The basics: Rubén Castillo, 48, is the administrator of Migrant Education for the Fresno County Office of Education. He’s married and has one son and two daughters, ages 8 to 19.
What he does: Castillo works with migrant farmworker families to keep the kids engaged in education and assist in getting them medical care. Each Christmas his team selects one family in need and gives them a Christmas that they wouldn’t normally have, with donations provided by Educational Employees Credit Union. Castillo and his team invite the family to their office and surprise the children with a Christmas party, sing them Christmas carols and even introduce the kids to someone important – Santa Claus. They also supply the family with a Christmas tree. Castillo and his team also put backpacks together for children in migrant families with the assistance of ARC of Fresno/Madera Counties. When the families leave for wherever the new harvest is, Castillo’s team fills 3,500 to 4,000 backpacks with school supplies and workbooks so the kids can keep up on their education after they’ve left school for the season. When they return, tutors meet with them to review the material they worked on while they were away.
Why he does it: “About 90 percent of us were migrant students – lived the lifestyle. We missed a lot of school. I don’t ever remember completing a full year of my elementary years,” Castillo says. “I lived it. I went to so many different migrant clinics, that that’s where I got my health care. I never went to a doctor.”
The turning point: Castillo sees his role as an opportunity to help the kids who are in the same situation he was in. “Forty years ago, I was living that lifestyle,” Castillo says. “And you know what makes me sad? That 40 years later, they still do. So imagine the passion we have as adults to be able to run the program that serviced us years ago.”
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Details, details: The Migrant Family Christmas Day started 15 to 18 years ago when the EECU moved into its downtown office, where the Migrant Education was then based. When Castillo started 11 years ago it was a much smaller affair. The family used to come up to the office, get the gifts and then go home. Now, it’s more of a party.
What others say: “Rubén is a champion in education for the 7,000 migrant students in Fresno County,” says Jim Yovino, Fresno County superintendent of schools. “His backpack program provides students with much more than school supplies and books. It instills in them the desire to learn. That’s life-changing.”
“Rubén has a generous and caring heart for all children, especially the migrant students of our county,” says Lisa Birrell, communications and public relations officer with the county education office. “Because he was a migrant student, he understands their unique challenges and the educational resources they need to succeed. Rubén is kind, funny and his staff loves him. His dedication makes all of us better.”
How you can help: Anyone wishing to support the education of children in migrant families can donate money to the Foundation @FCOE at fcoefoundation.org. All donations earmarked for migrant education go to the program.