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 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!

Story of ECMHSP Dreamer Shared on Capitol Hill

Leaders from the faith, business and advocacy communities read Dreamer testimonials on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: FWD.us

East Coast Migrant Head Start Project is committed to preparing the children of migrant and seasonal farm workers for success. The farmworker families we serve entrust their children to ECMHSP centers while they toil in the fields every day to feed America. But many of these same families live with the fear of separation, afraid that today will be the last day they will get to hold their children when they drop them off at our centers. The undocumented families we serve are in need of permanent immigration solutions that can ensure unity and safety of their families. Now more than ever, it is important we uplift their stories and highlight how our farmworker families are woven into the fabric of our country.

On Monday, the Center for American Progress Action Fund and FWD.us partnered to host, “Speak out for Dreamers!”, a story-sharing marathon on Capitol Hill. Leaders from the faith, business and advocacy communities, including the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association and ECMHSP, came together for a six-hour readout of Dreamer testimonials to highlight how the DACA program has been transformative for 800,000 young undocumented people who came to the United States as children.

Janna Rios of NMSHSA and Norma Flores López of ECMHSP at the Dreamers event. Photo credit: FWD.us

ECMHSP, through its pro bono immigration services, helped Dreamers, whose children were enrolled in our Head Start centers, apply for temporary relief through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. We shared at the event one of the many Dreamer stories collected from our centers.

I had the honor to read the story of Juana Rodriguez Cruz, a Dreamer and former farmworker that, thanks to DACA, now works in one of the ECMHSP centers in Florida. As Juana shares –

At the time of my high school graduation, the United States had invested 13 years in me and I had come to love and respect this great country of ours. I say “ours” because in my heart this is my country. It is the red, white, and blue flag that I pledged allegiance to every day in class. It is the flag I recognize as my own. I am proud of my Mexican heritage, but it is to the United States to which I pledged everything.

You can hear me read Juana’s courageous story and her call to Congress by viewing the video below [begins at 2:55:21].

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The story-sharing marathon came just days before Members of Congress will be voting to either pass bipartisan legislation to protect Dreamers, or vote on a spending bill by December 8 that funds their deportation. Advocates call on Congress to provide a solution before going home for the holidays.

Norma prepares to share Juana’s powerful story. Photo credit: FWD.us

According to FWD.us, every day that Congress fails pass legislation to protect Dreamers, 122 Dreamers lose their DACA protection. As of today, more than 10,900 Dreamers are estimated to have lost their status as a result of President Donald Trump’s decision to end the program earlier this year. By the end of this week, the number will rise to 11,400. Dreamers, like Juana and many of the parents and staff at ECMHSP centers, cannot afford another delay by Congress.

Dreamers are our neighbors. They are the people that harvest the foods we eat every day. They are the people that teach our children in our centers. They are the people that make our country better. They have incredible stories of perseverance, hope and love that we need to share with Congress, and our Members of Congress have a responsibility to provide Dreamers with protection from deportations. The future and success of our country depends on it.

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.

Guest Post: Reaching the Top of the Hill

Armando Cendejas is part of the 2017 NMSHSA Summer Internship Program and as a child was enrolled in the ECMHSP Fort Pierce Head Start center in Florida. This is his story.

Armando Cendejas, one of the students selected for the NMSHSA Internship Class of 2017, shares his story at the Closing Celebration in Washington, DC.

My name is Armando Cendejas. I am a 20-year-old sophomore attending Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida, pursuing a degree in Physical Therapy. My younger brother, Alejandro, and I were enrolled in East Coast Migrant Head Start Project’s Head Start program as young children. My parents were migrant farmworkers and two of the hardest working individuals I know. They have both shaped me to become the person I am today — a person I am proud to be.

While enrolled in ECMHSP, I was just not taught; I was cared for, I was looked after, I was appreciated. I remember one morning in particular, I began to cry as I watched my mom drive away. I stood at the gate yelling for her until my teacher came to me. She didn’t move me; instead, she comforted me by assuring me that my mom would be back for me at the end of her work day.

It’s unbelievable to think back to my transformation. I went from being the shy, chubby kid who would stand at the gate and cry as he watched his mom get in her car, to now hugging my mom goodbye, and having her be the one to cry as I got on a plane to Washington, DC, for the summer.

