BETH-EL Farmworker Ministry
A Ministry of The Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA)
(The information below is from the Beth-El website)
In the Beginning
Beth-El Farmworker Ministry began in 1976 when a small group of Cumberland Presbyterians rented a tiny house in Ruskin, Florida and began holding Spanish-language church services for migrant farmworkers.
When the families came to worship, their many other needs were obvious: they were usually hungry, often cold in winter, some slept in cars or trucks, many could neither read nor write, and most lived in fear of deportation. In its effort to meet some of those needs, Beth-El grew.
Now legally a nonprofit corporation, Beth-El Farmworker Ministry, Inc. has a 27 acre site on U.S. Highway 301 about 20 miles south of Tampa. The Ministry serves the nearby rural population. It operates under a covenant among its governing bodies, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Tampa Bay and Peace River Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
A third world country in our midst...
Migrant farmworkers are the poorest of the working poor. They brave the Florida heat to labor in extremely adverse conditions. Ninety percent are from Mexico and Central America. Some remain here year round, while others follow the crops.
Workers always outnumber the available jobs. Able to find work an average of 30 hours per week for only 30 weeks per year, they struggle just to feed themselves and their families. They are plagued by nutrition-related health problems: low birth-weight babies, anemia in children and diabetes and high blood pressure in adults. Housing is so scarce that it often consumes half of a family's income. In order to survive, families crowd together in dilapidated trailers, creating conditions where diseases thrive.
Frequent moves handicap migrant children in public school. They have little chance to develop self-confidence. Even those children whose families remain here year-round may miss school to work in the fields or to care for younger siblings so that both parents can work. Cultural and language differences make it hard for them to learn, and they often feel they don't belong. Frustration takes its toll, and over half drop out of school, limiting themselves to lives of field work and poverty.
A Our Mission Statement
Beth-El helps farmworkers achieve self-sufficiency through its open opportunities to worship, its extensive educational programs, and the many services it provides to meet basic needs. Help for basic needs are available for all who need them; we target the Hispanic population in our education programs and worship services.
Worship and Christian Education
Adults and children share in lively Sunday worship services. Adult services are conducted in Spanish. Bible study and prayer groups meet on Tuesday evening. Visiting youth groups host summer Vacation Bible Schools.
In the Adult Education program, operated by the School District of Hillsborough County, adults learn to speak and understand English and learn basic life skills such as family finances, parenting skills, and understanding medicine labels. Preschool age children of the adult students are cared for and educated in the adjacent program, so the whole family is learning together.
Annual summer programs review skills they They recall how to follow instructions, behave in the classroom, and use their time wisely. They also practice sharing, using acceptable language, and finding alternatives to fighting.
Field trips give farmworker children experiences that most children in the United States take for granted. They go to the zoo, to area museums, and to musical and theatrical performances. Sometimes they see a movie, go bowling, or roller skate. Always they have a great time and are grateful for the opportunities provided them.
In partnership with the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, Beth-El is home to a 55 seasonal Migrant Head Start center and a 200-child charter school. In these two excellent facilities and programs, the children of farmworkers have a chance to succeed in school and go on to higher education.
Each Tuesday we distribute food bags containing basic food items of rice, beans, flour, canned goods, cereal, pasta, and bread. This makes a very good supplement to the families' weekly food needs. For some families at some times of the year, it is all the food they have. It is very important!
Legal services are provided from the offices of Bay Area Legal Services, a separate nonprofit corporation on-site at Beth-El. Three full-time attorneys and their staff handle all types of civil law problems at no charge to low-income persons. Cases include injunctions against abusive spouses, landlord-tenant disputes, wage and hour issues, sales fraud, Social Security appeals and divorces. When those with no money for a lawyer need legal assistance, Bay Area Legal Services is indeed a blessing to the local community.
For more information, please visit the Beth-El website