International Staff Are Imperative To CampPosted by on August 31, 2017

Each summer Fernwood Cove campers and CITs are guided by a carefully selected staff.  Fernwood Cove staff instruct activities and live in bunks.  They spend their days leading a variety of activities through the camp session.  Staff members dedicate their summer to helping Fernwood Cove girls grow and learn.  They dedicate their summer to helping Fernwood Cove girls gain a better understanding of themselves and the world around them.  A critical aspect of the Fernwood Cove experience are the international staff members at camp each summer.  Since the opening days of Fernwood Cove in 1999, international staff have played a major role in the success of Fernwood Cove.  Even more so, they have played a major role in the growth and development of over 2,200 girls who have grown to call Fernwood Cove their home.

This spring the White House introduced the “Presidential Executive Order on Buy American and Hire American”.  If signed, this executive order could significantly limit, or even eliminate, the visa programs that allow international staff members to work at camp.  If signed, this executive order would negatively impact the Fernwood Cove community and the Fernwood Cove experience.  However the negative impacts aren’t limited to Fernwood Cove.  This is something that could impact the summer camp industry as a whole.  It would also impact local economies, and the livelihoods of thousands of American children.

International Staff Are Invaluable

An earlier blog post details how international staff members contribute to the summer camp experience.  While this blog is written specifically about Fernwood Cove, international staff members make similar contributions at thousands of camps across America each summer.  Here are a few points that further outline how international staff help to ensure quality summer camp programs.  Hence why the J-1 Camp Counselor and Summer Work Travel visa programs is of the utmost importance.

  • International staff bring skills, experiences, knowledge and culture to summer camps.  Most summer camps, including Fernwood Cove, highly value diversity and inclusion.  International staff members immediately contribute to the diversity of the camp where they are working.  They share the culture of their home country with campers and fellow staff members.  International staff members teach foreign languages and introduce campers to new sports and games.  Additionally, they learn about differences in cultures, while also teaching campers about those differences.  They help each member of the camp community to become greater global citizens through a greater understanding of other cultures.  The ability to live alongside and work with various individuals from around the world is unique to summer camp.  The skills gained through this experience are vital for future success in the ever-changing global society we live in today.
  • International staff members do not take the place of American staff. They actually help fill a hiring gap in tourism and summer camp industries.  According to the American Camp Association, among for-profit camps less than 20% of the overall staff hired for the summer are international staff members.  Yes, the percentage of international staff at Fernwood Cove is significantly higher.  However this increased percentage is due to our determination to hire the most highly qualified staff members we can.  Additionally, as diversity is a founding value of Fernwood Cove, we feel that we must have a highly diverse staff.  We are proud to say that our staff represented over ten different foreign countries in 2017.
  • Camps do not choose to hire international staff members to pay lower salaries.  As mentioned in a recent Wall Street Journal article, even Senator Bernie Sanders (I., VT) has been critical of the J-1 cultural exchange visa programs.  While it may seem that US companies would be able to save money by hiring international staff, the opposite is true.  International staff are required to utilize a staffing agency to obtain a J-1 Visa.  Staffing agencies charge a variety of fees for the services they provide, cost of visa processing, travel insurance, etc.  The payment of these fees is shared by the staff member and the American company hiring the staff member.  When salary amounts and agency fees are considered American businesses often incur a greater expense when they hire international staff members.  Summer camps are making significant investments when choosing to hire international staff members.

Help Ensure International Staff Are A Part of Fernwood Cove’s Future

The proposed changes to the J-1 Cultural Exchange Visa programs have been initiated through an executive order.  This means that the President can give directives to agencies like The State Department or the Department of Homeland Security without any involvement from the legislative or judicial branches of the government.  This is why it is critical that we contact our representatives in Washington, D.C. and urge them to stop the elimination of J-1 Visa programs.  Use this online form provided by the American Camp Association to quickly contact your representatives and the White House via email.  We also encourage you to call your representative to ensure your voice is heard.  Here are some talking points to help you in your conversations.

We have received information from various international staffing agencies and the American Camp Association that clearly states that time is of the essence.  If passed, the executive order could completely cut these programs.  Adoption of this plan could occur as soon as early September.  We ask you to take a moment and share this information with friends and family- especially if there is anyone with relationships with relevant policy makers.  Please contact the Fernwood Cove office if you are willing to share the contact information for policy makers or other influential individuals whom you may have personal connections.

We know that past international staff members want to join us in support of the J-1 visa programs.  And they can!  Send personal testimonials of your camp experiences and why you support the continuation of the J-1 visa programs.  Everyone can participate in sending camp testimonials- the more voices that are heard, the better!  Often we move away from technology at camp, however we must use it to our full advantage now.  Share information on social media and help inform others of this important situation. Not only to the Fernwood Cove community, but with the world.

Thank you for your continued support of Fernwood Cove.  We truly appreciate you taking the time to help us in working to ensure international staff members are included in our programs for many years to come.