Guest Post: Migrant Clinicians Network Receives Aetna Grant for Health Education for Farmworker Parents

Migrant Clinicians Network has partnered with ECMHSP to provide health education through a grant from the Aetna Foundation’s Cultivating Healthy Communities program. This is their post about the grant.

Migrant Clinicians Network has been selected as a grantee in the Aetna Foundation’s Cultivating Healthy Communities program and was awarded a $100,000 community grant to implement a new program entitled, It Takes a Community: Protecting Farmworker Children from Environmental Contaminants.

Each year, thousands of farmworkers move between Florida and Maryland for seasonal work. Many of them migrate with their families. Migrant farmworker children are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards including pesticides, lead, and contaminated water. It Takes Community will bring innovative, culturally appropriate health education to farmworker parents who utilize East Coast Migrant Head Start Project (ECMHSP) while migrating for work along the East Coast. By utilizing a “train the trainer” model, It Takes a Community will give hundreds of farmworker parents education and tools to better protect their children from the many environmental hazards that they face.

The Cultivating Healthy Communities program awarded over $2 million in grants to 25 nonprofit organizations in 14 states to advance the Aetna Foundation’s mission to improve health at the local level. Grantees are working on projects that will address social determinants of health such as improving access to healthy foods, promoting biking and physical activity and reducing exposure to air and water contaminants. The grantees were chosen based on the strength of their strategies to improve the health of their communities in at least one of five domains: healthy behaviors, community safety, built environment, social/economic factors and environmental exposures.

Migrant Clinicians Network’s Amy Liebman, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health and project lead, is honored to be chosen by the Aetna Foundation, and notes that It Takes a Community is in step with MCN’s decades of work to improve health for farmworker families.

Child reading with her father. Photo Credit: Migrant Clinicians Network

“The families of those who put food on our tables are often the most exposed to harmful chemicals,” Liebman emphasized. “MCN is excited to work hand-in-hand with our local Migrant Head Start centers to carry out this important program.” On the heels of national crises regarding lead in tap water, and amid frequent reports of pesticide poisonings, drifts, and misuse, It Takes a Community comes at a critical time to address serious threats to farmworker children’s health through a program that empowers farmworker families through community-based education.

“The Aetna Foundation is committed to addressing the social determinants of health in order to reduce health disparities,” said Dr. Garth Graham, president of the Aetna Foundation. “By identifying community-specific challenges, and unique ways to combat them, this year’s grantees are a shining example of organizations who strive to make a measurable and positive local health impact. We are honored to contribute towards the great work they are doing in pursuit of health equity.”

This funding addresses the need to improve opportunities for all Americans—regardless of income, education or ethnic background—to take an active role in living healthier lives. For more information on the Cultivating Healthy Communities program visit, visit www.aetnafoundation.org.

[Written by . Published in Migrant Clinicians Network blog on October 31, 2017.]

Guest Post: Reaching the Top of the Hill

Armando Cendejas is part of the 2017 NMSHSA Summer Internship Program and as a child was enrolled in the ECMHSP Fort Pierce Head Start center in Florida. This is his story.

Armando Cendejas, one of the students selected for the NMSHSA Internship Class of 2017, shares his story at the Closing Celebration in Washington, DC.

My name is Armando Cendejas. I am a 20-year-old sophomore attending Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida, pursuing a degree in Physical Therapy. My younger brother, Alejandro, and I were enrolled in East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s Head Start program as young children. My parents were migrant farmworkers and two of the hardest working individuals I know. They have both shaped me to become the person I am today — a person I am proud to be.

While enrolled in ECMHSP, I was just not taught; I was cared for, I was looked after, I was appreciated. I remember one morning in particular, I began to cry as I watched my mom drive away. I stood at the gate yelling for her until my teacher came to me. She didn’t move me; instead, she comforted me by assuring me that my mom would be back for me at the end of her work day.

It’s unbelievable to think back to my transformation. I went from being the shy, chubby kid who would stand at the gate and cry as he watched his mom get in her car, to now hugging my mom goodbye, and having her be the one to cry as I got on a plane to Washington, DC, for the summer.

