DOVER — In 1965, the Redlands Christian Migrant Association opened the doors to its first two child care centers in Homestead with the hope that they could make an impact on the lives of migrant workers' families.
Today, it now operates more than 69 child care centers in 20 counties and serves a major part of the Hillsborough community.
"We were started in response to a need that the Mennonites saw in the Homestead area because there was no child care for farm workers, so they would end up taking their kids to the fields, said RCMA executive director Barbara Mainster. "The migrant farm worker community has grown and we're growing along with them to help meet their needs."
With an increasing need for child care assistance, RCMA has begun construction on a new $3 million center to serve the migrant farm worker population of Dover.
"That area near Plant City has had one of the largest waiting lists in the state," Mainster said. "In other words, we always have over 100 kids there who qualify, so that was one of the reasons why this needed to happen."
In a partnership with the Diocese of St. Petersburg Catholic Charities' San Jose Mission — which provides housing and other services to migrant farm workers — RCMA is rounding out a multifaceted assistance program for the Dover community.
"In the '90s, Catholic Charities really dedicated itself to working with USDA and other state housing initiatives to build 122 units of farm worker housing at San Jose Mission," said Diocese of St. Petersburg Catholic Charities Executive Director Mark Dufva. "Once you have 122 families living in an apartment complex then you need services and RCMA provides child care for the farm workers, which was critical."
Since the land was owned by Diocese of St. Petersburg Catholic Charities, RCMA worked closely with the organization to bring this new facility to life.
Currently serving 88 students, the new facility intends to bring in 136 more who qualify, which Mainster says will happen quite easily, since there is such a high need in the area.
"To qualify, children need to be between 6 weeks and 5 years old and both Mom and Dad need to be working in farm work and they have to travel to pick crops in other states," Mainster said.
While the new 15,000 square foot, 10 classroom building won't be completed until March, RCMA staff and Catholic Charities are happy to accommodate the migrant farm workers of Hillsborough with sensitivity and care.
"I think what's important is that we are hiring people from the same communities that we serve," Mainster said. "We can communicate, not only linguistically but culturally appropriately and understanding of what customs and what beliefs there are."
Contact Kelsey Sunderland at [email protected]