Summer is Here and We’re Ready!

Lynn Bowen is the Head Start Administrator for ECMHSP’s Direct Services in Virginia. This is her experience as she and her team prepare to serve farmworker families at their centers.

This week, Memorial Day marked the unofficial start of the summer. For many, the warmer days of the summer season offer the perfect time for family vacations, outdoor fun and trips to the beach.

At East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, the summer season has a slightly different meaning. It is growing season for many farms across America and workers are called to harvest the fresh fruits and vegetables grown under the summer sun. The migrant and seasonal farmworker families we serve begin their migration journey from Florida up along the East Coast to the states to the north, such as South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

These families bring along with them their most precious possessions—their children—and look for a safe and nurturing place to entrust their care while they work long days under the hot summer sun. East Coast Migrant Head Start Project wants to make sure our centers are ready for these families when they arrive.

Parksley Center team recruitment training and planning.

The dedicated employees of the two Migrant and Seasonal Head Start centers on the Eastern Shore of Virginia know the families are on their way and we are excited to welcome them with open doors. In anticipation, staff have been attending various training sessions, which have served to both enhance current skills and increase knowledge of our evolving component areas. These pre-season preparations ensure we are able to provide high-quality holistic services when we open our Head Start centers in Virginia.

In addition to learning new skills, these sessions have given staff members the opportunity to spend time together and continue the process of becoming effective teams. Managers and other training providers have also helped affirm and strengthen our relationship with content experts based at the ECMHSP headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Presentation led by Lisa Fernandez, Family Community Partnership/Health Specialist for Virginia Direct Services.

The time spent together has reminded us of the bigger picture; we are part of a larger team. Center actions and regional actions reverberate throughout ECMHSP. As center and regional teams, and as an agency team, we must remember that our actions have major impacts within ECMHSP and within our communities. Pre-service has given us the opportunity to ensure that the ripples we send forth from our region are positive and mission focused. Our goal is for these ripples to turn into waves of positivity and advocacy for our staff, families, and children in our centers.

As we welcome the start of a new season, we proudly welcome our farmworker families to our centers with a renewed sense of commitment and love for the work that we do.

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.

Parent Leads Move to Honor Chávez Day

Photo of Chavez, founder of UFW and civil rights leader.

César E. Chávez is the late founder and president of the United Farm Workers of America. He was born on a small farm near Yuma, Arizona, on March 31, 1927, and began working in the fields at the age of 10. In 1942, Chavez quit school in the seventh grade. Despite his hardships and lack of education, he went on to create a movement in support of farmworker rights and dignity.

Silvia Rodarte, the ECMHSP Policy Council Vice President, sees many similarities between her own life and that of César Chávez — a man she admires greatly. And like him, she tries to inspire positive change in her own community.

Silvia has lived in Belle Glade, Florida, since she was a little girl. When she was seven, her parents would pack up a few things into a car and drive up with the family to North Carolina to work in the green bean and pumpkin fields during the harvest season. When their work was done, they would make their way back to Florida.

Silvia, ECMSHP Policy Council Vice President, at work.

Silvia remembers fondly how as a child, she would spend hours playing in the chile and cucumber fields, occasionally helping her parents. Once she turned 15, she began working full time in the Florida’s lettuce field. By age 16, her priority became her newborn daughter. She dropped out of high school and focused on making ends meet for her new family; she continued the family’s tradition of migrant farm work.

After having her second child in 2005, she enrolled her newborn and her 3-year-old daughters into the ECMHSP’s Head Start program in Belle Glade, Florida. She was determined to give her children every opportunity to get a high-quality education so that they could have a better life than she had.

Today, Chávez’s legacy is honored on what would have been his 90th birthday. In 2014, former President Barack Obama proclaimed March 31 as César Chávez Day and hosted a celebration at the White House in his honor, but this day is not recognized as a federal holiday. Yet each year, many states and cities host parades, marches and ceremonies in his honor.

