By Suzanne Mahoney

Barbara Mainster, former Executive Director of Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA), was presented with Florida’s top child advocacy award in Tallahassee on March 25 at Florida State University Center Club during the Children’s Week celebration.

The Chiles Advocacy Award, named in honor of former Governor Lawton Chiles and First Lady Rhea Chiles, commemorates dedication to public service and commitment to the children of our State. The award is presented each year to a Floridian whose leadership is recognized for promoting policies and programs that improve the lives of Florida’s children and their families.

Mainster grew up modestly on a farm. “My parents…wanted to be independent…raise their own cows. They never made a lot of money on that farm, but the milk they sold put us through college,” she recalled. She studied anthropology at Cornell University, joined the Peace Corps and was stationed in Peru to work in a small preschool.

Mainster has been the voice and a force to reckon with for improving the quality of life of Florida’s migrant farmworkers and their families. Joining RCMA in 1972, she was responsible for educating migrant farm women and transforming them into exceptional caregivers. Since then, her advocacy has focused on issues of living conditions, early childhood development, health care, decent housing, fair treatment of women, the elderly, education and, of course, the children.

Her powerful public service efforts of over 40 years drove the organization’s vision and transformed RCMA into Florida’s largest nonprofit child care service and education center for the migrant and rural low-income children.

Under her leadership, RCMA has become a national model success story. She delivers a powerful and persuasive message to lawmakers, leaders in corporate agriculture and civic and professional organizations alike. She is known in Washington D.C. and Tallahassee for her moving testimonials before congressional and legislative committees where she championed Migrant Head Start funding.

“Barbara has been an inspiring leader,” said Gary Wishnatzki, owner of Wish Farms, a top-quality berry producer in Florida and RCMA Board Member. “She has a unique ability to bring together the community she serves with the agricultural industry leaders. Barbara’s ability to forge alliances is one of her greatest assets.”

Mainster now serves on Florida’s Reading and Literacy Partnership Committee and is a charter board member for the Socially Accountable Farm Employers (SAFE) program. Visit www.rcma.net.