My time in Washington, DC, made me realize the potential others have seen in me for years and gave me the opportunity to explore possible careers. I was one of four former Head Start students selected to participate in an internship by the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association for two months. I was placed with the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators and was involved in drafting resolutions for their Executive Committee Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts. For my hard work and commitment, I am proud to say I was invited to attend this meeting. While in Washington, DC, I also attended US Senate briefings at the Capitol, where I sat and listened to legislators debate topics that were related to my resolutions.

Before the internship, I was set on a career in physical therapy.  The work I have done while in Washington, DC, however, has changed my perspective on my future. I met with a few professors from the Georgetown University Law Center, and after listening to my story and of my work, they strongly urged that I consider an education in law. I now want to apply to law school, specifically Georgetown Law, and study law in health.

At times, it feels like something out of a movie. In movies like Field of Dreams, Remember the Titans, and Forrest Gump, things work out for the protagonist even after all the hardships they had to face for long periods of time. I feel like my life is like that.

Every time I think about the opportunity I was given here, I feel blessed. East Coast Migrant Head Start Project changed my life. The tools and skills that were instilled in me while in the Head Start program have aided me in reaching many goals in life, such as being the first in my family to graduate high school and attend college.

To get to college, it meant I needed to perform at a high level and excel in high school. ECMHSP staff were there to assist me if ever I had issues with studying, or crafting essays, or working on projects. They didn’t do the work for me — they provided tips, support, and even constructive criticism.

Armando on his first day in Washington, DC, along with the other members of the NMSHSA Internship Class of 2017.

When I go back to my East Coast Migrant Head Start center in Fort Pierce, I receive the same attention. Many of the teachers, nurses, and staff that were there and cared for me 15 years ago continue to be there and still care. In fact, I regularly would receive phone calls from them asking how I’m doing during my time in Washington D.C. for me to this day. I never take that aspect of ECMHSP for granted. The program continues to open doors for me by nominating me and supporting me during this amazing internship.

As I look forward towards my future, I know ECMHSP will be there to support me. I return to the center often either to volunteer, or to visit my old teachers. And, of course, to visit my mom in her office. My mom started as a field worker, packing citrus, working alongside other women like her. However, my mom had a thirst for knowledge. She taught herself English and earned herself a job inside the Head Start Center. ECMSHP helped her realize her dreams, and now they are helping me realize mine. I’m proud to have been a part of this program.

My mother would always tell me, “Échale ganas.” Only until now do I realize that she saw a bright future for me. It has been tough to get here, but with hard work and persistence, I’ll end up at the top of the hill, where I know I can make a difference in the world.

I believe that I have made the people at my Head Start center proud.

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.]

U.S. Representative Mike Kelly Visits ECMHSP Center in Pennsylvania

Sister Diane Rabe is the Director of Child Development Programs at the Saint Benedict Center. This is her story about the visit of U.S. Representative Mike Kelly.

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” — John Maxwell

On Wednesday, October 19, U.S. Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) visited the Saint Benedict Center, the ECMHSP delegate agency in Erie, Pennsylvania. Leonor Saldaña, the center’s Policy Committee President and member of the ECMHSP Policy Council, visited Representative Kelly’s Capitol Hill office during the National and Seasonal Migrant Head Start Association’s Public Policy Conference last June and invited him to visit the center in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Representative Mike Kelly sits down with children in ECMHSP's Head Start program to read a book.

Representative Mike Kelly sits down with children in ECMHSP’s Head Start program to read a book.

Representative Kelly was greeted at the door and, while touring the center, was given a detailed picture of the ECMHSP’s Head Start program. During his tour, Representative Kelly stopped to read a story to some of the preschoolers,Ten Bright Oranges/Diez Naranjas Brillantes: A Migrant Counting Book,” from the Our Children, Our Families Curriculum, developed by the East Coast Migrant Head Start Project training staff. But, “Mike”, as he directed the children to call him, did much more than read a story. He entered into the life of a migrant worker and made the story real for the children, talking about the fruits and vegetables in the story — “how they were grown, how they were harvested and how they were prepared and served for us to eat?” It was so much more than a counting experience for the children.   He engaged them at their knowledge level and brought in their family experiences, asking who had ever smelled, touched and helped to prepare the fruit/vegetable in the book. He talked about colors, had them counting, and engaged them in thinking by recalling information, making predictions about what produce and number was next. He asked for their opinions: “how many liked apples?” and “what kind?” as he named a variety of kinds. “How many have ever eaten potatoes and how were they prepared: french fries, mashed, boiled?” “Which way do you like them?” “Mike” even told them that he grew up in farm country and talked about his ancestors being potato farmers. It was a magical experience for the children, as 27 of them sat perfectly still for the entire story, counting, exchanging ideas and opinions — and learning along the way!

