• Cynthia Matthews

Learning the Impact of Advocacy

NAEYC brochure

Lynn Bowen, ECMHSP Head Start Administrator in Virginia, shares her recent experience at NAEYC’s Annual Conference.  The conference was held November 20 – 23 in Nashville, Tennessee.  Before starting at ECMHSP, she worked most of her teenage years at packing houses, grading green beans and cucumbers.  Please keep reading to learn why Lynn has dedicated almost 30 years of her life to serve migrant and seasonal farmworker families.

Lynn's old pic

How did you begin your career with ECMHSP?

I learned about ECMHSP when I applied to be an infant/toddler caregiver at the Cheriton Center, located in the Eastern Shore of Virginia.  In 1989, I started working as an infant/toddler caregiver for four years while attending college to complete my undergraduate degree.  Upon completion of my B.S., I moved to Florida and worked with another Migrant Head Start grantee.  I returned to ECMHSP in 2011 as a Quality Assurance monitor, working out of the Raleigh, North Carolina office.  In 2012, I returned to Florida to work with a non-profit agency in Immokalee and served as the Director of Professional Development.  In 2015, the same year I completed my graduate degree in Early Childhood Education, the ECMHSP Virginia delegate agency made the transition to direct services.  I applied and was hired to be the Head Start Administrator of Virginia.

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In 2016, staff from the offices of U.S. Senator Tim Kaine and U.S. Senator Mark Warner visited the ECMHSP Parksley Center, located in the Eastern Shore of Virginia. 


Why is it important for you to attend conferences like that of National Association for the Education of Young Children?

It is important for all who are involved in the field of early childhood and who advocate for migrant and seasonal children and families to attend and present at local, regional, state, and national conferences.  For those who are new to the field, attending conferences provides the opportunity to learn from experts, network with other providers, and provides a sense of accomplishment and professionalism. The field of early childhood is in transition.  There are many who continue to call child development centers “daycare” and call teachers “babysitters”.  This is not what we at ECMHSP do. We are qualified early childhood professionals who provide high-quality holistic services at child development centers.  Attending conferences and earning certifications, provides the foundation for continuous learning and elevates our profession.  It is only through ongoing professional development that we, as early childhood professionals, will receive the recognition that we merit.  Approximately two years ago, I presented an overview of migrant families during the Florida Association of Education of Young Children’s annual conference and was subsequently invited to present at another conference.  This type of exposure is priceless as I was able to share our mission with numerous professionals and agencies who would have otherwise remained unaware of ECMHSP.

Lynn at NAEYC conference

What are the main things you shared about our Head Start program during your poster presentation?

The main points shared during the presentation included our mission, and an overview of the population we serve.  Many participants were surprised to learn that we can provide high-quality services in what are, for the most part, very remote and rural areas.  Participants were also surprised to learn that our recruitment efforts include children with disabilities, dual-language learners, and that we provide services from Lake Okeechobee up to Lake Erie.

Lynn's presentation

What did you enjoy the most about NAEYC’s Annual Conference?

I enjoyed sharing ECMHSP’s successes and platform for providing services to migrant and seasonal families.

What valuable information will you be taking back to your Head Start centers in Virginia and our organization as a whole?

While speaking with a participant, she asked how I came to be presenting at the conference. I shared that I used to be terrified of public speaking and that at my first parent meeting I became so nervous that I left the center.  Luckily, my Center Director was understanding and helped me with the next meeting.  I commented that I began training during naptime with teachers.  I then progressed to local community trainings, regional, state, and now national.  I asked her to think of something about which she is passionate and to pursue that topic.  She told me that I had given her courage to submit a proposal for next year’s conference.  This interaction is the crux of what I would like to share with Virginia Direct Services and ECMHSP staff.  No matter where you begin, there is always room for growth and opportunity.  I began as a six-hour a day infant/toddler caregiver who had no car and had to ride my bike from a different town to Cheriton, Virginia in order to work.  People asked me, and continue to ask, why I do it.  The answer is simple.  I have enormous respect for the families we serve and am in awe of their tenacity and love for their children.  Sometimes our road will be bumpy, and there will be hazards, but the important point is to not give up.

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