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.

Philadelphia Inspires the New ECMHSP Policy Council

ECMHSP welcomed a new Policy Council in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of America. During the week of August 13 through August 18, parents representing all of the ECMHSP Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs gathered for the annual orientation, the election of the new Policy Council Executive Committee and the Policy Council meeting.

The week began with a meeting of the outgoing Policy Council Executive Committee on Sunday afternoon, at which the elected parent leaders reviewed the state of the Policy Council and the orientation plans for the week. ECMHSP is so proud of the leadership displayed by the Executive Committee throughout their year of service and thanks them for the active participation in ensuring ECMHSP Head Start services are of the highest quality.

ECMSHP Board Member Juvencio Rocha Peralta is learning about Policy Council Member Silvia Rodarte’s personal story.

On Monday morning, ECMHSP’s Chief Executive Officer Dr. Jose Villa welcomed the Policy Council to the orientation session and shared his passion for the organization and his personal commitment to the farmworker families we serve. New and returning Policy Council members were then given the opportunity to get to know each other through introductions and icebreaker activities. John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, provided the Policy Council members with an overview of the Head Start program, its history and explained the program’s funding.

The morning concluded with a guest speaker, Maria Adame. Maria was formerly a farmworker parent who received Head Start services through ECMHSP delegate agency, Pathstone Corporation, in Pennsylvania. During her time at ECMHSP, she actively participated in its governance as the elected Policy Council President and member of the ECMHSP Board of Directors. Maria shared with the group that as a result of her involvement with ECMHSP, she experienced tremendous personal growth and was able to find inspiration to pursue her dreams. She is currently enrolled in college and is now the Family Services Coordinator at Pathstone Corporation.

Former Policy Council Member Maria Adame shares her journey with Head Start parents.

The afternoon’s orientation session was led by the returning Policy Council members with the support of the Governance Department staff. They were able to share information about the role and responsibilities Policy Council members, often times including examples from their personal experience. The new members were able to comfortably ask questions from the fellow parents and receive relevant information by people that understood their daily challenges.

Tuesday was filled with presentations from ECMHSP staff that covered important topics, such as school readiness, quality assurance of our services, the selection criteria for qualifying families, and the policies and procedures for governance. These sessions provided he Policy Council members with detailed information needed to execute their responsibilities in a meaningful way.

The afternoon presented an exciting learning opportunity for the Policy Council members. Philadelphia has a number of important historical sites that mark the birth of the nation and remind us of the importance of active participation in the decision-making of our country’s policies. At their tour of Independence Hall, Head Start parents were able to learn about the start of the United States government and how many of the important decisions were made. Afterwards, they visited the Liberty Bell and learned about the American values of freedom, liberty and equality – all which are needed for a successful term on the Policy Council.

ECMHSP welcomes the new Policy Council, which poses with the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.

The following day, Policy Council members participated in roundtable discussions on the important work done at the Policy Council Standing Committees: Planning, Child Heath and Development, Governance, and Fiscal. The orientation information of these committees were provided by the ECMHSP management staff that provide support at the committee meetings. They allowed Head Start parents to have more face time with personnel and get their questions answered.

Policy Council members ran and voted for this years leaders of the Executive Committee.

In the afternoon, Policy Council members were able to put into practice many of the things they learned during their visits to Philadelphia’s historical sites. We were able to witness democracy in action as the Policy Council elected its new leaders into the Executive Committee from a record-breaking number of candidates.

This year’s Policy Council Executive Committee includes: Meiby Mora, representing Virginia region, as President; Ramona C. De Loera, representing Florida Western region, as Vice-President; Leticia Baez Mellado, representing delegate agency Pathstone Corporation, as Treasurer; Silvia Morales, representing Florida Eastern region, as Secretary; Fernando Estrada, representing delegate agency Pathstone Corporation, as Parliamentarian; Patricia Miranda, representing South Carolina region, as Direct Services Member at Large; and Maria T. Reyes, representing delegate agency Benedictine Sisters of Erie, as Delegate Agency Member at Large.

New Policy Council members were able to learn about their roles and responsibilities from the ECMHSP staff and returning Policy Council members.

Following an exciting election, Policy Council members were able to learn the important work the ECMHSP Fiscal Department does to ensure our Head Start fund policies and processes are in compliance with the Office of Head Start, and the important role parents play in the process. They were also informed on ways they can be involved in ECMHSP’s Human Resources processes and the support the organization provides to help farmworker parents achieve their dreams.

