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
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.