East Coast Makes a Strong Impression in Washington, D.C.

group picLast week, the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its 2018 Public Policy Forum at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC.  Staff and parent leaders representing Migrant and Seasonal Head Start (MSHS) grantees from across the country came to the nation’s capital to discuss the most pressing issues affecting the farmworker community and to hear from policy officials about the latest developments in the Head Start program.

Attendees had the privilege of welcoming the newly-appointed Director of the Office of Head Start, Dr. Deborah Bergeron.  A former classroom teacher and elementary and high school administrator, Dr. B –as she likes to be called— shared how she will use her three decades of pre-K–12 public education experience to provide unique insights into how Head Start can support our most vulnerable children to become school ready.   She also talked about her recent visit to ECMHSP’s North Carolina Migrant and Seasonal Head Start centers.  Of her trip, Dr. Bergeron said, “In one day I got to get a sense of the Migrant Head Start experience from the family, farmer, center, and community partner perspective. It was a 360⁰ view for sure!”

Following Dr. B’s opening remarks, advocates discussed the current state of play in Washington on a range of policy and legislative issues affecting MSHS families in 2018.  In a panel titled, “Washington Update: Policy Issues Impacting Farmworker Families,” panelists provided updates on the federal budget, appropriations, and the impact of tax reform on our communities and the federal programs families rely on, including the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program.

There’s no doubt that immigration reform was among one of the most important subjects covered during the Public Policy Forum.  In a panel discussion moderated by ECMHSP’s John Menditto, speakers highlighted the crucial nature of our advocacy work for farmworker families. Common sense immigration reform can benefit farmworkers, farmers, and everyone who relies on American-grown fresh fruits and vegetables, while providing parents with the security that they will not be separated from their children.  Additionally, farmworkers are losing work opportunities with the increased use of the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers program.

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Javier Gonzalez, ECMHSP COO, Meiby Mora, ECMHSP Policy Council President, and John Menditto,  ECMHSP General Counsel.

At the conclusion of the panel on immigration, Meiby Mora, ECMHSP Policy Council President, shared how in 2015, ECMHSP offered Meiby pro bono immigration services to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) after she was turned away by other lawyers.  The challenges Meiby faced in obtaining her legal protections are some of the same challenges farmworkers face due to their migratory lifestyle and lack of documentation.

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Monica Ramirez with ECMHSP parents.

Following the panel, participants heard the story of Monica Ramirez, the proud daughter and granddaughter of migrant farmworkers.  For more than two decades, she has served Latina farmworkers and immigrant women as an organizer and advocate, and she has focused her work on ending gender-based violence in the workplace and achieving gender equity as the co-founder and President of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas.  Monica Ramirez received a standing ovation for her powerful message to all attendees.

The afternoon panels also highlighted other challenges being felt in the communities MSHS centers serve.  One panel reflected on what advocates see as the greatest challenges and opportunities facing Head Start providers working in rural communities – including hiring and retaining staff, financing and maintaining quality facilities, and transportation.  The final panel of the day discussed the importance of sharing the stories from our communities through various campaigns supporting the immigrant community and Head Start programs.  Farmworker parents shared how their powerful stories have made a difference, whether it was a video, letter or art from their children.

As part of day two of the Forum, the ECMHSP team was invited to discuss the MSHS program and the needs of the farmworker community by members of Congress and their staff.  A total of nine staff members, four parents and two former Head Start students met with Hill staffers to share the great work ECMHSP is doing in their communities and discussed ways we could partner to better support farmworker families.  One ECMHSP advocacy team comprised of Dr. José Villa, Chief Executive Officer, Christine Alvarado, Chief Innovation Officer, and parents Ramona Deloera and Nalleli Trejo, had the most impressive meetings; they had intimate gatherings with US Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson of Florida.

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Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Erika Aguilera, NMSHSA Intern.

Although ECMHSP had the opportunity to meet with US Senator Cory Booker’s Legislative Director, later in the day, we ran into Senator Booker while he was shooting a commercial on the steps of the Supreme Court building.  One of NMSHSA’s four interns for the summer, Erika Aguilera, had a quick chat with the Senator to advocate for the Head Start program in New Jersey and throughout the United States. She shares —

 “Running into Senator Booker was quite the surprise. We spoke in Spanish because he felt that it was very important to continue the language. I mentioned to him that migrant families are vital to this country being that they feed America. I emphasized how important the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program is for children because those children can then grow up and receive amazing opportunities, like myself. To give him a better idea, I explained how my father has worked all his life in the fields picking seasonal fruit and in the winter, harvesting grapes, which is a tough job that not everyone can tolerate.”

The NMSHSA 2018 Public Policy Forum was a huge success.  Head Start parents and advocates from the farmworker community shared their stories with important lawmakers in hopes that they can recognize farmworker families for performing one of the toughest jobs in the United States and sharing their support.  ECMHSP will keep uniting with all MSHS programs nationwide to defend farmworker families and to ensure the children of farmworkers are prepared for educational success.

ECMHSP Shares Best Practices for Services at MAFO Conference

MAFO held its annual National Farmworker Conference and Convention this week in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  The MAFO Conference is an opportunity for advocates and service providers for the farmworker community to come together to discuss current issues affecting America’s farmworkers and to share innovative tools and best practices.  The theme of this year’s conference was Building Stronger Rural Communities and ECMHSP’s strong presence made significant contributions in support of it.

Rudy Beserra, Vice President of Latin Affairs at Coca-Cola with ECMSHP COO Javier Gonzalez.

Members from the ECMHSP Board of Directors and staff attended the conference townhalls on Sunday, as well as the workshops and plenaries on the following two days.  ECMHSP leadership also had the opportunity to share strategies on how to effectively provide services to the farmworker community through workshop presentations.