The week concluded with the new Policy Council putting into practice the lessons they learned at the orientation sessions. They actively participated in the committee meetings on Thursday, where recommendations for the Policy Council were shaped after much discussion and thoughtful consideration. The new Executive Committee then led a very successful Policy Council on Friday, at which they voted on the important recommendations received from the committees.

The 2017-18 ECMHSP Policy Council at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

ECMHSP would like to give a very special thank you to the Policy Council members that made the time to participate in the orientation week to learn about their important role in our governance. Their active participation and passion for high-quality services for their children were truly inspiring, especially in such an important city for democracy and governance. We wish them much success as they start their term!

Guest Post: David Conde Feels Strongly About the Future of Latinos in America

Dr. David Conde; Photo Credit: La Voz Bilingüe

David Conde is not a stranger to immigration, immigrant rights or immigrant needs. In fact, he grew up in a migrant home as part of a family that “traveled the country to put food on people’s tables,” as he tells it.

Boards of Directors

Professionally, he has both literally and figuratively continued to put food on people’s tables. Conde has spent most of his life fighting to strengthen and uphold immigrant rights. He is the President of the Board of Directors of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, the largest of its kind in the country. He is on the Board of Directors of the New America Schools and the New America College, both of which serve immigrant students in the Denver area, and he continues to work for the Chamber of the Americas, which specializes in trade and commerce in North, Central and South America.

With his hands in so many pots, it is easy to see why many look to Conde for guidance, especially in these turbulent times for immigrants. When asked if the current administration has made his job more difficult, Conde was candid.

“East Cost [Migrant Head Start Project] is especially experiencing major challenges as the migrant farm workers have to take special precautions as they navigate not only state jurisdictions, but also ICE pressures that limit their travel options,” he said.

La Voz – Commentary

Aside from his exploits in upper education and on many boards or directors, Conde has also contributed to La Voz for 19 years providing an educated look at immigration and many other topics in the United States through his social commentaries.

“Writing commentary over the decades has given me the opportunity to interpret major changes in the Latino human condition that began as an oppressed and marginalized community and now has achieved a space as an emerging power in American politics,” he said. “The agenda I convey to the readers is that with the assistance of Latino immigrants who helped to restore history, identity and language, the community is posed to become a pluralistic majority and faces the pressure to prepare America. Latinos Millennials have already begun that process by eliminating the dropout rate issue nationally and attending college at a higher rate than anyone else including Whites.”

Wave of the Future

It is the new generation of Latinos that Conde often references now as he sees a brighter future on the horizon, but he cautions that the progress made over the decades can be lost, if they forget who they are.

“The new generation of Latinos needs to be better understood by the rest of us as they truly represent a radical departure in lifestyle, motivation and leadership,” he said. “At the same time, they are not burdened by the trauma of oppression experienced by the older generations and feel free to create a multicultural community that will constitute the new majority. For them, the mistake to be avoided is to again forget who they are and where they came from.”

Media scrutiny

As both a contributor to and a consumer of mass media, Conde said he is not oblivious to the scrutiny the media have fallen under over the years.

“The relatively new press outlets such as cable, pod, blogs and social media have changed the way news is presented to the point that almost every slant real or imagined is included,” he said. “Much of this is also caused by a political division in the country resulting from demographic changes that will see the majority become one of the minorities.”

Immigration reform

Also not lost on Conde is immigration reform. A topic both major political parties in the U.S. campaign on, but neither actual does anything to address.

“Comprehensive immigration reform has become less of a priority because of the political climate,” Conde said. “Also, undocumented immigrants have already contributed to the creation of a new generation of American-born citizens that are reaching voting age at a rate over 900,000 a year. When you couple this with the loss of a million votes a year on the part of the majority, it is clear that with or without immigration reform the march toward a new order is well on its way.”

[Written by Joshua Pilkington. Published in La Voz Bilingüe on August 2, 2017.]

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 a Contributing Writer to La Voz Bilingüe. 

Celebrating the New Jennings Head Start Center

John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, with Lou Struble and Gaby Procacci of Procacci Brothers farms, which employs many of the farmworker families served by the center.

On July 14, ECMHSP celebrated the Jennings (Florida) Early Head Start center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The Jennings staff and the Early Head Start staff did an amazing job of hosting this special event. We had a number of important visitors attend the ceremony and tour the center, including Lamar Hill and his daughter Lisa, who made the land available to us for the center; staffers from Senator Bill Nelson’s office and Congressman Lawson’s office, who were invited by parent, Vianey Lopez; Gaby Procacci and Lou Struble from Procacci Brothers in Philadelphia, who employs farmworkers who are served at the center; and Alma Young and other individuals with connections of the migrant farmworker families in Lake Park, Georgia.