For the first time, ECMHSP will be joining organizations across the country in celebrating César Chávez Day as an official holiday in our offices and centers – and this is thanks to Silvia. While reviewing the ECMHSP holiday calendar, Silvia noticed an important holiday missing: César Chávez Day.

“César Chávez is a very important person in the lives of farmworkers,” she says. “He started the first farmworker union, and made sure people in this country heard the voices of farmworkers and honor their rights.”

She wanted to make sure that he would be remembered by the ECMHSP community, even if it meant one day less of Head Start program services for her own children. She brought this up at the October Policy Council meeting and got the approval from both the Policy Council and the Board of Directors to add this day in place of another federally-recognized holiday. She is so proud of her accomplishment.

On this day, Silvia will be working in Florida’s fields, but with her usual smile even brighter. She is finishing up work in the corn harvest before preparing her family to move to Willard, Ohio, in May for the onion harvest. She works hard to provide many of the fresh fruits and vegetables we are eating, and it’s important to her that everyone remembers that March 31 is the day we honor of the man that continues to inspire farmworkers across the country.

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”
— Cesar E. Chavez, 1984

Indiantown Center Hosts the ECMHSP Board

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Parents in Indiantown leave their children at the ECMHSP center to learn and play while they work in zucchini fields.

On January 20, the Board of Directors of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project had the opportunity to visit children and staff at our wonderful center in Indiantown, Florida. The day began as days begin for many of our children – with a bus ride. And like the preschool children who ride our school buses, the ride to Indiantown was a learning experience for everyone on board, as ECMHSP Head Start Administrator Loretta Jones shared lots of wonderful information about the Indiantown center and the community of farmworkers who are served there. We learned, for example, that families speak a variety of languages at the Indiantown center including Spanish, Creole, English and dialects of Mexico and Central American countries, such as Guatemala.

Before visiting the children, we had the opportunity to meet with Geraldo and Maria Rivera of Lakeside Ranch of Indiantown and see our farmworker parents hard at work harvesting organic zucchini. Geraldo and Maria were generous with their time. They shared that as small, organic farmers they were deeply reliant on the labor and skill of our parents to harvest their crops. Board member Jaime Delgado shared his knowledge of the zucchini harvest, noting where to cut the vine and how young the zucchini needs to be for peak return.

Head Start children at the ECMHSP Indiantown Center.

Head Start children at the ECMHSP Indiantown Center.

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ECMHSP Board members visited center classrooms, where they interacted with the children.

Following the visit to the farm, the Board received a tour of the Indiantown Center. Center Director Floria Pachecho and her core team did an excellent job of explaining on how the Indiantown center prepares young children for educational success. Particularly noteworthy was the presentation by Early Childhood Education Specialist Karen James of the center’s school readiness results. As always, the teaching staff impressed us with their dedication and knowledge of best child care practices. And, as always, the Board members enjoyed all of their interaction and engagement with the 63 children in attendance.

The day after the site visit, our Board dedicated their Saturday to a full day of governance work. A packed agenda included discussion of a new five-year strategic plan for ECMHSP, and our implementation of the new Head Start Performance Standards. We are so fortunate to have a committed group of mission-driven individuals to guide our work.

ECMHSP Alumnus in the National Media Spotlight!

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ECMHSP Alumnus Misael visits our Head Start center in Virginia.

This morning, NBC News published the story, “‘Life-Changing’: Head Start Gives Latino Migrant Children Early Education,” which featured ECMHSP alumnus Misael Rangel.

Misael attended the Fort Pierce (Florida) Migrant and Seasonal Head Start center as a young child, and has since been a great ambassador of ECMHSP’s Head Start programs.  Misael was one of the four participants selected for this year’s National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Summer Internship Program and wrote about his experiences in Washington, DC, in a post on our blog, From Harvest to Head Start.

The farmworker parents elected to the ECMHSP Policy Council were able to meet with Misael and his brother Juan at the Policy Council meeting in Clearwater, Florida, last May.  Misael shared with the parents and ECMHSP staff an inspirational account on how the program had a positive impact on the lives of his family, and how his early childhood education ignited a hunger to learn that has helped him throughout his educational career.

