– From the Harvester, Holiday issue 1995 –
In 1965, the Redlands Christian Migrant Association started in Dade County with one center, and has since grown to an organization with 70 different programs – day care, health care, outreach. At 52 centers in 17 counties, it touches the lives of about 6,000 children each year, and continues to grow.
On Dec. 1, 1995, RCMA commemorates its 30 years of service with a celebration luncheon in Orlando. Sen. Bob Graham will be the featured speaker at the fundraising event. Recognizing the contribution made by RCMA, FFVA conducted a Harvester Roundtable discussion with Wendel Rollason, executive vice president of RCMA; George Sorn, president of RCMA and former executive vice president of FFVA; and Patrick Leary, FFVA board member who has experienced RCMA from a grower’s perspective.
FFVA: How has the RCMA program helped growers maintain morale and stability for the workforce?
Sorn: I don’t think there’s any question that growers who assist in the provision of day care centers for family-oriented workers get an advantage. He gets better workers, they’re more settled, they don’t have their kids on their minds while they’re working. And that is the big difference between RCMA and a regular day care center because much of the work goes beyond the hours of a typical day care provider. Whenever the need is there, RCMA is available. The labor force in Florida has changed over the past 40 years. Now, we have mostly family-oriented workers who care about their children. And the mindset for a worker who knows his children are well cared for is much better, and he is a better worker.
FFVA: What kind of education do the children receive at RCMA?
Sorn: The whole process is educational, and it prepares the kids for their formal education in the public schools. One of the good things about this program is that it helps the children of migrant farm workers who have extraordinary problems in obtaining an education equal to that of other children. When migrant children come into a public school system after the school year starts and leave before it’s over, that’s a problem. The RCMA program tends to follow the farming season and caters to the special needs of the migrant children.
Rollason: In our after-school programs we work with the schools according to their needs. In Immokalee, for example, we concentrate on the migrant child in the third through sixth grade. In Ruskin, we have our outreach program in the middle school. It’s where the school system feels our resources fit best. We help with homework and promote the value of education in these youngsters. We take them on field trips and take them to the university too and let them feel what a college is like. We equally stress the values of a trade because not everyone will want to go to college. We expose them to the training for a mechanic or a carpenter. And when we see a child with an interest in agriculture, we encourage their studies so that they can start a professional career in farming.
Leary: We’ve had personal experience with the teachers in the school system. When we see the teachers and principals, they say they can spot an RCMA child immediately. They say it’s a difference of night and day. It’s not a baby-sitting service. They provide training and education. The kids can identify words, shapes and colors before they show up in kindergarten. The RCMA children have the same skills and abilities, including social skills, that kids from non-seasonal worker families have. It makes it a lot better for the teachers.
FFVA: Patrick, what role has RCMA had in your area?
Leary: They came to this area in the mid-1980s and opened one day care center. That’s when we started working together. Now, Indian River County has three RCMA facilities. We were so impressed with them that we turned our facility over to them two years ago. I thought we had a very good day care center, but because of their long experience, they’re doing a better job than we were doing. It’s done a tremendous service to the seasonal folks who work in this area and need good day care for the children. They work here just part of the year, and when they get here most day care centers are filled, and I guarantee you more expensive. Redlands is a very fair price, or even down to zero if you can’t afford to pay. They don’t turn anybody away.
FFVA: What is the age range of the children cared for by RCMA?
Leary: In our facility that we’re leasing to them, it starts at around six to eight weeks and goes up to after-school care for kids of 12 or 13 years. People don’t think about that, but that’s a big service because there are so many latch-key children coming home to an empty house. RCMA will provide a service where kids can be dropped off before and after school so that they don’t have to be alone.
Sorn: RCMA also offers a coordinated health care program where they can spot problems in children and direct them to the proper medical facilities. That helps the child overcome medical handicaps and other handicaps. Something else RCMA does is get the parent involved. They have after-school programs where they go into the homes after school and try to get the parents involved in the education, and that has helped tremendously.
FFVA: There are certainly plenty of success stories about RCMA children, but does one stand out in your mind?
Rollason: There was a 14-year-old girl who dropped out in Homestead. We put her into a youth program we had. She went on to get her G.E.D. diploma. She then went to Barry College in Miami and got her bachelor’s degree in education. And Dade County Schools put her in charge of the adult education program that the school system had for farm workers and other rural poor in southern Dade County.
FFVA: RCMA’s 30th anniversary celebration is just days away. What does this milestone mean to you?
Rollason: I think the 30th anniversary of RCMA is a tribute to the agricultural industry across the board. It’s a clear example that if we can approach our problems on a national level to the same extent we are now doing in the farming community, this country would be much further ahead than it is now.
FFVA: It seems to be an example of agriculture working together to solve a problem, doesn’t it?
Rollason: The industry has made our success, no question about it. We couldn’t have gotten into the farms; we couldn’t have gotten the money, the land, and the buildings without the donations by members of the industry and associations like FFVA. They have proven their deep, deep concern through their support of RCMA. This is very important to the whole picture of building a society of people who are helping each other.