• Rita Rey

Idalia’s Journey: From Harvest to Head Start

Updated: Jan 14

Idalia harvesting cucumbers in Ohio

When Idalia has flashbacks of her childhood, many of those memories take place in the fields.  Some seasons she lived in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas.  She is currently the Health Disabilities Services Coordinator at the ECMHSP Palmetto Center in Florida.  I recently had the opportunity to learn more about her and the work she does for East Coast Migrant Head Start Project.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

My parents are both from Mexico and have been farmworkers for more than 30 years.  I was born in Washington State.  Starting at the age of eight, I helped my parents with the harvest of cucumbers and tomatoes.  While helping my parents, I saw many friends of mine working with their parents as well.  My family spent six months out of the year in Texas, then migrated to Ohio or Michigan between April and September.  I got married at the age of 17 and continued to migrate for work with my husband.

Idalia and family

Left to right: Idalia’s husband, Jorge Castillo, Elisa Castilla (12), Jorge Luis Castillo (19), and Idalia Castillo.


When did you realize that you no longer wanted to migrate for work?

When my son turned eight in 2007.  Having been part of a migrant farmworker family, I knew how hard it was to change schools every few months.  I wanted my son Jorge to have one school and one home.  I wanted him to have the stability that I didn’t have as a child, so I decided to stay in Florida to do seasonal work.

Idalia and son

Jorge’s high school graduation.


How did you start your career with East Coast Migrant Head Start Project?

In 2010, I was living in Florida during the cucumber season.  I heard a new Head Start center in Myakka would open soon, so I went to ask about job openings.  My brother had attended a migrant Head Start center in Texas from birth until the age of five, so I was already familiar with Head Start’s mission. Shortly after, I got hired at the ECMHSP Myakka Center as an Assistant Cook.  I kept this position for two seasons, then became the center’s Health Disabilities Worker for about six years.  This is my first season as the Health Disabilities Services Coordinator at the ECMHSP Palmetto Center.

Field day - Palmetto Center Season 2017-2018

Field Day for the ECMHSP Palmetto Center during the 2017/2018 season.


What is the most exciting part of opening the center?

Being able to serve the children.  I know how hard their parents work from sun up to sun down.  They face many difficulties to find a safe place for them while they’re working.  The children here are well-fed and are given an early childhood education.

What countries are primarily represented by your center’s farmworker families?

Most of our families are from Mexico and Guatemala.  They speak Spanish and English, while many of them are bilingual.

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

We have families that pick tomatoes, harvest jalapeño and banana peppers.  Parents also work in a variety of nurseries.  In addition, the strawberry season starts next month.  Our ECMHSP Palmetto center is open year-round to serve more families.

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

Our center’s Health Coordinator helps us keep the children up to date with immunizations and physicals.  If there is a special health need, she makes sure that the medication is available.  We partner with organizations to offer medical, mental, and dental services.  In addition, we have several types of assessments to evaluate children and diagnose disabilities.  If therapy is needed, parents have the option of receiving it at their homes or in our centers.

What do you hope to accomplish at your center this season?

We currently have 46 kids enrolled.  I want to serve as many children and families as possible and provide the best services we can give them.

How do you maintain strong relationships with parents?

I come from a family of migrant farmworkers.  My family used Head Start services, so our farmworker families identify with me.  Being able to speak Spanish helps build trust and encourages communication.  I tell parents that this program will prepare their kids to be successful in school.

Idalia and Dr. Villa

Idalia Castillo and Dr. Villa, ECMHSP CEO.


We want to congratulate Idalia Castillo for her professional growth during the past eight years.  ECMHSP is proud to have such passionate individuals that go above and beyond every day at our centers.  Idalia’s parents still work in the fields today, which is why it’s so important for her to advocate for our farmworker families.

#MyakkaCenter #Florida #Mexico #MigrantFarmworkers #ECMHSP #Advocacy #HeadStart #PalmettoEarlyHeadStart #MigrantFarmworkerFamilies #EarlyChildhoodEducation

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