• Rita Rey

A Head Start for the Zuniga Family

Updated: Mar 3

I recently had the opportunity to conduct a phone interview with Cecilia Zuniga, one of our team members at the ECMHSP Semmes Center, located in Alabama.  Keep reading to learn more about her professional growth since joining East Coast Migrant Head Start Project in 2014.

Please tell me about your background. How did you start working for East Coast Migrant Head Start Project?

At the age of 19, I moved from Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico to the United States.  At first, my family and I settled in McAllen, Texas.  I was not able to finish high school there because of the age limit, so it took me three years of night school to get my high school degree.  Two years later, I moved to Alabama, where I started working in the nurseries.  It was very heavy work.  It was too hot, but you feel like you are working with your family.  One day, a friend told me about career opportunities at ECMHSP.  Some of my coworkers also had their kids enrolled at ECMHSP, but I didn’t know much about the organization.  I started working for ECMHSP in 2014 as a bilingual caregiver.  The center director told me I had two years to obtain my CDA, which pushed me to keep studying. 

What made you a good candidate for the bilingual caregiver position? Why did you see yourself working at ECMHSP?

I fell in love with the Head Start program.  I liked being able to help migrant families, especially because it gave their kids the opportunity to be part of a dual-language learning program.

What are your educational goals?

I have been studying for one year a Bishop Community College, located in Mobile, Alabama.  Early next year, I should be getting my associate degree in accounting.  I work full time and take courses full time as well.  I try to juggle all my responsibilities, including being there for my three kids.  Most days I only get three to four hours of sleep.  I’m currently the Program Assistant at the ECMHSP Semmes Center.  My kids are the driving force that keeps me going when things get tough.  I want to keep studying and growing professionally.  Although my family didn’t support my continuing education at first, they then realized how motivated I was.  ECMHSP allowed me to discover what I was capable of. 

How do you maintain strong relationships with Head Start parents?

I’m a patient and humble person with our parents.  I regularly see former coworkers from the nursery come to enroll their children, so I make them feel at home.

At your center, what kind of agricultural work do the farmworker families do?

Ornamental plants like Azalea, winter plant trees, strawberries, watermelons, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

What are some of your center’s community partnerships? How do they benefit our families?

The local fire department teaches our kids and families about safety.  They also provide CPR training to our staff.  We also have a partnership with Family Preservation Services, where we refer our families to when they have trouble with their finances.  The city’s health department help us with immunization and dental treatments. The local elementary schools continue ESL services for our kids in the transition between ECMHSP and public school.  In addition, the Library of Semmes sends their staff to come and read to our kids.  We also have a close relationship with the Mayor of Semmes, Alabama.

Special thanks to Cecilia for making time to tell us about her story with ECMHSP.  We are proud to have such a resilient staff member on our team!

#Agriculture #MigrantFarmworkers #farmworkers #HeadStartWorks #ECMHSP #Advocacy #Alabama #HeadStart #HeadStartServices #SemmesCenter #FarmworkerFamilies #EarlyChildhoodEducation

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East Coast Migrant Head Start Project

2301 Sugar Bush Road, Suite 400, Raleigh, North Carolina  27612

Telephone: (800) 655-6831     Email: information@ecmhsp.org

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