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.

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.

a-photo-3

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.

a-photo-2

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.

ECMHSP Alumnus in the National Media Spotlight!

photo 2

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.

Guest Post: In the Interest of Children

Holly Strait is the Senior Director Child & Family Development Services at PathStone Corporation. This is her experience at the Field of Dreams Head Start Center’s opening day.

On July 12, the Adams County Family Development Field of Dreams Head Start center opened on a hot and humid day to 24 appreciative farmworker families. Parents were comfortable leaving their children in a familiar setting as they headed off to pick, pack, and process peaches.

Farmworkers enroll their children for Head Start services at the Field of Dreams center.

Farmworkers enroll their children for Head Start services at the Field of Dreams center.

As one family member said, “The classrooms look very nice and I feel safe in leaving my child at the center while I am at work.”

As children and families found their way to their assigned classroom, teachers were there to greet them with a smile and a hug on the first day of school. The classrooms filled up with children, and teachers were ready to implement activity plans. Old and new friends were curious to explore all the new exciting classroom furnishings and materials that were purchased prior to opening day. The teachers saw how all 32 enrolled children were laughing and looking ahead.

Through the course of the past few months, administrators interviewed and hired new teachers for the center. Staff participated in planning meetings, pre-service trainings, community events, and partnership-building activities to prepare for a successful opening day.

For more than 20 years, PathStone Corporation, a delegate agency of ECMHSP, has been able to provide high-quality childcare to children and their families while parents harvest fruits for the Adams County community. The Field of Dreams Head Start center is surrounded by peach and apple orchards in a growing Hispanic community. The center is expected to meet their full funded enrollment of 60 children by the end of August.

On average, the Field of Dreams farmworker families work from sun up to sun down, yet they find time to participate at the center. Over the course of four months during which the center is in operation, families volunteer on average more than 1,000 hours in total.

The sound of children's voices and laughter fill the classrooms on opening day.

The sound of children’s voices and laughter fill the classrooms on opening day.

As the children left the center at the end of the day, they exclaimed to their parents in a fun way, “I can’t wait to come back and play another day!”

Happy harvesting to all, and to all a prosperous Fall.

Farmworker Families Need DAPA & DACA+

More than 4,000 people wait outside of the Supreme Court building during the oral arguments of DAPA and DACA+.

This morning the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on two of President Obama’s important executive actions providing administrative relief from immigration enforcement: Deferred Action for Parents of American-born Children (DAPA) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA+). The case will determine the future of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United State hoping for relief from the threat of deportation that would rip their families apart.

In the absence of Congressional action, DAPA and DACA+ would improve the lives of undocumented immigrants with deep ties to the community. Although these programs are not perfect, they would provide undocumented immigrants with options to live and work in the United States. And—more importantly—they will help keep families together.

FullSizeRender

Supporters of DAPA and DACA+ march to the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States.

On the steps of the Supreme Court building, more than 4,000 people gathered this morning from across the country for a rally, voicing their support through chants, poster signs, and a march. ECMHSP joins the many organizations standing in support of the president’s actions.  According to Farmworker Justice, one in six beneficiaries of DAPA and DACA+ will be farmworkers or directly related to farm work.  This includes many of the farmworker families we serve at ECMHSP centers.

Take Maria Adame Dominguez’s story for example. Maria immigrated to the United States at the age of nine.  Although she was a bright student at school, Maria became discouraged when she realized her options to continue her studies were limited due to her undocumented status.  She decided to drop out of school, and shortly after having her first son, she joined her father in the mushroom fields.  When she enrolled her son

Maria and her children's lives have been improved through DACA.

Maria and her children’s lives have been improved through DACA.

in the ECMHSP Head Start program, she became involved in the ECMHSP governance and quickly rose through the ranks; in 2014, she was elected as the ECMHSP Policy Council President.  Although Maria continued to work in the fields, she never gave up on her dreams of earning a college degree.  After receiving her DACA, she enrolled back in school and is currently studying to earn her Associate’s degree in Early Childhood Management.  In addition, Maria applied to work at the very ECMHSP Head Start center that helped her family, and is now the Family Service Coordinator with Pathstone Corporation, a delegate agency of ECMHSP.  [You can read Maria’s full story, “A Parent’s Dream,” in the ECMSHP’s 2015 Annual Report.]

Just as Maria’s life and that of her children have been improved through DACA, we know many more families can benefit from DAPA and DACA+, especially our migrant and seasonal farmworker families.  In response to the great need in our farmworker communities, ECMHSP developed Farmworker Families United!, an immigration legal services program that provides pro bono legal assistance to farmworkers whose children are enrolled in our Head Start centers.  Through this program, ECMHSP has helped many parents apply for DACA, which currently remains in place, and has seen the positive effect the deferred action has on the lives of our farmworker families.  If the Supreme Court upholds President Obama’s executive actions, ECMHSP will be ready to continue helping our families enroll in the important deferred action programs.

Many of our families have been in the country for a long time and are interwoven into the fabric of our society.  Farmworkers are responsible for providing our nation with a safe and secure source of fresh food and vegetables every day.  The very least we can do is reward their labor by fighting for their families and supporting actions that will keep their families together.

The DAPA and DACA+ programs could improve the lives of millions of undocumented families, including our farmworker families.