My time in Washington, DC, made me realize the potential others have seen in me for years and gave me the opportunity to explore possible careers. I was one of four former Head Start students selected to participate in an internship by the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association for two months. I was placed with the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators and was involved in drafting resolutions for their Executive Committee Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts. For my hard work and commitment, I am proud to say I was invited to attend this meeting. While in Washington, DC, I also attended US Senate briefings at the Capitol, where I sat and listened to legislators debate topics that were related to my resolutions.

Before the internship, I was set on a career in physical therapy.  The work I have done while in Washington, DC, however, has changed my perspective on my future. I met with a few professors from the Georgetown University Law Center, and after listening to my story and of my work, they strongly urged that I consider an education in law. I now want to apply to law school, specifically Georgetown Law, and study law in health.

At times, it feels like something out of a movie. In movies like Field of Dreams, Remember the Titans, and Forrest Gump, things work out for the protagonist even after all the hardships they had to face for long periods of time. I feel like my life is like that.

Every time I think about the opportunity I was given here, I feel blessed. East Coast Migrant Head Start Project changed my life. The tools and skills that were instilled in me while in the Head Start program have aided me in reaching many goals in life, such as being the first in my family to graduate high school and attend college.

To get to college, it meant I needed to perform at a high level and excel in high school. ECMHSP staff were there to assist me if ever I had issues with studying, or crafting essays, or working on projects. They didn’t do the work for me — they provided tips, support, and even constructive criticism.

Armando on his first day in Washington, DC, along with the other members of the NMSHSA Internship Class of 2017.

When I go back to my East Coast Migrant Head Start center in Fort Pierce, I receive the same attention. Many of the teachers, nurses, and staff that were there and cared for me 15 years ago continue to be there and still care. In fact, I regularly would receive phone calls from them asking how I’m doing during my time in Washington D.C. for me to this day. I never take that aspect of ECMHSP for granted. The program continues to open doors for me by nominating me and supporting me during this amazing internship.

As I look forward towards my future, I know ECMHSP will be there to support me. I return to the center often either to volunteer, or to visit my old teachers. And, of course, to visit my mom in her office. My mom started as a field worker, packing citrus, working alongside other women like her. However, my mom had a thirst for knowledge. She taught herself English and earned herself a job inside the Head Start Center. ECMSHP helped her realize her dreams, and now they are helping me realize mine. I’m proud to have been a part of this program.

My mother would always tell me, “Échale ganas.” Only until now do I realize that she saw a bright future for me. It has been tough to get here, but with hard work and persistence, I’ll end up at the top of the hill, where I know I can make a difference in the world.

I believe that I have made the people at my Head Start center proud.

Homecoming 2017: A Trip to a Field of Dreams

About 15 years ago, Priscilla Garza, Cheyla Moranchel, Armando Cendejas, and Juan Rangel were young children enrolled in the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program. Priscilla’s MSHS experience was in Texas and Maryland, in programs operated by Teaching and Mentoring Communities and East Coast Migrant Head Start Project. Cheyla’s was in Oregon in a MSHS program operated by the Oregon Child Development Coalition, while Armando and Juan both attended ECMHSP’s MSHS center in Fort Pierce, Florida.   This summer, these four MSHS graduates had the opportunity to put all of their intellectual talents to work in Washington, DC, as recipients of the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association’s summer internship program.

NMSHSA Internship Class of 2017 with John Menditto and the Pathstone staff members.

The NMSHSA summer internship program provides paid internships each year for four college students who previously participated in the MSHS program. This is the sixth year that the summer internship program has been in place and 24 MSHS students have now had the opportunity to come to Washington, DC, to live and work. This summer, Priscilla (an aspiring lawyer) worked at the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization, and Cheyla worked at Farmworker Justice, where she worked on a variety of farmworker health projects. Armando worked at the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators and was involved on issues impacting the Hispanic community, such as healthcare and the environment. And Juan worked at the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute where he helped plan and execute a number of special events and projects.

Juan Rangel, a former ECMHSP student enrolled in college, is carrying a little boy from the Fields of Dream Head Start Center.

This past Friday marked the last day of work for the 2017 NMSHSA Summer Internship Class. To mark the occasion, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project and our phenomenal delegate agency partner, PathStone Corporation, hosted a homecoming for Priscilla, Cheyla, Armando, and Juan in Adams County, Pennsylvania, where PathStone operates a MSHS center serving hardworking farmworker families.

