As a Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria and Bosnia, Monica Fish enjoyed working in foreign lands where the residents speak a different language and the culture feels anything but American. So when the 2000 graduate began looking for a new assignment, she found exactly what she was looking for—in Florida.
In October, Fish became executive director for the Immokalee Friendship House, a non-profit shelter in Immokalee, Fla., a town of 20,000 mostly Spanish-speaking migrant farm workers located in south Florida’s steamy agricultural heartland.
The shelter caters to the basic needs—clothing, groceries, diapers—of the transient population that follows the harvests of giant corporate farms.
“It’s a community in need, and it’s almost like living overseas,” says Fish. “But I had the desire to work here, and I’m passionate about it.”
She’s responsible for a shelter that holds about 44 people and a program that serves three meals daily—up to 30,000 a year. The shelter also provides case management, making referrals for medical care, counseling, lawyers and other services.
One of her first tasks was to reopen a thrift shop so migrant families have a choice of affordable supplies and clothing. But the clients have to give something in return.
“It’s a harsh reality, but we expect them to work and save up money,” Fish says. “They take showers, sleep, eat and go out to work, and we case-manage for them. Our goal is to get them out to a stable situation.”