Profile: National Farmworker Jobs Program of Florida Offers A Variety of Services
The hot Florida sun, long days, and low wages are all factors seasonal migrant farmworkers and their families contend with on a daily basis. The National Farmworker Jobs Program of Florida (NFJP) at SFCC, which is grant funded nationally through the Department of Labor and the Department of Education in Florida, offers an alternative to seasonal migrant farm work.
“NFJP is an asset in our tri-county area because we have a high population of seasonal migrant workers,” said Tara Jefferies, lead case manager, NFJP. “The high school dropout rate among these workers and their children is high and a very low percentage attends college, so we first try to reach them in the high schools and show them there is a means for them to attend college, and improve their employability skills.”
Students qualify for the program if they or their parents have performed migrant or seasonal farm work within the past 24 months and they, their parents, or their spouse have received at least 50 percent of the total earned income from farm work within the past 24 months. They must also receive public assistance or meet certain income eligibility requirements, be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen, have a social security card, and have a photo I.D. Males ages 18-26 also must have registered with Selective Service.
The program accepts students ages 16 and older and often families will participate in the program together. “We have siblings that will go through the program together,” said Minerva Ortiz, case manager. “Sometimes even parents will take ESOL classes while their kids do vocational training.”
When students first join the program, case managers assess their needs and help them find whatever services they need to develop skills for a lucrative career. They determine which type of training is needed, whether it’s ESOL, GED, or college prerequisite courses. From there, students can then enter into one of SFCC’s technical programs.
“We provide personalized counseling to our students,” Jefferies said. “Many are first generations college students and sometimes find it overwhelming to fill out college applications, financial aid applications, and choose which classes they need to take for their degrees. We sit with them and personally help them through the process.”
On occasion, students need assistance not only with applications and classes, but finding services like housing assistance or child care, and caseworkers will help them find the local agencies that provide the services they need. They also work with the SFCC Career Center in developing resumes and dressing for success, as well as job assessment and placement.
NFJP often works together with the Panther Youth Partners (PYP) program which conducts a variety of training programs to students age 16-21. “The ultimate goal of both programs is to provide vocational or GED training so our students are employable,” said Courtney Green, coordinator, tech prep/dual enrollment. “If one program does not have the service the student needs we can direct them in the right direction.” Students who meet the requirements are eligible to participate in both programs.
Along with assisting students in the program, case managers Minerva Ortiz and Rita Rodriguez also provide heat stress and pesticide training workshops for migrant workers free of charge. They hold the workshops at local farms and daycare centers. “Many farmworkers are not aware of the dangers of pesticides,” Ortiz said. “If a parent picks up their child from a daycare center coming straight from working in the field, pesticides could be transferred from their clothing to the child, and it can affect their health.” Following the pesticide training, workers receive a training completion card they can show their employers. The training is valid across the United States is good for five years.
Recently, Jefferies was chosen to attend the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs conference in Washington D.C. There she learned about the political process that funds special programs, such as NFJP, and met with other Farmworker program representatives from across the United States. “It speaks highly about our program that the State Farmworkers Association chose us to represent the state in Washington D.C.” said Kevin Brown, dean, applied sciences and technologies. “Our staff works tirelessly to provide the best services to our students.”
NFJP has had many local success stories including a student who started the program unemployed and was hired at $17 an hour by the Walmart Distribution Center. “It shows the strength of our program,” Jefferies said. “We want to help our students find jobs that are year round, offer benefits, and pay more than minimum wage so they can support their families; our students are doing just that.”