Misael and his brother Juan joined the ECMHSP Policy Council and staff in Clearwater, Florida.

Misael and his brother Juan joined the ECMHSP Policy Council and staff in Clearwater, Florida.

Among the parents who met with Misael was Lety, whose family is currently enrolled to receive Head Start services from PathStone, ECMHSP’s delegate agency in New Jersey.  Lety and her children have been a part of the ECMHSP Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program for years, and her involvement in the organization’s leadership is a testament to her dedication to her children’s success.  She too was interviewed in the NBC News story.

ECMHSP is committed to preparing children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers for success.

ECMHSP is committed to preparing children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers for success.

Both members of the ECMHSP community remind us of the important role our centers play in the communities we serve.  East Coast Migrant Head Start Project is committed to preparing children of migrant and seasonal farmworkers, such as Misael, for success. We know that the best way to do this is by providing holistic, high-quality early childhood education services for children and families, such as Lety’s, in a nurturing, culturally-sensitive environment.  We also understand that the needs of our farmworker families extend well outside of the classroom, and in response, we are providing services and advocating for children and families in their other areas of need.

Like the other Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs across the country, ECMHSP is proud to serve migrant and seasonal farmworker families.  Farmworkers work so hard each day to provide us with a fresh and secure source of fruits and vegetables each day.  The least we can do to thank them for their hard work is to care for their most precious treasures—their children—in our classrooms.

Maria’s Excellent Adventure

Maria was one of the first farmworkers to apply for DACA, which would allow her to travel outside of the U.S. with Advanced Parole.

Maria was one of the first farmworkers to apply for DACA, which would allow her to travel outside of the U.S. with Advance Parole.

Twenty-three-year-old Maria Sanchez Martinez is the former Vice President of East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s Policy Council. In August of 2012, she was one of the first farmworkers to submit an application for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which has allowed her to lawfully work in the U.S. and consequently, has improved the her life and the life of her family dramatically. Since then, she has twice renewed her DACA eligibility.

On October 25, 2016, Maria was able to travel home to Mexico on Advance Parole to visit her ailing grandfather. It was the first time she had seen her grandfather and her extended family since coming to the United States 14 years ago.   We recently were able to chat with Maria about her excellent adventure.

When did you find out that your application for Advance Parole was approved and how did it make you feel?

With the help of John Menditto (General Counsel at ECMHSP), I submitted my Advance Parole application to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in June of 2016. The application process required us to establish my family relationship to my grandfather and to provide a letter from his medical doctor regarding his health. USCIS approved my application on September 26 but they only permitted me to travel for thirty days (until October 26) and they failed to send me my travel document. John had to contact USCIS and had them re-issue the travel document and ask them to extend the travel period.   USCIS extended the travel period, but only for an additional five days.

When John told me my application was approved I was excited, yet nervous. I also was disappointed at the short-notice and turnaround time.

Tell us about your travel plans.  How did you get from Florence, South Carolina, to the village in Mexico where you lived until you were nine years old?

I immediately made flight reservations, which were very costly due to the short time to make the reservations. I drove from Florence to Orlando, Florida, which was seven hours of driving. I then flew from Orlando to Mexico City and then waited overnight in the airport to fly to Veracruz. My aunt, Dulce Maria Hernandez Pavon, and my uncle met me at the airport. We drove to my village Villa Cuitlahuac, which was 90 minutes away.

Maria's flight from Florida to Mexico on Advanced Parole.

On Advance Parole, Maria flew from Florida to her small village in Mexico.

Did anyone travel with you?  If so, why did they come along?

I brought three children with me — my two sons, Jovany Sanchez Arroyo age 6, Martin Sanchez Arroyo age 8, and my younger sister, Vicenta Sanchez, age 11. They are all United States citizens, but none of them had ever met any family members in Mexico. I brought them because I did not know if we’d ever be able to see our family in Mexico.

