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.

ECMHSP Welcomes Senators Kaine and Warner’s Staff to the Virginia Eastern Shore

ECMSHP welcomes visitors from Sen. Kaine and Sen. Warner

ECMSHP welcomes visitors from Sen. Kaine and Sen. Warner’s DC office in our Parksley Head Start center.

On Thursday, August 25, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project welcomed Karishma Merchant (from Senator Tim Kaine’s Washington, DC office) and Lauren Marshall (from Senator Mark Warner’s Washington DC office) to our Head Start centers on the Virginia Eastern Shore.  Karishma and Lauren had reached out to ECMHSP so that they could learn more about the important work that we do.  We were only too happy to provide them with an education on the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program.

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Farmworkers harvest cherry tomatoes in 90-degree weather on the Virginia Eastern Shore.

Karishma and Lauren started their visit at the Eastern Shore Community College, a local college that is a strong community partner to many. There, the tomato producer, Lipman Produce, was holding a worker safety training.  Lipman had bussed in more than 100 farmworkers to take part in this pesticide and food safety training, including parents whose children attend our centers.  Karishma and Lauren had an opportunity to speak with Lipman Produce about their business and their perspective on labor and immigration issues.  We then moved on to see a crew of farmworkers from Maryland picking cherry tomatoes under the hot sun.  It was more than 90 degrees outside and Karishma and Lauren had a great appreciation for the hard labor involved in picking these small tomatoes.

The next stop was one of the camps that farmworkers call home for the duration of their stay on the Eastern Shore. Our Congressional friends were shocked by how difficult the living conditions were for families.  We had to explain, though, that the conditions Karishma and Lauren were seeing were better than many that farmworkers must endure when they travel to harvest our country’s fresh produce.

Migrant farmworkers earn low wages for their back-breaking work and often live in housing provided by the grower.

Migrant farmworkers earn low wages for their back-breaking work and often live in housing provided by the grower.

ECMHSP provides much needed Head Start services to the children of farmworkers at our centers.

ECMHSP provides much needed Head Start services to the children of farmworkers at our centers.

Our last stop was our wonderful Migrant and Seasonal Head Start center in Parksley. There, Karishma and Lauren were able to visit with some young infants and some sleepy preschoolers. Karishma and Lauren both shared there deep appreciation of our work and that they’d love to learn more from us, particularly in reference to immigration policy. What a tremendous opportunity for us to share accurate information from the real world and to advocate for our families in this area!