Representative Kelly addresses farmworker parents about their pressing issues, such as the center's transportation, program funding, and immigration.

Representative Kelly addresses farmworker parents about their pressing issues: the center’s transportation, program funding, and immigration.

Meanwhile, in our meeting area, the parents had prepared a fiesta to share with Representative Kelly as they discussed the life and needs of the migrant and seasonal farmworkers in the Erie area. Leonor, the elected President of our parent committee, presented him with a basket of area produce and wine. Representative Kelly was so very personable to each parent, greeting them and inquiring about their families and the specific work they are doing at this time in the harvest. He asked the group about the availability of services and programs focusing on gaining skilled jobs for the “off season” and adult education. He was interested in understanding how the language barrier affected the families in our area.

He chose not to sit at the head table; instead he went to eat with the Aranda, Garnica and Gordillo families at their table. He entered into a deeper conversation with them about their children, plans for when the season ends, their work in the grape crop and, that, for some, it is a year round crop. In the discussion, he asked their opinion about the greatest need for the program. They immediately answered: a new bus! The center’s bus had just broken down that morning. In response, Representative Kelly stood up and asked across the room, “How can we get a bus for you?” He proposed several ideas and said that we would continue to work on the problem in the near future. The parents were amazed that he shared their concern and had some immediate action proposed.

They had two other main areas of concern that surfaced: Head Start program funding and their citizenship. He left his business card for us to contact him with immigration paperwork issues, promising to handle them personally.

Representative Kelly (center) poses next to Leonor Saldaña (left of the Rep. Kelly), president of the Policy Committee, and the center's farmworker parents during his visit.

Representative Kelly (center) poses next to Leonor Saldaña (left of the Rep. Kelly), president of the Policy Committee, and the center’s farmworker parents during his visit.

ECMHSP is appreciative of the time and attention Congressman Kelly demonstrated our farmworker families during his visit to our center. He is definitely,a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

Guest Post: Education Starts with the Very Young

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.

For me, my early educational journey was a messy business with many stops and starts as we traveled the migrant and seasonal work route around the country. We could not start the school until well into the academic year and had to leave early to start again working the fields from state to state.

David-Conde-CD

As a child, Dr. David Conde struggled to succeed in the classroom due to his family’s migrant lifestyle; he brings these personal experiences into the ECMSHP Board of Directors meetings.

So, I did not have to imagine what that did to my academic progress and the future probability of not finishing K-12 and becoming another statistic. To this day, I cherish the memory of being able to stay in one place for the time it took to start and finish junior high school.

Fortunately, I was a lucky migrant child of a mother who had an 8th grade education and taught me to read and write in the evenings after work. I remember skipping block lettering and learning to write in cursive in English and Spanish because that was the way she taught me.

The most interesting and at times, glamorous part of my student journey was at the universities that I attended and the class discussions about meaningful subjects for a scholar. It was also in higher education that I learned that by the age of six a child has acquired most of the learning components and concepts that are the basis for the intellectual awareness that will follow the rest of the life experience.

It dawned on me that K-12 and the college experience was really an elaboration of the basic structures acquired during the pre-K years. I realized that the time spent with my mom in the early years as an infant and toddler learning about letters and stories were fundamental to what I became as a learned person.

Today we have early childhood institutions that are vital learning centers to the very young. The most important for children of families with scarce means is Head Start, a federal program chartered to address the important early childhood years.

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Children of farmworker families are able to play and learn in ECMHSP’s Head Start centers located along the East Coast, from Lake Okeechobee, Florida, to Lake Erie, Pennsylvania.

Dearest to my heart in this area is East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, a program that serves over three thousand children of migrant worker families along an agricultural route from Florida to Pennsylvania as they harvest the food we put on the table every day. The initiative takes children from six weeks to five years of age and puts them on an intellectual journey in two languages that prepares them for the public schools at the Kindergarten level.

Dr Conde - PC Oct 6

As President, Dr. David Conde leads the ECMSHP Board of Directors in making important decisions on how to best serve the migrant farmworker community.

