Ocean City Today

Irish Outreach hunts down housing

By Greg Ellison | Feb 22, 2018
Photo by: Greg Ellison The Irish Outreach Center at 12th Street and Baltimore is operated by a core group of longtime volunteers including, from left, John Cottingham, Judy Mastrogianis, Ann Cottingham, Pat Fairbend and Rick Fairbend.

(Feb. 23, 2018) With spring only a month away, the Irish Outreach Center at 12th Street and Baltimore has begun to prepare for another season helping the Irish young people who come to Ocean City for summer work.

Although student workers generally arrive towards the end of May, Rick Fairbend, who coordinates the center with his wife, Pat, with help from volunteers, said the quest for lodging has already begun.

“We have heard from kids already that don’t have a place to stay,” he said. “We are asking people who may have a spare room to rent to contact us.”

Fairbend said on average 300-student workers contact the Irish Outreach Center each year.

“The Irish do come without housing,” he said. “There are a couple of other countries that are similar, [but] they have to have jobs.”

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 and 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 before arrival.

In addition to finding and inspecting housing, the Irish Outreach Center also collects donations of bedding, kitchen items, small appliances and bicycles, to help fresh arrivals make a smooth transition.

Volunteer Ann Cottingham said every year a new round of wide-eyed kids discover a sense of community after finding their way to the group’s doorstep.

“It’s a nice homey feeling,” she said. “We’re the first friendly faces some of them see.”

The outreach is made possible by the continued support of numerous community partners, volunteer Judy Mastrogianis said.

“If it weren’t for the people of Ocean City, Ocean Pines and local churches, we couldn’t survive,” she said.

Pat Fairbend, who has worked with her husband on the outreach campaign since 2011, remains in contact with a number of summer workers from previous seasons.

“A couple of the ones here in the past want to come back and have a reunion,” she said.

To keep the annual outreach underway, volunteer John Cottingham said the group seeks assistance from community members with even a few hours to spare.

“We need volunteers for shifts lasting four hours at the most,” he said.

While noting the going rate for seasonal rentals is about $2,000 per student, Rick Fairbend said items donated to his group help offset those costs.

The connections established run deeper than monetary considerations, Ann Cottingham observed.

“By the end, they think of us as family,” she said.

According to State Department statistics, each year more than 95,000 students take part in the J-1 Summer Work Travel program, with approximately 5,200 landing in Maryland. Of this number about 7,000 are from Ireland.

The Irish Outreach Center asks anyone who can help with temporary or seasonal housing to call 302-258-3615 or email fairbendrd@gmail.com.

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