CHS Celebrates 30 Years of Helping Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers Improve Their Lives through Education

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The Center for Human Services’ (CHS’s) High School Equivalency Program (HEP) is celebrating its 30th year of supporting migrant and seasonal farmworkers in their educational and professional pursuits. Since 1981, the program, funded by the US Department of Education’s Office of Migrant Education, has helped over 7,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey work to acquire their general education development (GED) certificates, the equivalent of a high school diploma, and successfully transition to the next level of education, vocational training, or employment. In 2011, HEP served 139 people and achieved a GED attainment rate of 92 percent, ranking the program fourth in the nation.

If it weren’t for the program, I don’t think I would have gotten my GED. I don’t think I would have the type of job I have right now.

The Center for Human Services’ (CHS’s) High School Equivalency Program (HEP) is celebrating its 30th year of supporting migrant and seasonal farmworkers in their educational and professional pursuits. Since 1981, the program, funded by the US Department of Education’s Office of Migrant Education, has helped over 7,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey work to acquire their general education development (GED) certificates, the equivalent of a high school diploma, and successfully transition to the next level of education, vocational training, or employment. In 2011, HEP served 139 people and achieved a GED attainment rate of 92 percent, ranking the program fourth in the nation.

“A GED opens doors to advancement and opportunity in our society," says CHS President Barbara Turner. “CHS is honored to help these workers attain their educational and professional goals through this High School Equivalency Program.”

Farmworkers are vital to the success of the nation’s agricultural industry. Yet they and their families face many challenges, including poverty, language and cultural barriers, lack of education, limited access to quality health care, and long-term separation from loved ones. HEP participants encounter many, if not all, of these challenges, as well as the added challenge of finding time, energy, and transportation at the end of a 10- to 12-hour work day to attend a GED class. Their determination to advance their education helps them overcome these challenges and improve their lives. For the past two years, over nine in ten of CHS’s HEP participants attained their GED certificate.

For 30 years, HEP has been meeting farmworkers’ needs by providing classes and activities at times that are convenient for their schedules (typically mornings and evenings) and offering a flexible open entry/open exit program that allows students to progress at their own pace. Once they acquire their GED certificates, the program helps prepare them for college, industry-recognized training programs, upgraded employment, or the military. HEP also empowers them by offering opportunities for promotion to positions of responsibility within the program.

“HEP gave me the opportunity to obtain my GED and, on top of that, they gave me the opportunity to get a job,” says Rocio Garcia, a former HEP student, who now serves as a HEP team leader and administrator in CHS’s Bridgeton, NJ, office. “If it weren’t for the program, I don’t think I would have gotten my GED. I don’t think I would have the type of job I have right now.”

HEP works closely with a network of organizations and higher education institutions to provide program participants with a variety of services, including job readiness and life skills coaching, parenting and career counseling, health education, instruction in English as a second language, and cultural exchange activities. HEP’s partner organizations include La Comunidad Hispana, Inc.; Harrisburg Area Community College; and Common Ground on the Hill at McDaniel College.

About Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers

Migrant and seasonal farmworkers are agricultural workers who maintain the quality of farms, crops, and livestock by operating machinery and doing physical labor. Migrant farmworkers relocate during the course of a growing season to find work, following crops for harvest. Seasonal farmworkers remain in the same area, harvesting crops in that area. According to the National Center for Farmworker Health, of the more than three million migrant and seasonal farmworkers estimated to be in the US, close to 90,000 are in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where CHS operates HEP. On average, farmworkers have an 8th grade education, and half of migrant teenagers do not graduate from high school. Farmworkers average 13 years of US farm experience but earn less than $15,000 annually, below the minimum wage. For these workers, earning a GED or high school diploma is conservatively estimated to be worth $260,000 in increased lifetime earnings.

About CHS

For over 40 years, the non-profit Center for Human Services (CHS) and its for-profit affiliate, University Research Co., LLC (URC) have focused on improving the quality of and access to health, social, educational, and vocational services in the US and abroad, with US programs targeting underserved populations throughout the country. CHS’s mission is to help clients meet today’s challenges and take advantage of tomorrow’s opportunities by providing a comprehensive array of education, training, advocacy, and health-related programs and services.

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Grogan Ullah, HEP Project Director

Elizabeth Ransom, Communication Director
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