Javier Gonzalez, ECMHSP Chief Operations Officer, welcomes guests to the center.

Our celebration on Friday was the culmination of many years of hard work by many, many people.   And whenever we accomplish anything truly remarkable, the heavy lifting is done at the local level.   By our local staff, by the local community, and by our local farmworker parents.   And that is true here. Friday was a day to recognize and celebrate the hard work and sacrifice of the Jennings community that made our Head Start center possible.

The story of our Jennings Early Head Start Center begins 300 miles to our south — in Lakeland, Florida. It’s there that ECMHSP Florida staff members Angel Casiano, Dora Sanders, and Marilyn Torres work.

In July of 2014, when it was first announced that competitive proposals were being accepted for the expansion of Head Start services to farmworker families, Angel, Dora and Marilyn met to evaluate what locations to include in an expansion proposal.   I wasn’t present when they met, but I imagine there must’ve have been some nervousness in the room when they discussed whether to include Jennings in the Early Head Start expansion proposal.   They knew the need for our services was great, but they also knew the degree of difficulty of serving farmworker families here would be immense:

How would the center be built?

How would they transport the children?

How would they staff the center?

Fortunately for us, Angel, Dora and Marilyn did not shy away from enormity of this task. Instead, they rolled up their sleeves, wrote the community assessment that would the basis of the application, and put their faith in the fact that ECMHSP has a long-history of doing hard things.

So, how would the center be built? At ECMHSP, we believe our farmworker families deserve the very best centers and when we build, we are going to build beautiful.   Building beautiful requires two things – an architect with a vision for exquisite design and builders with the ability to turn that design into reality.

Ted Hoffman is an architect with a vision for beauty and all that you see here was designed by Ted – from the classroom space to the courtyard. We thank Ted for insisting that our children and families deserve the very best.

Lamar and Lisa Hill were recognized during the ceremony for providing the land the center was built on.

But Ted’s vision would be nothing but lines on paper, if he did not have a team of builders to support him. And fortunately for Ted, and fortunately for us, we had a phenomenal team of builders. Paul Tansill works for the modular building company that executed Ted’s vision. We are so appreciative of Paul’s work. The classrooms and the buildings are fantastic. Mike Wilcox led the ECMHSP facilities team during the build. That entailed countless days, weeks and months of personal sacrifice as Mike made Jennings his second home. Mike recently retired, which could have been a disaster for ECMHSP, but for the fact that Mike had mentored Greg Stone to step into his shoes. Greg has continued the phenomenal work that Mike was known for and ECMHSP has not missed a beat.

How would children be transported? School bus transportation requires an attention to detail and an attention to safety. For the past 15 years, East Coast has been blessed to have its school bus transportation services led by Charles Leach, a man whose dedication to safety has resulted in a remarkable record: during the last 15 years, ECMHSP has zero at-fault road accidents. But as good as Charles is, he can accomplish nothing without the work and dedication of dedicated transportation staff like Alex Retana and Christina Arnold in Jennings.

The new ECMHSP Jennings Early Head Start Center in Florida.

How would the center be staffed? The Jennings center opened for the season with 22 children on May 17 and enrollment quickly rose to 69 children as farmworkers arrived from points south to work in the tomato fields. Then, children and families moved north to Cedarville, New Jersey, and Leland, North Carolina, and enrollment reduced to 34. In a few weeks, farmworkers and their children will return from the north and our enrollment will rise again to 50 or so.   Can you imagine the degree of difficulty of staffing a center under such circumstances?   At times, I think of the Jennings center staff as being performers on a tightrope suspended 100 yards above the Jennings tomato fields.

Vianey Lopez, Head Start parent, cut the ribbon surrounded by the center staff and guests.

We are so fortunate that each of our staff members have been willing to sacrifice so much to make this center one of our very best centers. The Early Head Start staff do walk a tightrope. But there is a net, created by the administrative support, governance and program support team members.  We are so grateful for each of them and their hard work.

There is an additional piece of the puzzle that we are thankful for.  From its inception, the Head Start program recognized that parents were the first and best teachers of their children.  Based upon this recognition, Head Start programs work hand-in-hand with parents of children enrolled in the center to design the services offered. This work is done through a parent committee, which is comprised of all the parents whose children attend the center.

Jennings Center Parent Committee President Vianey Lopez presenting remarks at the ceremony.