Tell us about seeing your family?  What did you feel?

Seeing my family after almost 15 long years was the moment that I won’t change for anything. Tears of happiness fell from my eyes and from my family’s eyes. Words can’t describe how my heartfelt to see all of my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. It was the best reunion I have ever had.

Describe a favorite memory about your trip.

When I went back to my childhood home and I found a toy rabbit I used to play with when I lived in the village at the age of nine.

Your Advanced Parole was issued because you were visiting your ill grandfather, can you share with us how he is doing?

Through the help of ECMHSP, Maria applied for Advanced Parole to visit her ailing grandfather.

Through the help of ECMHSP, Maria applied for Advance Parole that allowed her to visit her ailing grandfather.

He had several health issues including heart problems. He has been hospitalized several times due to his health from the time I requested the Advance Parole until now. At this time, he is stable, but I was happy that I was able to be with him and help care for him.

What was it like coming back through Border Patrol and Customs after you landed at the airport in the United States?

I was very, very nervous. I went through Border Control at the airport in Houston, Texas. I was afraid that something would be wrong with my travel document and I would not be admitted. I called John just before going in to the Border Control office and he told me not to be nervous – that my travel document would authorize me to be admitted back into the United States. He was right!

What advice would you have for other DACA farmworkers traveling on Advance Parole?

Don’t be scared. Make sure to have all of the documents before leaving United States. Be ready to answer simple questions like, “What was the purposes of traveling under the Advance Parole?” “What part of Mexico did you visit?” “Where do you live?” “How long have you been in the United States?” “What do you do for a living?” Make sure that you speak truly and clear.

Maria was able to visit the family members she left behind at the age of nine when she moved to the U.S.

Maria was able to visit family members she left behind when she moved to the U.S. at the age of nine.

ECMHSP Steps on to the Red Carpet

ef4f9c2dd15779f8e4e0f59bcbc280f6On Friday evening, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project was honored to participate in the Immigration Film Festival of Greater Washington, a three-day festival featuring more than twenty films highlighting both the plight and the contributions of recent immigrants to the United States. The festival aims to put faces on immigrants and tell the stories of global immigration through film, the most popular of media.

Last June, we wrote a blog post to celebrate Immigrant Heritage Month in which we debut the short documentary, “Para Los Niños” (For the Children). Filmmakers William Johnston-Carter and Danielle Bryant, of Impact America – Alabama, had submitted this short film to the Immigration Film Festival and it was selected as one of the short films to be presented at this year’s festival.  The film, “Para Los Niños” features Brigido and Laura, farmworker parents who migrate each year for the tomato harvest and whose children attend ECMHSP Head Start centers in Chandler Mountain, Alabama, and Fort Meade, Florida. You can view the short film here.

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ECMHSP centers serve the children of farmworkers by providing them with high-quality Head Start services while their parents harvest fruits and vegetables. Photo Credit: William Johnston-Carter

Para Los Niños” was presented along with the full-feature film, “Under the Same Moon.” The film presents a heartwarming family story while also offering subtle commentary on the much-debated issue of illegal immigration. For those who have seen Under the Same Moon, you know there is scene in the movie where farmworkers are harvesting greenhouse tomatoes. It was interesting to reflect at how slow the fictional farmworkers are harvesting tomatoes in the greenhouse in comparison to how fast Brigido and Laura work in the fields of North Alabama.

Following the film presentations, ECMHSP was invited to participate in a panel discussion of the development of “Para Los Niños.” Also participating on the panel was Cecilia Rojas, a Director at Community Ministries of Rockville, a non-profit that serves the most vulnerable residents of Montgomery County, Maryland, and three recent immigrants to the United States from Honduras who had fled the terrible violence in their home country and who have received support from Community Ministries.

ECMHSP is honored to have the opportunity to discuss on the lives of the farmworker families we serve.  Opportunities like this – where we are able raise awareness of the contributions of farmworkers – are important opportunities to take.