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Advancing the Lives of Farmworkers in South Carolina

Michael Edmonds is a 2005 College of Charleston graduate. Upon receiving his undergraduate degree, he joined the United States Peace Corps. Michael started his career with East Coast Migrant Head Start Project during the 2012-2013 season. Please read about our recent phone interview with him.

Michael, can you share information about your background?

I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. Following college, I served in Guatemala as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer. I worked in Appropriate Technologies for Improved Family Health in the border town of Tacaná, San Marcos for three years. While living there, I worked alongside the local Mayan Mam community, where we completed different types of projects including potable water systems, cisterns, wood burning stoves, well pumps, and dry latrines. I returned to the College of Charleston, where I obtained a Master’s degree in Spanish Interpreting and Translation. Following graduate school, I worked for the Charleston County Department of Migrant Education, where I first began to work with the migrant farmworker community. I speak annually at the South Carolina Farmworkers Institute, an interdisciplinary conference for professionals who serve farmworkers in South Carolina. 

How did you start your career with ECMHSP start?

I started working with the Charleston County Migrant Education Program in 2011 and volunteering occasionally at the Camp Care Center. My first year with East Coast Migrant Head Start Project was the 2012-2013 season. I was hired as the Family Services Coordinator at the Colleton Center. I served there for two years before becoming the Family Community Partnership Specialist in the Charleston Office. I support a team of family services coordinators through training, technical assistance, and professional development. By establishing regional partnerships, we link farmworkers across the state to essential services that support holistic family well-being.

Is there anything unique you would like to share about South Carolina Direct Services?

In May of this year, we celebrated our 40th year serving migrant farmworker families. SCDS began as a delegate agency run by the Rural Mission, Inc. Program on Johns Island in 1980. We are so proud of our long history of service to the migrant and seasonal farmworker community. We are also one of the few Direct Services Programs with a formal memorandum of understanding with the State Department of Education Migrant Education Program.

What are your region’s main community partnerships?

SCDS continued our long-term partnership with the South Carolina Department of Education Migrant Education Program during the 2020 season. Prior to the 2020 season, regional office staff took part in weekly roundtable meetings for almost two months, which discussed how services would be rendered in the middle of a pandemic, as well as ways in which collaboration between our different agencies could improve service delivery. Family Services staff worked in close collaboration with local Migrant Education Staff during the identification and recruitment process. We assisted Migrant Ed in the completion of their Certificates of Eligibility (COEs) and kept in constant communication with Migrant Education. This communication allows us to collaboratively support families, with the Migrant Education Program focusing on the needs of older children while we focus on the needs of their younger siblings through shared home and school visits. Our Health/Disability Services Specialist also sits on the Board of the Fetter Health Care Network. She is afforded the opportunity to advocate for our families as a member of this board, which serves our migrant and seasonal families in Colleton County.

As the season in your region comes to an end, what message would you like to leave the families you serve?

This has been a very challenging season for both our families and staff. They had to implement new procedures to try to keep themselves and our families safe. I am so proud to have them as coworkers. Our families put an enormous amount of faith in ECMHSP and our updated procedures. I’m proud that these families trusted us to keep them and children safe during uncertain times.

We know you have been invited to participate in a national webinar to share about a recent pilot program with ECMHSP. What can you tell us about this exciting opportunity?

Giselle Santiago, Family Community Partnership Specialist for the Florida West region, and I piloted this program at a center in Florida and South Carolina. I was excited for this opportunity, but more than anything, it was a treat to talk to and interact with Head Start programs from around the country. It was fascinating to talk to other programs around the country about how their trainings went, and about their approaches to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also very important for me, and Giselle as well, to be able to advocate for our families. In many ways, our migrant farmworker families have less formal education and much less history with the American health care system than the average Regional Head Start family. Please join us for the webinar on Tuesday, October 20. Click here to register:


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