The president of the parent committee at the Jennings center is Vianey Lopez.  During the ceremony, she gave moving remarks on behalf of the parents of the Jennings community before cutting the ribbon. When we think back to why we do this difficult work, Vianey reminded us with the following words:

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project has relieved a lot of worries and stress from the families, because now with this center, we know that our children are learning in a safe environment.

Our Excellent Adventure with OHS

Debbie and Takila at the Newton Grove community lunch.

Debbie Youhouse and Takila Newkirk are two of the unsung heroes of the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) program. Debbie works as a Program Specialist with the Office of Head Start, where she is responsible for overseeing the program services of eight MSHS grantees, including East Coast Migrant Head Start Project. Takila works as a Grants Specialist with the Office of Head Start, where she is responsible for managing and overseeing the funding awards for many MSHS and American Indian grantees. This week, ECMHSP had the opportunity to host Debbie and Takila as they visited our program.

Ignacia Gonzalez with her beautiful daughter at the Jennings Early Head Start Center in Florida.

Debbie and Takila’s excellent adventure began at our new Early Head Start expansion center in Jennings, Florida. The center looked spectacular and all of the staff were knowledgeable, warm, and welcoming. Debbie and Takila offered nothing but praise for everything they saw — from the design and layout of the classrooms to the shiny school bus filled with children going home for the day!

Vianey Lopez, President of the Parent Committee, and Ignacia Gonzalez, the Vice-President of the Parent Committee, were phenomenal hosts and tour guides. We visited the grape tomato fields and Vianey and Ignacia shared stories about their work in the fields. Vianey amazed us all as she described how peaceful it was to ride the unpaved back roads late at night and stop alongside the tomato fields and look up at the stars. Vianey also took us to the Budget Lodge motel and the North Florida Inn to see how difficult the living conditions are for our farmworker families.

Debbie Youhouse and the St. Helena team. (Photo Credit: Takila Newkirk)

On day two, Debbie and Takila drove with me four hours across the state of Georgia and then north to St. Helena Island, South Carolina. It was wonderful to see all the smiling faces once we arrived — whether they be young children or our staff (so many of whom had relocated from Florida). ECMHSP staff members Michael Edmonds and Patricia Lanuza, and Policy Council Member, Meiby Mora Soto, provided us with an excellent visit to the local farmworker camps. Again, seeing the living conditions of our farmworker families was an education for us all. One of the center moms invited us in to see inside her home, including the poster she and her husband made of their dreams for their future together, which they display proudly.

A farmworker mom shares her family’s dreams with us at the Bayview Camp in St. Helena Island, South Carolina.

A poster of dreams from Guatemala to the United States to the future.

Day three found us in Newton Grove, North Carolina, where the center looked marvelous. We arrived in time to be with the preschool children as they enjoyed their lunch. The children were so happy with their teachers and their plates of chicken, zucchini and pineapple. We concluded our visit with a community partners lunch. To have two hours to simply share the ways our program works hand-in-hand with our health partner, early intervention partner, and other community partners was so enlightening for everyone. Also, we were thrilled to hear the success story of Isabel Najera, whose children attended the Newton Grove Center more than 20 years ago and who have grown up to enjoy meaningful professional careers.

A nutritious and fun lunch in the Newton Grove Head Start Center preschool classroom.

Our final day with Debbie and Takila involved a visit to the ECMHSP headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina, including observing the work at the organization’s Manual Crosswalk. While the final day lacked the joy of children, it was very informative for our guests to see how our administrative team supports the work of center operations.

All in all, it was an excellent visit for Debbie and Takila. We are so grateful for everyone who hosted us, especially our amazing parents.

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.

2016 Annual Report: A Year in Review

ECMHSP is excited to announce the release of the 2016 Annual Report. The report showcases the great success ECMHSP experienced in providing comprehensive and high-quality services to farmworker families along the East Coast.

Some of the highlights from this year’s report include:

  • An overview of our indigenous language curriculum with parental involvement
  • A red carpet rollout of a documentary featuring a ECMHSP family
  • A parent’s effort to bring her congressman to her Head Start center
  • Total number of children and families served

Cover of the ECMHSP 2016 Annual Report

Each year, ECMHSP releases its annual report, pursuant to requirements in the Head Start Act. The report includes information on funding sources, results of the most recent financial audit, and other information required by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

You can view the full 2016 Annual Report and past annual reports on our website: http://www.ecmhsp.org/reports.html

ECMHSP thanks our staff for their wonderful work and Head Start parents for their participation throughout the year. The hard work, love, and dedication is felt every day at our Head Start centers, and is reflected in this report.