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.

Ringing in the New Year After 35 Years of Service

ecmhsp-35-year-anniversary-logoThe year 2016 was special for us: it was East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s 35th Anniversary.

ECMHSP has grown so much since the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and Sister Geraldine O’Brien founded the first Head Start center for farmworker families on the east coast in Palatka, Florida. Since those humble beginnings, we have expanded up the east coast, providing more than 200,000 farmworker children with an opportunity to learn and play.


Children enrolled in ECMHSP’s Head Start program receive dental exams and immunizations.

What’s the secret to our success? Our dedicated parents and committed staff in our centers and offices. Season after season, the families we serve leave their loving imprints at our centers and in our hearts, and eventually move on to a successful education in the K-12 schools. Yet, in our centers, our staff remain to welcome the next class of smiling faces. ECMHSP has been fortunate to have incredible staff that have dedicated their careers to educating and nurturing young children of farmworker families in our centers.

Celia Tigerina –Sally, as she is lovingly known in the La Familia Head Start center—is one example of a staff member that has been with the organization since 1976. She understands first-hand the struggles the families we serve face, having grown up working in the Texas cotton fields and migrating herself. When she settled in Florida, her friend invited her to work with her at ECMHSP. She started her journey at ECMHSP by preparing nutritious meals in the center’s kitchen, then went on to help bring the children to our centers in the buses, and eventually worked her way into the classroom. Sally is known by her fellow coworkers as a quiet but very happy person. She loves to sing and dance with the children, and she especially enjoys seeing the young children she used to carry in her arms all grown up now.

Sally credits ECMHSP with changing her life as well. Through her hard work and with the support of ECMHSP, she was able to get out of the fields and get an education. She now has a GED and has been licensed to work with the young children in our Head Start center. ECMHSP also provided work opportunities for her sisters as well. She is grateful for the opportunity to work with children of different backgrounds and to ECMHSP for giving her the chance to make a positive impact in the world.

The infants & toddlers participated in age appropriate activities while they were getting to know their new teachers.

ECMHSP’s dedicated staff ensure the children have a safe and nurturing environment in which to learn and play.

The ECMHSP community has many stories of special individuals like Sally who have made it their life’s work to prepare the children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers for success. Children that wore their caps and gowns at our Head Start centers years ago are now walking across the stage in caps and gowns to receive their college degrees. That’s what we do at ECMHSP: we change lives, one child at a time.

In looking back to our achievements over the past 35 years, the vision for the future of the organization becomes clear, and it is bright! ECMHSP is proud to continue our legacy of providing high-quality and culturally-appropriate Head Start services to migrant and seasonal farmworker families.

Throughout the month of November and December, our Florida centers have opened their doors to migrant farmworker families returning from their travels upstream, where farmworkers were finishing up the harvest seasons along the East Coast. As of mid-December, ECMHSP has enrolled 538 children in its Florida centers, and there are another 79 children on the wait list as we work to hire more teaching staff to open more classrooms. In addition, our wonderful delegate agency, PathStone Corporation, opened their centers in Berks County and Chester County, Pennsylvania, to farmworkers working in the mushroom industry.


Our Head Start centers in Florida are now open to provide farmworker families with services.

ECMHSP takes this opportunity to thank all of our dedicated staff for helping us succeed and we invite you to join us in ringing in the new year by celebrating this accomplishment. In particular, we would like to share a special THANK YOU to Sally for her many years of service. We wish you the best in your upcoming retirement.

We are looking forward to our many more accomplishments to come in 2017 – and the next 35 years.

California’s New Law on Overtime Pay for Farmworkers

Farmworker parents work through our ECMSHP Policy Council to create advocacy tools for the farmworker community, including videos.

Farmworker parents work through our ECMSHP Policy Council to create advocacy tools for the farmworker community, including videos.

In October of 2012, migrant farmworker parents whose children attend an East Coast Migrant Head Start Project center developed a farmworker bills of rights. The farmworker bill of rights included many rights that other workers take for granted, such as the right to work for farmers who did not try to deceive OSHA inspectors and the right to access potable water and restrooms during the workday.  Our parents also identified the right to receive overtime compensation, as well as compensation for all of the hours they worked.  Our parents promoted their farmworker bill of rights in a video available on YouTube.