My colleagues and myself on the board of directors look forward to every report on the progress of the effort and try to find additional ways to enrich the experience of everyone from the staff to the children and parents so that the East Coast award-winning effort makes the biggest difference in the lives of is an important part of the next generation of Americans. Advocacy for these economically challenged and mostly Latino families is an imperative as it is the genius in these children that will find a place in the future leadership of a country that is changing as we speak.

When we visit our schools and centers, we see those eager faces that absorb so much of the Head Start experience. Parents help guide that experience as they take time out of work to partner with staff and other policy makers to make the effort work.

Spending time with these parents reminds me of my mother and the care she took of me in the fields and in our temporary homes. In this case however, there is help in learning the ABCs.

[Published in La Voz Bilingüe on August 10, 2016.]

Guest Post: Success Doesn’t Fall from the Sky

Misael Rangel is part of the 2016 NMSHSA Summer Internship Program and as a child was enrolled in the ECMHSP Fort Pierce Head Start center in Florida. This is his story.

My name is Misael Rangel. I was born and raised in Fort Pierce, Florida. I am the son of Teresa and Ignacio Rangel, who immigrated to this country in search of a better life by escaping the poverty of their hometown in Guanajuato, Mexico. When they arrived in Florida, my father began work picking oranges. After I was born, we began to migrate to North Carolina, where my father also picked tobacco.

While in Fort Pierce, I was enrolled in East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Program. My time there was brief, yet it made a huge impact: my siblings and I were able to learn English. In my earliest memories, I remember understanding and speaking both English and Spanish. In a home where Spanish was the only language spoken, the only way I would have learned English so well and so early was through this program. Knowing English helped me in elementary school. Going into kindergarten and grade school knowing English provided a smooth transition; there was no language barrier to prevent communication. I was on the same playing field as my classmates and I even excelled, getting placed into gifted classes early in grade school. It also helped my family because so many times, we found ourselves as little translators for my parents. My parents tell me they too were learning English through us, their kids.

Misael and his brother Juan joined the ECMHSP Policy Council and staff at this year's Spring meeting.

Misael and his brother Juan joined the ECMHSP Policy Council and staff at this year’s Spring meeting.

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project also brought education into perspective for my parents, as it has for countless of other parents of this program. Growing up, my parents emphasized the importance of an education to us. They understood the power an education could have in changing our lives, and I knew they wanted a better life for me and my siblings — not a life littered with the type of suffering they had gone through. My dad never finished the equivalent of middle school in Mexico; and my mother did go on to finish the equivalent of high school, but that is where her education ended. In a new country with no prior knowledge of the U.S. education system, and still learning English themselves, school was not a place where my parents could provide us with guidance. You see, there was a road my siblings and I had to pave for ourselves. We were all learning together as we went through school. Thanks to the ECMHSP program, a fire was lit inside of me in at an early age — the fire that created a thirst for a better life and has become my determination to pursue my higher education.

Once my older sister started elementary school, we settled in Fort Pierce, where my father continued to work in tomato fields, later in a nursery, and eventually in landscaping. Growing up in the farmworker community, I learned the ever-important value of hard work. As my dad would tell me, “The food on your table doesn’t just fall from the sky.” With this always on my mind, I have never taken my studies lightly. I have seen day in and day out the hard labor that my parents have worked in and I know there is something I can do to help them. Growing up, it was hard to stay focused; college was not a path that my family had taken before. At times, it seemed like such a distant, unattainable goal. Nevertheless, I pressed on. I am proud to say I graduated high school in the top ten of my class, with my diploma from the International Baccalaureate program.

Misael graduated in the top 10 percent of his high school class and earned an IB diploma.

Misael graduated in the top 10 percent of his high school class and earned an IB diploma.

Today I attend the University of Central Florida where I am pursuing my degree in Civil Engineering, with a minor in Information Technology. One day, as a civil engineer, I will do what I can to make this world a safe place; for me that means being involved in the construction of our nation’s infrastructure, which needs to be renewed. There are new implications to take into consideration especially with the impact of humanity as a whole on the environment. With that in mind, there is no telling where my work will take me. I hope I can one day serve as an example to kids that went through what I did, that perhaps do not see education as an avenue for them, and let them know that it really is.

Misael was selected from a national pool of college students who were formerly enrolled in Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Programs.

Misael was selected from a national pool of college students who were formerly enrolled in Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Programs.

