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Going the Extra Mile in Florida West

Mexico Family

Marimar Ramirez is the eldest of three children in a farmworker family.  Her parents have been working in the fields for more than 20 years, and Marimar began to follow in their footsteps until one day, while working in the fields, a coworker told her about East Migrant Head Start Project.  This conversation changed the direction of her life.  Keep reading to learn more about Marimar’s story from my phone interview with her.

Daughter and Me

Marimar and her daughter Natalia (7).

Tell me a little bit about your story at this center?

In 2016, I was out working in the fields.  I remember I was packing fruit when a coworker asked if I was interested in furthering my education.  At the time, my daughter was five years old.  I wanted to give her a better future, so I listened carefully.  My coworker told me about career openings at the ECMHSP Jennings Center (in Florida).  Shortly after, I personally went to get more information.  I learned that I would need to get accredited in order to teach in Florida.  May of 2016 was my first season as the Assistant Teacher at the ECMHSP Jennings Center.  After one season, I obtained a position as a Family Services Worker.  I successfully completed the Family Services Credential [through ECMHSP] in April of 2018 and became the Family Services Coordinator for the ECMHSP Jennings Center.

First Parent 05-21-18

Marimar Ramirez, Family Services Coordinator and Migneris Ruiz, Health Disability Services Coordinator.

What do you enjoy most about each season?

The most exciting part is being able to build a bond with our families as well as sharing knowledge with them, so they can become leaders and advocate for their children.

Can you share a challenge that you’ve had to overcome while working at ECMHSP?

A challenge that I overcame was learning to travel without having self-condemnation.  I leave my seven-year-old daughter in care of my mother when I transfer to another ECMHSP center to provide services.  There have been months at a time when I’ve only been able to see my daughter during the weekends.  I’ve learned to be proud of myself when I’m far away from home, as I am providing for my family and supporting families in need.  I keep in mind that I work with families that face bigger challenges, such as traveling most of the year to make ends meet.

What other centers have you worked at?

I’ve worked at the ECMHSP Palm View Early Head Start Center and at the ECMHSP Palmetto Center.

What are the resources that you use to provide a high-quality education to the children at your center?

The resources that we use to provide a high-quality education to our children is by using the creative curriculum provided by ECMHSP, as well as having dual-language teachers in each classroom.  Also, the three assessments per season to follow the developmental milestones of each child enrolled in our center.  And most importantly, incorporating and encouraging parents to support their child’s growth.

How long do the different seasons last?

Our [Jennings Head Start] center typically operates from May to October.  However, the seasons vary depending on the weather.  The ECMHSP Jennings Center operates during the tornado/hurricane season.

What kind of agricultural work do the farmworker families perform at your center?

Our families during their stay here in the Jennings area work mainly in the tomato fields.  Once they travel up north or further down south, they will work with bell peppers, squash, and watermelon. Some of our parents also work at nurseries.

What are some of your center’s community partnerships?

The center’s community partnerships include: Hamilton County School District, North Central Early Steps, Sysco Jacksonville, Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, North Florida Pediatrics, and the Department of Community Dentistry.

Digital Camera

Our preschoolers engaging in the art therapy program.

Are there any new partnerships you’re excited about?

I’m excited about a pilot program that was offered this past season by Florida State University (FSU).  Throughout the season, Theresa Van Lith, Assistant Professor of Art Therapy at FSU, came to our center’s preschool class for more than 10 sessions.  The initiative used art therapy for our 18 preschoolers to express their feelings through art of their own.  The children enjoyed every session. We hope to continue this program during our next season.

Digital Camera

Emily proudly shows the certificate she received from Florida State University.

How do you maintain strong relationships with parents?

I maintain a strong relationship with parents by providing a welcoming environment and being understanding to their needs.  I’m humble and share my farmworker story with them.  I make sure they know they have a voice at our center.


The children enjoying circle time on the last day of the season!

Now that the season has ended at the ECMHSP Jennings Center, Marimar is waiting to see if her help will be needed at any of the other ECMHSP Florida Direct Services West locations.  She’s always willing to go the extra mile for all the farmworker families that are served at our centers.  Marimar, we know you have a bright future ahead.  Thank you for choosing to be a part of our family!

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