In a session titled, “Using Technology to Connect Programs,” Dr. José Villa, ECMHSP Chief Executive Officer, and Andy Pederson, IT Manager, presented ECMHSP’s efforts to utilize technology to improve data collection and effectively deliver high quality services.  They also discussed the organization’s work with partner organizations to increase collaboration and improve services delivered to the farmworker families.

In addition, Dr. Villa presented in the workshop, “Giving Migrant Children a Head Start,” accompanied by Christine Alvarado, ECMHSP Chief Innovations Officer; Javier Gonzalez, Chief Operations Officer; and Governance and Norma Flores López, Collaboration/Development Manager.  The session provided an operational view of the comprehensive Head Start services provided by ECMHSP to successfully meet the unique needs of the preschool children of farmworkers, and the program outcomes and successes achieved through collaborative partnerships.

Dr. Jose Villa, ECMHSP CEO, presents the LUPE Award at the MAFO Awards Gala.

On Tuesday night, MAFO held its Leadership Award Banquet and Gala, where MAFO honors the excellence and dedication of individuals, particularly those who do outreach, perform hard work and whose efforts many times go unrecognized or unrewarded.  The evening included the conference participants, leaders in the farmworker community, and community leaders representing the Albuquerque area.  A mariachi band initiated the evening’s celebration, and a young troupe of flamenco dancers provided entertainment during dinner.  Dr. Villa, as a member of the MAFO Board of Directors, participated in the awards ceremony by introducing the recipient of this year’s LUPE Award at the gala.  To close out the evening, the night’s keynote speaker, Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farm Workers, gave a motivating speech, reminding advocates that as a community, we have overcome larger obstacles than today’s political climate. He shared, as examples, the personal victories of farmworker advocates in the room, including ECMHSP’s Dr. Villa and Javier Gonzalez.

The MAFO Conference provided ECMHSP access to relevant and emerging information for service providers and advocates of the farmworker community, as well as an opportunity to reconnect and network with diverse and multicultural rural community leaders and organizations. We look forward to more opportunities to represent our community at next year’s conference in San Antonio, Texas!

Norma Flores Lopez, ECMHSP staff, with UFW President Arturo Rodriguez and UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres.

ECMHSP Returns to California for NMSHSA Conference ‘18

John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, thanks the parents that attended the conference during a plenary session.

The National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its Annual National Conference in Costa Mesa, CA, from March 2 through March 6.

A number of our dedicated employees travelled to the conference to make presentations on best practices we have implemented. Sofia Baucom and Consuellis Hawkins-Crudup, for example, presented a session titled, Planning Positive School Readiness Outcomes: A Coordinated Approach Model, while Sue Thomas, ERSEA/Child Plus Manager, co-presented with Andy Pederson, IT Manager, in the session, It’s All About the Data.

Traveling cross-country for our farmworker families has become especially challenging recently, making it even more important to have representation from the East Coast farmworker communities at the conference in California. Joining ECMHSP staff at the conference were Head Start parents elected to the ECMHSP Policy Council Executive Committee: Meiby Mora, President; Ramona C. De Loera, Vice-President; and Leticia Baez, Treasurer.

ECMHSP Policy Council members, along with Maria Rodriguez, Governance Assistant at ECMHSP, met with keynote speaker Sophie Cruz and her family.

These farmworker parents were able to attend the workshops on topics ranging from meaningful learning methods for their children to immigration rights and parent involvement. During the Parent Affiliate meeting, Ramona was elected as Member-at-Large and will represent the group as a member of the NMSHSA Board of Directors. We are very proud to see Ramona’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 serving on the NMSHSA Board of Directors are John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, Patti Kingery, ECMHSP Director of Program Operations, and, after a successful re-election, myself. 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.

At the opening plenary session, attendees heard the inspiring stories of the recipients of the conference’s scholarship and Plate of Bounty awards. Among the members of the Head Start community honored this year was ECMHSP Policy Council community representative and former Head Start Parent, Cristina Hernandez, recipient of the Clint Mitcham Scholarship.  Cristina traveled to California to receive the recognition in person.

ECMHSP Policy Council Community Representative Cristina Hernandez (second from left) was awarded the Clint Mitcham Scholarship at this year’s conference.

Conference participants were able to hear from the Office of Head Start with informative presentations by Sandra Carton, Regional Program Manager for Migrant and Seasonal Programs (Region XII), and Sharon Yandian, Co-Director of the Early Childhood Development Comprehensive Services and Training and Technical Assistance Division. Sharon was introduced at Tuesday’s plenary session by John Menditto.

ECMSHP brought important and much-needed voices to the West Coast at this year’s conference. We look forward to more opportunities to represent our community at next year’s conference in Washington, DC, when the NMSHSA family will celebrate 50 years of MSHS services!

Tis the Season of Hope & Giving

Today, we are thrilled to kick-off our end of year, annual Friends & Family Giving Campaign.

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project is committed to preparing the children of migrant and seasonal farm workers for success.

Our Giving Campaign funds vital support for farmworker families – such as the Michael P. Murphy Family Emergency Assistance Fund and our pro bono immigration services practice. You can learn more about the services and support we provide by visiting our website: http://www.ecmhsp.org

We raised just over $20,000 in our 2016 Giving Campaign and this year we have set a goal of $25,000. We know we can accomplish our goal with your support.

The 2017 Giving Campaign will run from today through January 5th. You can get us off to a great start by donating directly through: https://www.razoo.com/organization/The-East-Coast-Migrant-Head-Start-Project

This holiday season, help us provide hope to our farmworker families. We hope you will join us in supporting East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s mission in 2018. We could not do the work that we do without your generosity.

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project wishes you and your loved ones a happy holiday season!

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.]

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!