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An Early Passion for Head Start


I recently had the opportunity to interview Mercedes Hernández, the Child and Family Health Manager at East Coast Migrant Head Start Project for almost three years.  Before her last day, we talked about her experience since starting with us in September 2016.

How did you first learn of the position you are currently in?

I have a friend who had worked for East Coast Migrant Head Start Project before. She had worked in the North Carolina Direct Services region and forwarded the information to me.  She thought I would be a good candidate for the position.  I had also met Christine Alvarado almost 20 years before when she was the Center Director at the ECMHSP Newton Grove Center in North Carolina.  I was interviewing professionals who were working with farmworkers as part of my training in my new job with the North Carolina Farmworker Health Program.

Why did you see yourself working at ECMHSP?

I had worked in farmworker health for many years prior to ECMHSP.  I had a passion for the farmworker movement and farmworker health, but I was not working in that field at that moment.  Second, my mom had worked for Head Start for about 17 years in Puerto Rico until I went off to college.  As a child, I would be around her while she was preparing materials for presentations.  My mom is a speech pathologist.  She was a single mother, and traveled to all the underserved communities of the metropolitan area in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  She would go to the Head Start centers to do trainings, screenings, and evaluate children.  I would go with her and did my homework while she did her trainings.  One of my first memories was seeing children at a Head Start center setting the table for lunch.  Through my mother, I learned to love and admire Head Start.  This position at ECMHSP combined my two passions of Head Start and farmworker health.  Also, being able to have the knowledge and education to serve farmworker families.

How did your previous experience prepare you for the Child and Family Health Manager position?

I was the Health Program Consultant for three years at the North Carolina Farmworker Health Program.  I also worked for the North Carolina Primary Health Care Association and the North Carolina Farmworkers’ Project.

Mercedes at the NMHSA Conference

What was the best part of your career at ECMHSP?

Working with the specialists and visiting the centers throughout the East Coast.  I have worked with more than 10 specialists.  I admire their professionalism, their commitment to the families and children, and their pride in their work. 

What was the most successful part of the training you received?

The specialists gave me the best training that I could get and the most support.  The manager position had been vacant for quite some time, so the specialists were doing their best to get the job done.  They were very patient with me during the training period.

What would you consider your team’s biggest strength?

My team consists of the managers within Program Support and Christine Alvarado, Chief Innovation Officer.  My team are all leaders in their specialty.  They all have tremendous knowledge.  Some of them have been here for a long time.  They have such a positive attitude and are hard workers.  My team takes Head Start services to the next level.  I’m honored to have worked with them all this time.

Is there anything that you would like to say to your team before leaving the organization?

I have really enjoyed working with my co-workers here at ECMHSP.  They are all so dedicated to our mission!  I feel very proud to have worked with a group of such incredible people.  I’m going to miss being surrounded by such amazing people every day. 

Mercedes, thank you for taking the time to talk to me.  We wish you the best in your new career path.  We look forward to having you on our team again in the future.  You will be greatly missed at ECMHSP!

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