The Redlands Christian Migrant Association has made an immense difference in the lives of children across the state of Florida, including right here in Plant City. This month, the group received a special award in honor of its dedication to education.
Redlands Christian Migrant Association received the Affiliate Advocacy Award from UnidosUS during the organization’s annual conference, held Aug. 3-6.
RCMA serves many Plant City youth via its local child development center and has long been a staple in the community. The Immokalee-based organization is Florida’s largest nonprofit child-care provider and expanded to Ruskin in 1974 after the group’s initial conception in 1965.
The award was given to the organization for its “commitment to excellence in education and an unwavering belief that migrant students are to be held to the highest standards, so they reach their potential as individuals, and have life choices and opportunities for success,” according to UnidosUS.
“Receiving this honor from UnidosUS reinforces the importance of RCMA’s holistic approach to engaging and serving the entire family as we provide early childhood education and care,” Isabel Garcia, RCMA executive director and Head Start director, said. “Unlike many other educational institutions, RCMA must plan for the effects that migrant travel, poverty and discrimination have on our children and their parents. The fact that students at our three charter schools score higher on several Florida Standards Assessments measures than their peers and that we have more than 40,000 alumni who have gone on to lead successful lives demonstrates that we are making a positive impact on the most vulnerable children in Florida.”
Garcia has worked for RCMA for 30 years and accepted the award for the group during the ceremony at the national conference. She was born into a migrant farm work family and said she “knows first hand the challenges faced by the students and families that RCMA serves.”
Stories of many of the RCMA students have been featured in the Plant City Observer over the years and the lasting impact of its work for the community continues to be seen in ripple effects to this day.
It all began in 1965 with children’s centers in Homestead. Now, it operates 66 child development centers and three charter schools, and it partners with 25 family home care centers and after-school programs throughout the state of Florida. Approximately 6,500 children are served each year. Most of the children come from “low-income, migrant families who also receive support from RCMA for health care, immigration services and parenting skills.”
UnidosUS, which was formerly known as NCLR, is a nonpartisan voice for Latinos and “serves the Hispanic community through research, policy analysis, and state and national advocacy efforts, as well as program work in communities nationwide.”
The annual conference drew more than 3,000 “social change leaders,” experts and politicians to San Diego and acted as a catalyst for further change in communities across the nation.
On top of its child development efforts, RCMA also attempts to combat misconceptions and raise awareness of the challenges faced by migrant families and children in the communities they call home. RCMA staff, along with many of its students, and their parents frequently make legislative visits both throughout Florida and in Washington D.C. to champion its cause and the organization has made a strong effort to partner with local community leaders for its various Farmworker Advocacy services.
After all, approximately 85 percent of the organization’s $82 million budget comes from government grants, so community partnerships and legislative awareness play a key role in keeping the group afloat.