Tim Carter ’12 and Megan Van Dorp ’13 are spending the summer only a few miles from the Hobart and William Smith campus, but have found themselves in a community that is different from other experiences. The pair has spent the past months at the Rural and Migrant Ministry located in Lyons, N.Y.
Based out of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., the Migrant Ministry was created 30 years ago as an advocacy group for rural workers in Eastern New York. The non-profit organization thrives today with offices throughout the state and a diverse body of members and workers.
“You have a combination of very religious and non-religious folks who are passionate about farm worker advocacy,” says Richard Witt, executive director of the Migrant Ministry. “Labor laws have excluded these workers from basic rights. Our voice was not being heard, but it has now grown into a statewide campaign.”
Originally created to build affordable housing, the Migrant Ministry has evolved into an active presence and voice in the fight for the Justice for Farmworkers Campaign. Today, the Ministry focuses their attention on education and youth empowerment in addition to Justice for Farmworkers. The Ministry has nurtured grassroots movements, resulting in having drinking water required in fields, field sanitation and minimum wage for workers.
Perhaps most importantly, the Ministry provides a center for people to feel at home. Carter and Van Dorp immediately felt this sense of community while volunteering as part of an Alternate Spring Break Program offered through the Colleges’ Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. The spring break trip was the first of its kind – instead of traveling across the country, student volunteers ventured to local communities to lend a helping hand.
Since that week spent getting to know the workers of Wayne County, Carter and Van Dorp have become interns – as well as members – of this welcoming community. Attending weekly dinners cooked in the center’s kitchen and playing piano or guitar with members of the ministry’s music program, the HWS students have found a home beyond HWS.
Van Dorp, a Spanish major who will be studying abroad in Spain next semester, is currently working on creating a survival language program for workers who need to learn English – and quickly.
“A lot of the farm workers don’t have time to learn ABC, cat and dog,” says Van Dorp. In her work, she is also consulting with the creator of the premiere ESL literary program used in New York City. “When working all day to support a family, it’s hard to make time for that.” The course work includes learning how to fill out simple forms – such as those at a doctor’s office – and answering basic questions about family, health and oneself.
Raised on a dairy farm in Marion, N.Y., Van Dorp knows the struggles of the agriculture business and quickly found herself passionate about the issue of Justice for Farmworkers.
“I know how hard it is to keep a farm going,” explains Van Dorp. “It is particularly difficult to keep a family farm going while making sure workers are paid fairly.”
Carter, a philosophy and creative writing student, recently organized a benefit concert for the community in Lyons featuring musicians and performers from the Ministry, as well as homemade food prepared by workers who volunteered their time and skills. “It brought the community together in a harmonious way,” says Carter.
However, a majority of Carter’s attention has been focused on the Justice for Farmworkers Campaign, helping to foster healthy and solid relations between workers, community members and the local police. Carter and Van Dorp even made a trip to Albany to speak with legislators about the campaign and labor policies.
Currently, Carter and Van Dorp are working at a weeklong day camp they helped to organize for middle and high school students who are children of farm workers. Each day, they participate in community-based activities including trips to nearby Seneca Falls.
The newly formed relationship between the Colleges and the Rural and Migrant Ministry is one that students, faculty and staff hope to foster in the coming years.
“It’s been exciting to share with Hobart and William Smith,” remarks Witt. “Tim and Megan have done an excellent job; they are strongly committed to the Rural Migrant Ministry.”
In addition to Alternative Spring Break trips and student internships, the Ministry will be a resource for classes as well. Associate Professor of Economics Judith McKinney and Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric Neeta Bhasin hope to tie the work of the Ministry in with the courses they are teaching on immigration in the fall 2011 semester.
To learn more about the Rural and Migrant Ministry, visit their website at http://ruralmigrantministry.org.