The recent Presidential proclamation suspended the entry of J-1 Exchange Visitors from June 24 to December 31, 2020. This has negatively impacted American seasonal businesses including summer camps.
Over the years we have had staff from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Poland, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Mexico, South Africa, Australia, The Netherlands and New Zealand. Wow, over the last 28 years I have really traveled the world interviewing and arranging for some of the best staff members to join our unique program each summer. These staff members have brought their enthusiasm and energy with them to our special needs camp, and more importantly, shared their cultures with our campers and American staff.
Each summer our overseas staff share their countries’ music, unique food, language, and the love for their native country with our campers and staff. The J-1 Exchange Program is a program that has fostered understanding and friendship between our country and the rest of the world. I cannot imagine our special needs summer camp without our overseas staff as part of the program.
The staff we bring in from overseas are not only there to enhance our program, but these staff members are a vital part of our camp. Many camps would not be able to operate without the staff from overseas. There are just not enough American staff available and interested in working at a special needs summer camp. Currently many college aged potential staff in the US are pushed towards academic or job-based internships as part of their university coursework during the summer months.
It’s not just the counseling staff positions that are difficult to fill, but the kitchen, dining-room, maintenance and housekeeping staff. The harsh reality is that Americans just don’t want to do many of the jobs that our overseas support staff are willing and happy to do. The overseas staff that are part of a camp’s support staff (Kitchen, dining-room, housekeeping, etc.) must also be in college or they cannot be a support staff member.
Unfortunately, this summer, due to COVID-19, most camps like ours are not operating. If we were planning to operate this summer, the president’s proclamation would have ended camp before it started. We cannot operate our special needs summer camp without the staff provided by the J-1 Cultural Exchange Program. Presently, there is a campaign to have the J-1 Program removed from the proclamation. I hope the president does the right thing and removes the J-1 from the proclamation. The fact is, with or without COVID-19, many camps, especially special needs camps, will cease to exist if this proclamation were to happen again next summer.
Written by Ari Segal, MSW
My name is Ari Segal, I am the director at Camp Lee Mar. I am married, and we have three incredible children. My oldest child happens to be developmentally challenged and was a camper at Lee Mar (He aged out at 21 and is now 22.) I have been with Camp Lee Mar since 1993. I also direct a year-round, supervised, vacation program for adults, 18 & up, with developmental challenges called The Guided Tour.