based upon the fact that each had attended a Migrant Head Start program as a young child. The three-hour trip to the Virginia Eastern Shore was a chance for them to re-live for a day their experiences in the Head Start program.

We were greeted upon our arrival by Lynn Bowen, the Head Start Administrator for the Virginia Eastern Region, and Rhonda Strand, the Early Childhood Education and Disabilities Specialist for the region. Lynn and Rhonda shared information on the services delivered to farmworker families on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, before LaShundra Weeks, our Parksley Center Director, led us on a tour of the Parksley classrooms.

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Griselda, NMSHSA Intern from Michigan, is holding one of the children enrolled in the ECMHSP Migrant Head Start Center.

Our first stop was in the infant and toddler classroom. Often, infants and toddlers are reluctant to warmly welcome new faces in their classroom, but our youngest children at the Parksley Center knew they were among special friends on Friday.  Adi, Luis, Griselda and Misael were greeted with nothing but smiles and hugs.

From the infant and toddler classroom we transitioned to the young toddler classroom where a lunch of grilled cheese (whole wheat bread!), tomato soup, and fresh blueberries was being served. I was pleased to see my young friend, Jovanni, enjoying his lunch.  Jovanni’s mother, Meiby, is on the Virginia Eastern Shore from Immokalee, Florida, (via St. Helena Island, South Carolina) for the tomato harvest.  Meiby recently had her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals application approved through the help and support of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project and it was so nice to her son’s smiling face.

We completed our center tour by hanging out with the preschool children and their teachers.   There, the preschool children showed off their counting abilities to the summer interns, as well as their mastery of animal sounds and their mastery of the sound of laughter.  The classroom filled up with children’s laughter.

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Misael, a former ECMHSP child, takes a look back at where he came from as he plans his future career.

Following the center visit, Family Community Partnership Specialist, Lisa Fernandez, brought the summer interns to two different farmworker labor camps. This was a more sobering experience for the summer interns.  We had the opportunity to see the extremely difficult living conditions the families will experience during their four-month stay on the Virginia Eastern Shore.

“As we walked through the camps where these families lived, I remembered my own little trailer,” Misael Rangel observed. “It was like looking at a video of my own life years ago.  It’s difficult for our families to overcome these obstacles and I thank God for the people that continue to protect and nurture my little brothers and sisters.

There are lots of wonderful people to thank for protecting and nurturing Misael’s “little brothers and sisters” at the Parksley center.  In fact, they are too many to mention, but here they are anyway:  Genee Drummond, Candice Logan, Jose Ramos-Enriquez, Patricia Auguilar-Rios, Jasmine Francis, Jennifer Holderfield, Erica Larreinaga-Padilla, Esther Martinez Enriquez, Paloma Vazquez Quintero, Mildre Velasquez Bartolon, Flor de la Cruz Mendoza, Meliza, Ledesma, Vernice Pantaleon, Cymekia Chandler, Tayshia Daugherty, Susie Dickerson, Jeremiah Dorsey, Chelsea Rew, Shawsan Bailey, Genima Collins, Martha Collins, Arnette Gaskins, Mike Balance, Jennifer Santiago, Kayona Hernandez, Hector Velez, Brittany Pettit, Nichole Satchel, Patricia Bibbins, Barnette Holden, Linda Ames, Latoya Coston, and Celestine (a.k.a. Miss Tine) Hargis.

Thank you, all!

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John Menditto visits with his friend Jovanni, the child of a farmworker family he helped through ECMHSP’s immigration services.

NMSHSA’s 8th Public Policy Forum

Last week, the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its 8th annual Public Policy Forum in Washington, DC on June 6.  ECMHSP staff and parents from the Policy Council advocated for the needs of the farmworker families served by our centers along the East Coast throughout the forum and on Capitol Hill.

On June 4, prior to the forum, parents from Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs from across the country received training on how to participate in Capitol Hill visits with their congressional representatives.  They also participated in a workshop on how to share with policy leaders their personal experiences and the issues that matter to their communities.  During the afternoon, the parents received training on the DACA program from Farmworker Justice, at which they learned about deferred action, eligibility for the program, how to find immigration resources in their community, and how to avoid fraudulent immigration practices.

President of the NMSHSA Parent Affiliates and parents from the American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Program share ideas on a panel discussion.

President of the NMSHSA Parent Affiliates and parents from the American Indian and Alaska Native Head Start Program share ideas on a panel discussion.

The NMSHSA Public Policy Forum was a historic event. For the first time, NMSHSA collaborated with the National Indian Head Start Association to bring together both communities to discuss the state of affairs in their communities and the policies needed to address their needs.  Parents from the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs were able to learn from and share ideas with parents from the American Indian and Alaskan Native Head Start program through panel discussion and hallway conversations.

The highlight of the forum took place on June 7, when staff and parents from both Head Start programs visited the Congressional delegations on Capitol Hill to educate them on the importance of Head Start services for our communities.  In total, ECMHSP completed 14 visits to Congressional offices, including a meeting with Congressman Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania’s Third Congressional District.  During the visit, Leonor Saldaña, ECMHSP Policy Council member from Erie, Pennsylvania, shared her personal story with Representative Kelly and explained how her family has benefitted

ECMHSP parents and staff visit members of Congress to educate them on the benefits of Head Start programs for the farmworker community.

ECMHSP parents and staff visit members of Congress to educate them on the benefits of Head Start programs for the farmworker community.

from the Head Start services provided by the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, an ECMHSP delegate agency.  Representative Kelly, as well as Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey accepted invitations to visit our centers in their districts this summer.

The NMSHSA Public Policy Forum concluded with a Hill reception that evening, at which parents and staff from the Head Start programs had an opportunity to interact with staff from the Congressional offices.

ECMSHP staff and parents are proud to have led in the advocacy efforts for our Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program in the nation’s capital. We will continue to voice the needs and the contributions of our farmworker communities from Lake Okeechobee,

Florida, to Lake Erie, Pennsylvania. To learn more about our programs, please visit our website.