Irish Outreach hunts down summer housingLocal nonprofit looks to be proactive, already lining up potential seasonal options
(March 31, 2017) With spring upon us, the Irish Outreach Center at 12th Street and Baltimore Avenue in Ocean City is gearing up for another season of helping summer workers from the Emerald Isle make a safe landing at the beach.
“Our Facebook page is going crazy with kids calling in,” said Rick Fairbend, who heads the center with his wife, Pat.
Since 2011, the Fairbends have been operating the non-profit Irish Outreach, even working from the trunk of their car that first year. The group is comprised of 15 to 20 volunteers who assist Irish J-1 visa workers by providing them with an array of information, support and services, and helping them to find lodging.
“We expect over 300 and there could be more it’s hard to tell,” he said. “Last year, because it was the first year kids had to have jobs (before arriving), the numbers dropped a little bit.”
In October 2015, two U.S. sponsor agencies, CIEE and Interexchange, announced a global pre-placement policy for J-1 summer workers from Ireland, as well as, the UK, France, Germany, the Czech Republic. In the past, residents of Ireland, one of 38 countries the U.S. State Department includes in the visa waiver program, were not compelled to secure employment prior to arrival.
Despite the dip last year, Fairbend expects the trend to shift upward in 2017.
“They released 2,600 visas all over the country for Irish kids to come here this summer,” he said.
As in year’s past, the Irish Outreach group is working to secure reasonable accommodations and asks anyone with available space to get in touch.
“Most of the housing in Ocean City is not the best and a lot of it’s saved for the summer with high school grads,” he said.
Although the onslaught of J-1 students happens by late May, Fairbend said many places are booked by the latest round of high school graduates, leaving numerous summer workers without housing those first few weeks.
“The kids that don’t get housing will get their housing afterwards and we always say, ‘Why do the Irish get what’s left over?’” he said.
Appreciating that reputation is everything, Fairbend said his group is careful to inspect the housing it recommends and tries to accompany visa workers when they visit available units.
“It’s better that they see the place ahead of time,” he said.
Last year, Fairbend said numerous summer workers were frustrated when rental security deposits weren’t returned at the end of the season.
“It could have been partially their fault because maybe they didn’t keep it clean and there’s two sides to the story,” he said. “They’re living there for 12-14 weeks and they should keep it clean and in good working order.”
To help avoid this pitfall, Fairbend is advising student workers to think ahead.
“We’re recommending this year that the kids take pictures of the place before they go in and document it,” he said. “At the end of the season they can say this is what it looked like.”
The Irish Outreach Center has made lasting impressions on those it has previously assisted, with one of last year’s beneficiaries, Brigid Barlow, planning a reunion visit this summer.
“We’ve been on Skype a couple times,” he said. “She’s going to be in New York with her family and she’s coming down here for three to four days.”
Still, for now, Fairbend is focused on this season’s batch of recruits.
“We’ve already had 150 contacts from kids,” he said.
According to Fairbend that number is deceiving because generally a group of students have one friend making calls, so the actual figure is likely triple that amount.
With roughly 50 housing leads currently in pocket, Fairbend is looking to increase that list to meet the anticipated demand. Additionally, donations and being sought to provide items like bedding, kitchen wares, small appliances and bicycles.
“Kids like to come to Ocean City,” he said. “You can’t beat the beach.”
The Irish Outreach Center asks anyone who can help with temporary or seasonal housing to call 302-258-3615 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.