On Monday, December 6th in New Orleans, Louisiana at the 2010 AFOP National Conference, we held a graduation ceremony in recognition of the Health & Safety Programs’ SAFE AmeriCorps members who recently completed a year of service. With just 27 SAFE AmeriCorps members, the group provided 75,807 essential health and safety trainings and services to farmworkers since their start last January. As AFOP’s Health & Safety Program Director, I was honored to welcome these amazing graduates, AFOP staff and board members, as well as special guest, Kevin Keaney, Chief of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Pesticide Worker Safety Program. AFOP Executive Director David Straus then gave opening remarks, congratulating the ambitious and dedicated members for the significant contribution they made in just one service term.
Mr. Keaney also addressed the attendees. He thanked the graduates in his speech saying, ”You’re providing them [farmworkers] with the knowledge and ability to protect themselves. You are ensuring their safety and a better life for themselves and their families.” He noted that the SAFE AmeriCorps program is a keystone in the Administration’s effort to ensure environmental justice lamenting the often “Third World” conditions that America’s toil in.
Four AmeriCorps members were then invited to share their stories with the audience. Melissa Cruz, who worked out of AFOP member Proteus, Inc.’s office in California, described the moment that made her realize how vital these trainings are for farmworkers and their families. She recounted an experience she had while conducting a Project LEAF (Limiting Exposures Around Families) presentation to a farmworker with children. “The mother told me she hadn’t known anything about these risks,” risks to pesticides that could not only make her children sick, but could potentially cause permanent damage to their health. She noted that through these programs she was able to bring this awareness and, consequently, able to provide farmworkers with the necessary information to help ensure their safety and their families well-being.
All 16 SAFE AmeriCorps members in attendance received a diploma at the end of the ceremony. While all of these members made a significant impact on the farmworker community with their amazing service level, a few members received special awards for their outstanding record for amount of hours worked, farmworkers trained, positive attitude, and other areas where members shined while providing health and safety trainings and services to those individuals who harvest our nation’s food.
We hope this next year will prove to be as wildly successful as this past year as we continue to serve America’s farmworkers. For more information on how you can become a SAFE AmeriCorps member, please contact Melanie Forti via email at Forti@afop.org.