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.

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!

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.