Farmworkers were excluded from many protections offered by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, including overtime compensation.

Farmworkers were excluded from many protections offered by the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, including overtime compensation.

This week California made one of the farmworker rights identified by our parents a reality when Governor Jerry Brown signed a statute requiring farmworkers received overtime compensation. The law means that farmworkers in the state will be treated like employees in other industries, where overtime is paid after a standard eight-hour day as a result of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which established a national minimum wage, overtime and the 40-hour work week among work standards.  The Fair Labor Standards Act, however, exempted farmworkers and it is not uncommon for farmworkers to work in excess of 12 hours each day with no additional compensation for their labor.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the United Farm Workers union, which sponsored the California legislation, said it hopes the state’s large agricultural industry will influence other states. “For 78 years, a Jim Crow-era law discriminated against farmworkers by denying us the same overtime rights that other workers benefit from,” said UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez. “Governor Brown corrected a historic wrong and set an example for other states to follow.’”

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project applauds the California legislature and Governor Brown for recognizing the value of the work of farm laborers, who ensure the American people that they have a safe and secure source of fresh produce. We call upon states all across the nation to follow California’s lead and ensure that the workers who feed us are treated with dignity and fairness.


ECMHSP calls on other states to follow California’s lead and implement overtime pay laws for our farmworker families.

Cameras Rolling at La Familia Center

Daniel Jaime is the Center Director for La Familia Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Center in Florida. This is his experience working with media.

La Familia Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Center in Dundee, Florida.

La Familia Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Center in Dundee, Florida.

On Feb. 18, I received a phone call from John Sarmiento, a news anchor for Telemundo Tampa. Mr. Sarmiento called me because he had heard from a community partner about the wonderful services ECMHSP’s La Familia Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Center provides in Dundee, Florida, and surrounding areas. He wanted to see if he could come to the center and interview a few farmworker parents who have benefited from the services that we provided and how they felt it would benefit other families in the community.

The next day at around noon, Mr. Sarmiento arrived with his camera crew. We had two farmworker parents who were willing to provide a brief testimony of the services that they had and were receiving. During his visit, Mr. Sarmiento toured the center and was able to see all of the staff and children in action. “It’s just remarkable,” he said. He couldn’t believe how nice the classrooms were set up and the attention that was being given to the children. Once he finished touring the center, Mr. Sarmiento began to interview the parents.

The parents were nervous at first because they were going to be on television; but once they got into the interview, you could see the passion in their eyes and the words coming directly from their heart. The parents did a tremendous job representing East Coast Migrant Head Start Project and describing the services that they have received. When asked if they thought that other families would benefit from these types of services, they did not hesitate to say, “It’s a wonderful program. Who wouldn’t want their children in a center like this?”

Ana Maria Cruz, farmworker parent, shares in the interview how La Familia center has helped her children.

Ana Maria Cruz, farmworker parent, shares in the interview how La Familia center has helped her children.

In my interview with Mr. Sarmiento, he wanted me to talk about all of the services that we provide, what our services areas are, as well as if there are other centers like us in the area or elsewhere. I provided information about what services East Coast Migrant Head Start Project provides and how a family could potentially qualify. I also informed Mr. Sarmiento about some of the struggles that our families have and how it has been impacting our enrollment numbers, not only at our center, but at other centers along the East Coast as well. Some of those impacts include: the influx of H2A workers in the community; families settling out and deciding not to travel; and local and national immigration laws that make it harder for families to travel from one state to another comfortably.

Daniel Jaime's interview by Telemundo was aired as part of the story.

Center Director Daniel Jaime’s interview by Telemundo Tampa was aired on February 24.

The story was aired locally on Feb. 24 during the Telemundo Tampa newscast and shared through the news station’s social media. The story can be viewed here. Now that the Tampa community has seen the story, hopefully we can have an influx of families, community stakeholders, and people who are willing to seek employment with East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.