PALMETTO -- Damari Delgado sat at a round table Wednesday evening inside First United Methodist Church of Palmetto -- her mother at her right. The two chatted and laughed over chips and salsa and under a colorful balloon boasting "Grad."
The 17-year-old senior at Palmetto High School was one of a handful of migrant students at a special dinner organized by the Council of Migrant Parents of Manatee County at the church at 330 11th Ave. W. in Palmetto. The dinner celebrated the 2014 graduates of Migrant Education, a national program that provides children of migrant farm workers with support services and access to education.
Delgado said she has received help from the program since she was in pre-kindergarten. Despite traveling between Florida and Texas for her parents' work, the teen said she has never felt different from other students.
"All it was is that I had to study more and sometimes how people have their parents helping them with their homework... I didn't have that experience because my parents were always working in the fields," Delgado said.
Delgado plans on attending Manatee Technical Institute to pursue a career as a dental assistant, and from there she plans on attending the State College of Florida to become a dental hygienist.
Delgado's mother, Blanca Soto, said being a migrant farm worker is difficult -- but it's even more so for workers' children.
"Many times we don't have sufficient time for them because when we get home, we want to rest," the 50-year-old mother of five said. "But even so, we try to support them and get them ahead."
Soto, who travels to Texas to work from June through August every year as a tomato packer, has missed many of her children's school functions. Damari is Soto's fourth child to graduate from high school.
"I feel very proud because they've done what we've wished for them -- to push ahead," she said.
According to Kate Hoffman, coordinator of English for Speakers of Other Languages, Migrant and Immigrant Academic Services, an estimated 20,000 migrant students are in Florida, including about 700 in Manatee County.
"Manatee County has the 10th-largest migrant population in Florida," Hoffman said over the phone Wednesday morning.
Irma Aguilar, outgoing president of the Council of Migrant Parents of Manatee County, watched proudly as her daughter, Elizabeth Aguilar, hosted the dinner alongside TV personality Maria Ruiz.
The mother of five said she felt excited about the event she has helped organize for a few years.
"More than anything, to involve myself with the (migrant students) so they won't stop short of their career paths," Aguilar said in Spanish.
Amaris Castillo, Law Enforcement/Island Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.