DADE CITY, Fla. — Residents of Dade City's Tommytown have a new addition to their growing community — the area's first preschool.
- 98 percent of Tommytown economically disadvantaged
- Building where preschool is currently housed is not up to code
- USF Student Behavioral Health Organization holding fundraiser to benefit preschool
'Calle De Milagros', or 'Street of Miracles', is a haven for thousands of farm workers in Dade City's Tommytown.
“We have developed sort of a little community of care for ourselves,” said Margarita Romo, started the nonprofit Farmworkers Self-Help in 1982.
Since then, that 'little community' has grown into a hub of seven buildings providing everything from health care to dance classes.
The latest addition is a preschool, which will be located at the Norma Learning Center.
The center currently serves as a multipurpose building.
“We’re looking at these kids that everybody forgets about and say, ‘This kid has a chance,’" Romo told us. "If we can find a way to give that child a chance, then it’s never going to be the same."
Breaking the cycle
Ninety-eight percent of Tommytown is economically disadvantaged.
Many children from the area drop out of school because they never master the language, thus keeping the cycle of poverty alive.
The problem drew the attention of USF graduate research assistant Lacey Tucker, who first got involved with Farmworkers Self-Help while working on her master’s research project.
The assignment ended up really resonating with her.
“I grew up in a small rural community in the Appalachian Mountains - didn’t have a lot of money, grew up in a broken household,” Tucker recalled. “Seeing their community and the economic disadvantage that they experienced, I just couldn’t let it go. I wanted to continue working with this community past my research project.”
Now, Tucker is working with Romo to get the preschool up and running by August or September.
“There are so many things that we can do at a prevention standpoint that can combat so many issues if we just start at the beginning,” Tucker said.
Overcoming gaps in care
Tucker worked with the Student Behavioral Health Organization at USF to identify several behavior health concerns in the community that haven’t been addressed.
They are using the findings in conjunction with The Evolution Institute to create a curriculum that will improve social, emotional and behavioral challenges in Tommytown’s youth.
“One of the things that we’re hoping to do through this research project is to be able to identify what are the gaps to care, how can we overcome those gaps, and how we can change policy and change future initiatives for this community,” Tucker said.
Currently, one of those challenges is a physical one. The Norma Learning Center building is not up to code.
They will need to make crucial structural repairs to the building before the school opens, which will cost anywhere between $15,000-30,000.
For now, they continue to work on fundraising, keeping the big picture in mind.
“[The kids are] not just somebody here to pick fruits and vegetables, like their fathers did, but that they have an opportunity to be doctors and nurses and professionals of all kinds,” Romo said.
How you can help
The USF Student Behavioral Health Organization is holding a fundraiser on July 20 from 6:00-10:00 p.m. at the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club.
There will be trivia, bingo, an all-you-can-eat buffet, and a silent auction.
Tickets are $40 and can be purchased at https://www.paypal.com/pools/c/8fCF2cACjD.
You can also email Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Farmworkers Self-Help at (352) 567-1432.