Earlier this year, I was selected from applicants across the country to be in the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association’s summer internship program. This is an opportunity the Association makes possible for college students that have gone through the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program, and it is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for kids like us. This internship makes it possible for us to work at a site fitting to our studies. This summer I am interning at the Hispanic Communication Network, where I am learning different aspects of business and the industry side of IT! The opportunities and networks that I can make here are endless, and this is really a life-changing opportunity.

If there is one thing that I hope anyone can take away from my story it is to not be afraid. I want our farmworker youth to not be afraid to pursue their dreams. But in order for them to achieve their dreams, they need the push. Sometimes, the push may need to come from an outside helping hand. For me, that hand continues to be ECMHSP. I also want our country to support farmworker families like mine, because at the end of the day, it is their hard work that puts that food on the table. Like my dad says, “It doesn’t just fall from the sky.”

Guest Post: More than a Center, it’s a Refuge

Ted Hoffman is the architect who has been building Head Start centers with ECMHSP for the past 12 years. These are his thoughts.

I was asked to contribute some words and photos about the new Jennings Head Start Center I am working with ECMHSP to build in northern Florida. The work is shaping up nicely, but until it’s done, the photos can be rather uninteresting.  Instead, I thought I would try to describe more generally my goals and thoughts as I design new centers for ECMHSP.

The new Head Start center currently under construction in Jennings, Florida.

The new Head Start center currently under construction in Jennings, Florida.

Jennings will be the seventh center for me, dating back 12 years or so. Each new site presents its own unique challenges and problems, but the overriding philosophy for me is to make each place special, interesting, welcoming, and more than just a place to drop the kids off each morning.  To do that is hard, and it requires the understanding and sensitivity of all the players to make the hard work relevant and worthwhile.

We all know that for the families, the Head Start centers represent more than a safe place for their kids. It represents, I think, a refuge, a place just for them, comforting and helpful, full of resources they don’t find anywhere else. That feeling comes mostly from the staff, but I try to heighten that representation by making places that are: 1) spatially exciting and interesting; and 2) built strong in character and permanent in construction. Unfortunately, permanence is not something found in the lives of migrant farmworkers anywhere.  I refuse to buy into the idea that the working poor somehow don’t deserve good design, whether it’s in their housing or where they send their kids to school.  The centers I design cost the same –and in some cases actually less– than the Head Start centers that look either like big tract houses or shoeboxes scattered around a chain link playground.

ECMHSP Maintenance Staff with architect Ted Hoffman: (from left to right) Tony Ponds, Marzell Hall, Ted Hoffman, Eugene Mitchell, Vincent Barksdale, Greg Stone, Mike Wilcox

ECMHSP Maintenance Staff with architect Ted Hoffman: (from left to right) Tony Ponds, Marzell Hall, Ted Hoffman, Eugene Mitchell, Vincent Barksdale, Greg Stone, Mike Wilcox

I can’t talk about building for ECMHSP without mentioning my ECMHSP colleague and partner in all of this work: Mike Wilcox, the Facilities Manager. These centers would literally not look like they do without him.  You would never know it from watching or listening to him growl and stomp around the site yelling at everyone (including me!), but he gets things done and the time and commitment on his part is nothing short of amazing.  Another thing that happened at Jennings recently was that Mike had almost all of the maintenance people from every area come to Jennings and work for two weeks building and setting up the classrooms in order to speed up the construction process.  These men work all year keeping the facilities operating and it was special to see them working together on one of my creations.

So the next time you go to one of the places Mike and I have made, look around and see if you can sense a place made with heart, soul, and a great respect for the families and children who use them. I want my work to be a physical extension of the very special things that the Head Start program, and East Coast Migrant Head Start Project specifically, makes happen.

These Head Start centers have gotten a good deal of recognition and awards from the architectural community, but the best recognition happened to me one day as I went into a preschool room full of children with a center director. One of the children asked, like they almost always do, “What’s your name?”  I said, “Ted,” and the center director said, “This is the man who designed this place.”  The little boy looked around, looked me in the eye, and said, “I love it here.”

Ted Hoffman has been designing centers for farmworker children with ECMHSP for 12 years.

Ted Hoffman has been designing centers for farmworker children with ECMHSP for 12 years.

You can see pictures of all of the Head Start centers I have helped build on my website: tedhoffman.us.