Program must locate where migrants are
INDEPENDENCE -- The Oregon Childhood Development Coalition (OCDC) is completing a study that would show whether Polk County's migrant worker population is shifting to other regions.
If the assessment shows a greater need in other parts of the state, OCDC could move out of Independence, where it has operated for the past six years, said director Donalda Dodson.
"We haven't made any decisions," Dodson said, noting that the issue is "whether families are moving."
OCDC is a not-for-profit corporation that receives federal and state funds and grants to provide services. Those include medical and dental screenings, parent education classes, and a Head Start program for migrant families.
OCDC annually surveys growers, social service agencies, housing departments and other entities regarding migrant numbers.
Every three years, it conducts an in-depth report to assess population shifts in Oregon, Dodson said.
"It's just good planning so we can follow the need of the families that we supply services to," she said.
Polk County growers employ nearly 2,300 migrant workers each month, according to estimates from the Oregon Department of Labor.
That number exceeds 5,000 during the peak harvest months of May to September. OCDC served as many as 167 children in 2003. Last year, it enrolled 137.
Dodson said the assessment will look at a number of factors that have contributed to shifts in Oregon's migrant population during harvest season.
Last year's wet spring, for example, which caused a number of workers to bypass the strawberry and cherry harvests, may have explained the drop in Head Start students.
"We're also looking at whether some of the fields in this area are becoming industrialized and if the need for our services is moving because of that," she said.
OCDC's facility sits on property owned by Central School District. Officials recently agreed to rent out classroom space to Henry Hill Elementary School during the school year. (See separate story.)
Dodson said the organization might negotiate with the district for an early release from a 20-year lease and relinquish control of the building if the study shows a significant shift of its clientele to other cities.
Wasco, Hood River, Umatilla and Clackamas counties are seeing an increase in their respective migrant family populations, she said. And OCDC offices in Marion County typically have hundreds of people on a waiting list for enrollment in Head Start.