Lourdes Villanueva, a longtime employee of Redlands Christian Migrant Association, was among nearly a dozen Head Start leaders heralded during a ceremony at the White House complex.
They were recognized with President Obama's Champion of Change award. Obama wasn't there but Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said education programs such as Head Start touch off a "chain reaction of success."
"The power of the work you do is evident every day," she said at Monday's ceremony.
Villanueva, 53, is director of advocacy for Redlands, which helps the rural poor. Her duties include working with Head Start, which provides education, nutrition and more to children of low-income families.
Villanueva, a Plant City resident, picked crops from Michigan to Florida until she started working 30 years ago for Redlands in the Head Start program. She said Head Start offered a safe place for her three children, who were otherwise in the fields.
Villanueva received a tour of the White House but said she didn't get a chance to meet Obama. The trip was very worthwhile to spread the message of the importance of helping children of farm workers, she said.
Sebelius had high praise for the honorees.
"This is a terrific group of Champions of Change," she said. "They epitomize the best of the best."