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Published: Thursday, 11/16/2000

Land sought by Head Start

BY MIKE TRESSLER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Head Start `provides a good foundation for children,' says Cris Cuevas, right, acting regional director, with secretary Belinda Vallejo at the migrant council's regional office. Head Start `provides a good foundation for children,' says Cris Cuevas, right, acting regional director, with secretary Belinda Vallejo at the migrant council's regional office.
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FREMONT - Officials are looking for someone to donate land so they can build a state-of-the-art Head Start center that would serve more than 100 migrant children on Sandusky County farms.

The Texas Migrant Council's Ohio office in Millbury has received one-time funding from the federal government to build the preschool facility. But the council cannot buy land with any of the $600,000 grant.

The council is seeking a landowner who will donate land or be willing to lease a site at an affordable rate.

“We're out looking,” said Hoda Asal, an assistant Migrant Head Start director for the Texas Migrant Council.

The Texas Migrant Council is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Laredo, Tex., that acts as an advocate for migrant families in Texas, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

It provides job training and other services to migrants as well as Head Start and other child-care programs.

In Ohio, Migrant Head Start programs serve 712 children of migrant families. About 550 of those children are in northwest Ohio, which has eight of the 10 Head Start centers in the state.

The regional office in Millbury has been awarded the federal funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to build a facility. A new center would serve 104 children.

“We'd like it to be in the Fremont area, or at least Sandusky County, which has the highest population [of migrants],” Ms. Asal said.

Cris Cuevas, acting director of the council's Millbury office, said Head Start centers are extremely important for children of the many migrant families that work in northwest Ohio. Thousands of migrant workers come to northwest Ohio each year to pick fruits and vegetables.

“Head Start is a wonderful program that provides a good foundation for children,” she said. “Our programs follow mandated performance standards that include nutrition, dental and health services, early intervention, disability services, mental-health services, and the foundation of Head Start, which is early-childhood education.”

The migrant Head Start centers serve breakfast, lunch, and snacks to children, provide transportation from and back to camps, and have continuing education for parents, Ms. Cuevas said.

Leasing county-owned land north of Fremont apparently will not work out, said Dan Liskai, president of the board of commissioners. Officials from the migrant organization have talked with commissioners about leasing two acres of a 24-acre plot owned by the county.

“But the land has no infrastructure yet, no water or sewer lines,” Mr. Liskai said. “Unfortunately, that work could not be done in time for the council's timetable.”

Ms. Cuevas said that land for the center must be identified by Jan. 31, the end of the fiscal year, or the grant money will go into a carryover budget, and the council would have to go through a long process to justify the project funding again.

Mr. Liskai said commissioners were interested in developing the county-owned land for use by both Vanguard Sentinel Vocational School and the migrant Head Start Center.

“There are 33 migrant camps in Sandusky County, and we want to serve them the best we can,” Mr. Liskai said. “But that land for a Head Start center is not going to happen, because there is not enough time to do the paper work and install waterlines.”

Ms. Cuevas said it is hoped to have a Head Start center built and open by June, when new families begin arriving.

The migrant council now must make a plea to property owners to donate land, Ms. Asal said. “We really do need it.''



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