From HeraldTribune.com, J. Nielsen, Correspondent, 23 Aug 2011.
Manatee County, FL –The Farmworker Education Program at Manatee Technical Institute provides support and services for agricultural workers who want to pursue their education, and many do.
With nearly 200 students enrolled for the fall semester, program coordinator Esperanza Gamboa and her staff work to ensure that agricultural workers succeed at pursuing their dream of a better life and livelihood.
“Goal No. 1 of our program is job placement; that’s the bottom line,” Gamboa said. “What we want is them working, and we have a big demand for those workers. These are hard workers, and it is a dedicated stable workforce. They don’t jump from one job to another.”
There are 87,000 Hispanics in Manatee County and 40,000 in Sarasota County, many of whom work in the fields as laborers or in packing houses. Their average salary is $7,000 to $12,000 a year.
“In this economy, we have a lot of agricultural workers coming back to us. Services, construction work, all those jobs disappeared, and they need to adjust for the new economy,” Gamboa said.
Most job openings are in careers such as nursing assistants or in culinary arts and business technology.
In the farmworker student population at MTI, Gamboa said 20 percent are single parents with children younger than 18, 65 percent have reading skills lower than the ninth-grade level and 72 percent have math skills lower than the ninth-grade level. Of those clients, 74 percent are unemployed.
The program is an essential component for those with additional needs.
“They feel awkward. They are afraid,” Gamboa said. “All of our students are like the rest of the students, except they have the support if they need it.”
The program has a long list of success stories. Many students have gone on to to work for MTI in one capacity or another.
Now a case manager with the Farmworker Education Program, Mary Guerrero recently began work on an associate’s degree at State College of Florida.
A 10th-grade high school dropout, she was a farm laborer who worked in Homestead, Bradenton and Palmetto as well as in the north. She decided she wanted to set a good example for her children, so she enrolled and graduated from MTI after studying business administration.
“I wanted my kids to do better. The further you go, the more they follow,” she said.
As case manager, Guerrero works with adults and high school students.
“Some of them do have learning barriers,” she said. “They’ve graduated, but they still need to take remedial classes. Everybody’s different; it depends. I feel we do help them. They learn; we give them training.”
The bottom line is the students need to improve their education and language skills, Gamboa said. They also need technical skills to succeed and help their families.
“It’s helping people who want to be helped,” MTI Director Dr. Mary Cantrell said. “We’ve been able to hire some of the graduates. “They must be legal; they must have the documentation.”
Graciella Matute, a recent immigrant from Honduras who has been in the United States for 10 months, is applying for residency through an aunt.
“I want to learn,” she said.
Studying English, she recently took her GED. While waiting for the results, she volunteers at the Farmworker Education Program office. Her goals are clear.
“My first concern is to get skills, so I can work in an office,” she said.
What: Farmworker Education Program.
Where: Manatee Technical Institute, Portable 202, 5603 34th St. W., Bradenton.
Information: 751-7947, 751-7950 or http://www.manateetechnicalinstitute.org