July 24, 2014

Agriculture

Growing Concern

A group that helps educate children of poor farmworkers gets aid from an unusual source.

Amy Welch Brill | 6/1/2005
Nearly 40 years ago, Barbara Mainster and her late husband, Wendell N. Rollason, moved to Miami from New York to create the Redlands Christian
Migrant Association to take migrant farmworkers' children out of the fields and into the classroom.

The couple started three camps in the beginning. "It was pretty rough back then, but I fell in love with the people," says Mainster, executive director of the association for 32 years and a former Peace Corps worker.

Today, Redlands is based in Immokalee, but its presence is felt throughout the state, with 70 centers in 20 counties caring for 6,000 poor, mostly Hispanic, children. Operating costs for the centers are paid mostly with grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services via the East Coast Migrant Head Start project.

One of Redlands' newest Head Start centers is in Balm, a small, rural town in Hillsborough County just north of Manatee County. But the center and an attached 72-unit apartment building for farmworkers and their families would never have been built without the help of the farmers who own the land.

Jay Sizemore and Marvin Brown, who own JayMar Farms, a strawberry and cantaloupe farm in Balm, donated 18 acres for the Head Start center and apartments and paid for the construction of the apartment building.

"People deserve to live in a decent place," says Jay Sizemore, who, along with Marvin Brown, donated 18 acres for an education center and apartments.

"Very few growers supply their own housing, so what Marvin and Jay have done is very unusual," says Mainster, who adds that Redlands has a great relationship with farmers throughout the state mostly because the farmers don't want children working in the fields either.

"We all have a desire for child care, education and housing" for poor children, says Mainster.

Sizemore sees the move as a good business investment as well. "People deserve to live in a decent place," says Sizemore. "A happy workforce is a good workforce."

More than 200 of JayMar's workers will live in the apartments, paying between $325 and $375 a month in rent. Though JayMar employs about 500 farmworkers at the peak of the strawberry-picking season, only about 150 to 200 stay the whole year. The average farmworker earns about $10,000 a year, and most aren't offered health benefits.

Despite Redlands' progress, there are still more than 2,000 poor children on Head Start center waiting lists statewide. Mainster says it is difficult to raise donations to keep expanding. Redlands must raise $500,000 a year to match grants from the state and federal governments. Still, the group recently opened a center in Dade City with a block grant from the Pasco County Community Development Block Grant Program and plans to open one soon in Plant City. Many former pupils now teach at Redlands centers across the state. "They want better things for their kids than they had for themselves," says Mainster.

Tags: Southwest, Agriculture

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