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.

College Students Give a Helping Hand in Cheriton

Lynn Bowen is the Head Start Administrator for ECMHSP’s Direct Services in Virginia. This is her experience at a community service project in one of our centers.

As part of ECMHSP’s ongoing efforts to expand the reach of our mission, members of Old Dominion University’s Alpha Phi Omega and Gamma Sigma Sigma were invited to conduct a service project at the Cheriton Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Center in the Virginia Eastern Shore on February 11.

Alpha Phi Omega is a national coeducational service organization founded on the principles of Leadership, Friendship and Service. It provides its members the opportunity to develop leadership skills as they volunteer on their campus, in their community, to the nation, and to the organization.

The national service sorority Gamma Sigma Sigma commits to creating and engaging in opportunities to serve on campuses and in the community to address local, national, and global needs. Gamma Sigma Sigma’s vision is for members to demonstrate the capacity for and lifelong commitment to service and leadership.

Members of Alpha Phi Omega and Gamma Sigma Sigma improved the Cheriton Head Start Center in their community service project.

Members of Alpha Phi Omega and Gamma Sigma Sigma improved the Cheriton Head Start Center in their community service project.

Currently, the Cheriton Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Center is taking part in a Quality Enhancement Project. The sixteen college students braved the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel and spent their Saturday scraping, sanding, and painting the preschool classroom and outside lattice. In addition, they also helped unpack new cribs, toddler tables, and toddler chairs. The college students from Alpha Phi Omega and Gamma Sigma Sigma were invited to return during the summer and fall to meet our families, spend time with the children, and to present a family learning activity during a parent meeting.

ECMHSP and the families we serve are grateful to our volunteers who support our mission through their service. The value of volunteer services is an integral and necessary part of the program as well as the communities that we serve. We thank you for your generosity of your time and skills!

If you are interested in volunteering, please contact one of our centers. You can find a list of centers near you on our website: http://www.ecmhsp.org/locations.html

ECMHSP Welcomes Senators Kaine and Warner’s Staff to the Virginia Eastern Shore

ECMSHP welcomes visitors from Sen. Kaine and Sen. Warner

ECMSHP welcomes visitors from Sen. Kaine and Sen. Warner’s DC office in our Parksley Head Start center.

On Thursday, August 25, East Coast Migrant Head Start Project welcomed Karishma Merchant (from Senator Tim Kaine’s Washington, DC office) and Lauren Marshall (from Senator Mark Warner’s Washington DC office) to our Head Start centers on the Virginia Eastern Shore.  Karishma and Lauren had reached out to ECMHSP so that they could learn more about the important work that we do.  We were only too happy to provide them with an education on the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program.

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Farmworkers harvest cherry tomatoes in 90-degree weather on the Virginia Eastern Shore.

Karishma and Lauren started their visit at the Eastern Shore Community College, a local college that is a strong community partner to many. There, the tomato producer, Lipman Produce, was holding a worker safety training.  Lipman had bussed in more than 100 farmworkers to take part in this pesticide and food safety training, including parents whose children attend our centers.  Karishma and Lauren had an opportunity to speak with Lipman Produce about their business and their perspective on labor and immigration issues.  We then moved on to see a crew of farmworkers from Maryland picking cherry tomatoes under the hot sun.  It was more than 90 degrees outside and Karishma and Lauren had a great appreciation for the hard labor involved in picking these small tomatoes.

The next stop was one of the camps that farmworkers call home for the duration of their stay on the Eastern Shore. Our Congressional friends were shocked by how difficult the living conditions were for families.  We had to explain, though, that the conditions Karishma and Lauren were seeing were better than many that farmworkers must endure when they travel to harvest our country’s fresh produce.

Migrant farmworkers earn low wages for their back-breaking work and often live in housing provided by the grower.

Migrant farmworkers earn low wages for their back-breaking work and often live in housing provided by the grower.

ECMHSP provides much needed Head Start services to the children of farmworkers at our centers.

ECMHSP provides much needed Head Start services to the children of farmworkers at our centers.

Our last stop was our wonderful Migrant and Seasonal Head Start center in Parksley. There, Karishma and Lauren were able to visit with some young infants and some sleepy preschoolers. Karishma and Lauren both shared there deep appreciation of our work and that they’d love to learn more from us, particularly in reference to immigration policy. What a tremendous opportunity for us to share accurate information from the real world and to advocate for our families in this area!

Open doors and smiling faces at Parksley

LaShundra Weeks is the Center Director for the Parksley Migrant Head Start Center in Virginia. This is her experience at the center’s opening day.

The secret to success is planning.

Parents came to the center before opening day for orientation and to meet teachers.

After much planning and preparation, ECMHSP’s Parksley Head Start Center, located on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, finally opened its doors on June 28, for yet another season.

In this region, migrant farm laborers work alongside local, seasonal farmworkers to harvest the hand-picked crops.

The Parksley center staff conducted a parent orientation the day before opening. The orientation allowed parents to get familiarized with the Head Start services being provided, as well as affording an opportunity for parents to tour the center. Parents are also able to meet their child’s teacher to create a personal connection.

On opening day the teachers were eager and anticipating the children’s arrival with numerous of shared activities planned.

Family Service Coordinator Jose Ramos greeting a child on the first day.

Family Service Coordinator Jose Ramos greeting a child on the first day.

Our Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program provides a range of services in areas of education and early childhood development; medical, dental, and mental health; parent involvement; and family support services.

Staff at the Parksley Center is looking forward to developing trusting, caring and supportive relationships with our children and families this season.

For more information on the services provided by ECMHSP’s Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program and centers near you, please visit our website: www.ecmhsp.org

 

Children are able to learn and play in our Parksley Head Start Center.

Children are able to learn and play in our Parksley Head Start Center.

 

ECMHSP Prepares for Florida’s Farmworker Families

Workers place the berries directly into the plastic clamshell packages that shoppers will find in stores. Photo credit: Dan Charles, NPR

Workers place the berries directly into the plastic clamshell packages that shoppers will find in stores. Photo credit: Dan Charles, NPR

This week, National Public Radio (NPR) aired the investigative report, “In Florida, Strawberry Fields Are Not Forever.” This report is part of the ongoing series by NPR, in collaboration with ECMHSP, focusing on our farmworker families and the work they do providing America with a safe and secure source of fresh fruits and vegetables.

In this story, reporter Dan Charles spoke to farmworkers who describe the back-breaking labor of the strawberry harvest in and around Plant City, Florida. There, farmworkers work long days under the hot sun in hopes of making enough money to feed their families. Farmworker parents, like Bernarda Chavez, soon will pack their belongings and move their families up the East Coast, following the labor contractor to the next harvest.

Working in strawberry fields require long days in under the hot sun.

ECMHSP parent work long days in under the hot sun during the strawberry harvest.

The farm fields are no place for young children. When young children accompany their parents into the fields, they are exposed to the many hazards of agricultural work, such as pesticides, heavy machinery, and extreme weather conditions. They need a nurturing, safe place where they can play and learn.

In the coming weeks and months our Head Start centers in Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey will open their doors to our migrant farmworker families ensuring that young children do not accompany their parents to the fields. Our dedicated employees will open their hearts to these same families as well. As spring arrives, we celebrate the contributions of farmworker families who miraculously feed this great nation.  We also celebrate our dedicated employees who make minor Head Start miracles happen each and every day.

Office of Head Start's Colleen Rathgeb and ECMHSP's Parksley Center Director LaShundra Weeks with children from farmworker families.

Office of Head Start’s Colleen Rathgeb and ECMHSP’s Parksley Center Director LaShundra Weeks with children from farmworker families.