2002-03-22 Grand Haven Tribune Mentors for migrant children needed

Mentors for migrant children needed
Grand Haven Tribune

The Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance is seeking volunteers interested in becoming social mentors for children from area migrant camps. By introducing community mentors for the migrant children, officials hope to build bridges between the cultural communities and provide these children with new friendships and experiences. For many migrant children, going to local parks, visiting the museums and even swimming at the beaches will be new experiences.

“Many of the migrant children would love to participate in more community activities, btu the families often don’t realize the resources that exist,” said Elba Fuentes, caseworker of the Migrant Mentoring Program.

By providing opportunities to participate in community activities, in partnership with the invaluable gift of friendship, Fuentes said they hope to create that sense of community and acceptance for the migrant children and their families. The issues of race and culture are also instructed with the return of the migrant worker families each season. When migrant workers enter the community, they are often viewed with curiosity and even discomfort by a population that is struggling to understand cultural differences. The sharing of cultures, values and lifestyles through relationships can help to build understanding and appreciation between our culture communities.

Ottawa County has the third largest number of fruit, vegetable and the nursery farms in the state, requiring a large migrant work force for the planting and harvesting of the crops. The migrant families travel from Texas to Michigan each spring and stay until late fall to provide these services. This necessitates that their children must go through the difficult transition of changing schools twice each year, Fuentes said. The children begin the school year in Michigan, only to leave after the fall harvest. They again re-enter this school system in early spring, when the workers return to the northern fields. In addition to the normal difficulties involved in changing schools, there are several other factors that create barriers for these children.

In most migrant families, English is not the first language. Although the majority of children are bilingual, many of the parents are limited in their English proficiently. This limitation creates a lack of awareness of community resources and an inability to access them. Even something as seemingly simple as understanding a local program schedule can become extremely difficult when one isn’t fluent in English.

Migrant workers face some specific limitations in their attempts to meet their children’s social needs. Migrant workers are in the fields for long hours each day, often six days a week, which creates time constraints for facilitating social opportunities. Additionally, the migrant camps are geographically isolated from the central community, with most camps located in outlying townships. Many migrant families lack adequate transportation need to facilitate their children’s social or after-school activities.

Lupe Cortez, migrant assistant and recruiter for the GHAPSD, believes community mentors can assist migrant children both socially and academically.

“Experience is the foundation of education and increasing the opportunity of that experience is important to the academic success of those children,” she said.

Anyone interested in volunteering as a mentor with the program should contact Gail Harrison at leda@ethnicdiversity.org Cultural awareness training will be provided for all volunteers. The Migrant Mentoring Program is a program of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance and receives funding from United Way and the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation.