December 9, 2023
Child-care mainstay Barbara Mainster retires

Photo: Alex McKnight

Barbara Mainster, Executive director, Redlands Christian Migrant Association, Fort Myers; age 73

Southwest Florida Roundup

Child-care mainstay Barbara Mainster retires

Amy Martinez | 4/26/2017

In 1972, a former Peace Corps worker named Barbara Mainster joined the Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA), then a small child-care provider in southern Miami-Dade County. RCMA figured it could gain a foothold in the migrant community by hiring farmworker women as caregivers and brought in Mainster to help educate them.

Later as executive director, Mainster built RCMA into the state’s largest non-profit child-care provider.

Today, Immokalee-based RCMA serves nearly 7,000 children of migrant farmworkers and rural, low-income families in 21 Florida counties. It has 68 child-care centers, three charter schools, six after-school programs and 26 family child-care homes. About 80% of its staff has a farm-working background.

In January, Mainster retired at 75 and turned over the reins to Gayane Stepanian, a longtime non-profit manager who previously oversaw grant development for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade.

Stepanian, 45, grew up in a lower-middle- class household in southern California as one of three children of Armenian and Mexican immigrants. With a master’s degree in education, she moved to Miami in the late 1990s and joined the Injury Free Coalition for Kids at Jackson Health System.

There, for the first time, Stepanian came into contact with RCMA while providing child car seats to families. “Not everywhere are people so grateful, and not everywhere are staff members so passionate about helping their families,” she says.

Stepanian leads RCMA at a time of uncertainty in Florida’s migrant communities. Under President Donald Trump, children worry over the possible deportations of family members, she says. Although most children at RCMA centers are U.S. citizens, they may live in families where at least one member is an undocumented immigrant.

RCMA is working with families to get their affairs in order, including helping parents with permanent residency prepare and apply for U.S. citizenship.

“Fear is just in the air right now,” she says. “Our goal is to make sure our families are safe and secure. Fortunately, they see us as a trusted ally.”

Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano announces a daily United Airlines flight to San Francisco from Tampa, the first non-stop connection between the two cities.

Business Briefs

BRANDON — Brandon Regional Hospital expanded its emergency department as part of a three-phase, $60-million project. The hospital, owned by HCA Holdings, also plans to open a pediatric emergency department this year.

FORT MYERS — Elaine Nicpon Marieb , a textbook author, educator and philanthropist, pledged $10 million to Florida Gulf Coast University’s college of health and human services. It marked the largest donation by an individual in the history of FGCU’s Foundation. In 2012, Marieb donated $5 million to the college.

LAKELAND — A Florida Polytechnic University professor received a $1.5-million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to study new fog-prediction methods for state roads.

MANATEE COUNTY — Longtime Manatee Chamber of Commerce President Bob Bartz died in February at 65.

PASCO COUNTY — Walmart opened its first Florida employee-training academy in Hudson.

RIVERVIEW — Metrohm, a manufacturer of precision instruments for chemical analysis, began building a 90,000-sq.-ft. North American headquarters in Riverview.

ST. PETERSBURG — Third-party logistics provider Hashtag Fulfillment leased a new 80,000-sq.-ft. order-fulfillment center. The St. Petersburg company employs more than 100 and plans to add 50 employees this year.

TAMPA — Military contractor CWU plans to move its headquarters to Tampa from Clearwater. CWU says it will relocate 30 jobs. Suncoast Credit Union is building additional office space at its main campus in east Tampa. The 107,176-sq.-ft. building will house Suncoast’s human resources, learning/ development and lending divisions and create room for about 450 new jobs over the next five years. Miami-based real estate developer Related Group paid $11.8 million for an 8.5-acre tract at the Tampa end of the Gandy Bridge. The firm plans to build a 396-unit apartment complex on the vacant waterfront site.

TAMPA BAY — Costco opened stores in Wesley Chapel and the Westchase area of Tampa, doubling its number of Tampa Bay locations.


Jim Dean left Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Adventure Island after six years as park president to lead SeaWorld, Aquatica and Discovery Cove in Orlando. Stewart Clark, formerly vice president of Discovery Cove, became president of Busch Gardens.

Janice Hollar became CFO at Achieva Credit Union in Dunedin.

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