The NMSHSA Interns were able to learn about the apple harvest in Adams County, PA, during their tour of Rice Fruit Company’s processing plant.

Our day began with a tour of the Adams County MSHS Center, Field of Dreams. There, the summer interns had an opportunity to play with the young children, which led them all to recall their own experience as MSHS students. From there, PathStone employees Carla Herrera, Family Services Coordinator, and Iris Perez, Center Administrator, brought us to Rice Fruit Company’s fruit processing facility, which was just down the road from the center. Leighton Rice and Policy Council member, Fernando Estrada, provided us a thorough education on the harvesting and production of apples and peaches in Adams County. We were particularly inspired by the farmworker moms packing apples, a number of whom came off the production line to thank East Coast Migrant Head Start Project and PathStone for the services we have provided, including two moms whose oldest children were now in college.

Priscilla Garza shares her story at the Field of Dreams center, including her experiences in DC for the summer.

Priscilla, Cheyla, Armando, and Juan’s homecoming was made complete back at Field of Dreams, where PathStone hosted a lunch in their honor. At the outset of the day on the way to PathStone, each of summer interns was asked about their best experience this summer. For some, it involved a work accomplishment; for others it was a particular cultural event. By the end of the day, though, the 2017 NMSHSA Summer Internship Class was unanimous in their assessment: the 2017 Homecoming Visit to the Field of Dreams MSHS Center was the best experience of a summer filled with amazing experiences.

ECMHSP on the West Coast for NMSHSA Conference ‘17

The National Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Association (NMSHSA) held its Annual National Conference in Costa Mesa, CA, from March 5 through March 9. A number of our dedicated employees travelled to the conference to learn about the changes to the Head Start Performance Standards, which were rolled out last summer. It was a great opportunity to hear about implementation strategies and the importance of being outcomes-driven in our execution.

Parents from Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs nationwide, including ECMHSP, gathered to learn about their critical role in our programs.

Joining ECMHSP staff at the conference, most for the first time, were the ECMHSP Policy Council Executive Committee members: Cristina Hernandez, President; Silvia Rodarte, Vice-President; Meiby Mora, Treasurer; Leticia Baez, Secretary; and Ramona C. De Loera, Parliamentarian. These farmworker parents were able to attend the workshops on topics ranging from indigenous cultures in Mexico to immigration rights and parent involvement. During the Parent Affiliate meeting, Meiby was elected as Alternate and will represent the group as a member of the NMSHSA Board of Directors. Furthermore, Meiby was elected to fill one of the three Member-at-Large positions on the NSMSHA Board of Directors’ Executive Committee. We are very proud to see Meiby’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 elected onto the NMSHSA Board of Directors are John Menditto, ECMHSP General Counsel, Patti Kingery, ECMHSP Director of Program Operations-East, and myself. The 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.

Staff and Policy Council members representing ECMHSP at the NMSHSA Conference in California.

Each year, ECMHSP staff are invited to present on best practices and cutting-edge techniques that allow us to provide services of the highest quality. For example, this year, I presented a session entitled, “Head Start Champions: Advocacy for the MSHS Community,” with the assistance of Cristina, the ECMHSP Policy Council President. In the session, Head Start service providers from varying backgrounds and positions learned the basics of advocating for our community and effective strategies. Now more than ever, we need advocates that will help us elevate the successes of our migrant and seasonal Head Start programs.

ECMHSP CEO Dr. Villa (right) discusses national issues affecting ECMHSP programs with COO Javier Gonzalez.

Conference participants were able to listen from the Office of Head Start, with informative presentations from Sandra Carton, Regional Program Manager for Migrant and Seasonal Programs (Region XII) and other staff from the Office of Head Start. Welcomed by John Menditto at the second day plenary, the conference attendees were inspired by the presentation of Dr. Ramon Resa, the author of Out of the Fields: My Journey from Farmworker Boy to Pediatrician. For the final plenary, I had the pleasure of welcoming the conference attendees before the keynote speaker, Kevin Carnes of Lakeshores Learning Materials, was introduced.

At the conference, ECMSHP brought important and much-needed voices to the West Coast. We look forward to more opportunities to represent our community!