(June 19, 2015) Now in its fourth year of having a physical location, Ocean City’s Irish Outreach has found what is likely it’s best spot yet.
In a ground-floor apartment on Baltimore Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets, the group has again set up shop. Two rooms are filled with shelves of bed linens, lamps, cookware and other home goods. Even in the age of online posting, several bulletin boards for jobs, housing, and free meals are full with hand-written notes.
“If you just want to hang out, use our Wi-Fi, talk to the volunteers, come by any time. Everyone here has an Irish connection,” Irish Outreach director Rick Fairbend told an assembly of students on Tuesday.
For the past four years, Fairbend and his wife, Pat, along with dozens of other volunteers, have organized an effort to help Irish students in ocean City find secure jobs, housing, and help navigating their summer in the states.
“We’re here to help you have a good time and respect what goes on here in Ocean City, especially the police and traffic laws. And sunscreen – especially sunscreen” Pat Fairbend said.
More than 300 student-workers have already signed up at the center. Most will be in Ocean City for several weeks, although their goal is to visit as much of America as they can before going back to Ireland.
“We want to make money to travel while we’re here,” said Róisín McLaughlin. “I don’t’ really care if I go back to Ireland with anything.”
Irish student-workers are different matter from most. The majority of the resort’s summer work-travel visa (J-1) students are from Eastern Europe, and essentially arrive on-demand, as they are required by the State Department to have pre-arranged housing and work contracts with qualified employers in the states.
Irish students, because Ireland is a so-called “visa waiver” country for U.S. diplomatic purposes, can arrive with no arranged jobs or housing.
“Housing is the issue this year,” Rick Fairbend said. “It’s a combination of some of the houses becoming weekly vacation rentals, and those that are available filling up with high school kids. Unfortunately, the Irish get what’s left over.”
Jobs are typically less of an issue. After a long trip to get to Ocean City from his home in Clare, near Limerick, Conor Cunningham stopped in a local pub for a beer.
“I was sitting there drinking my pint and they asked me if I wanted to work there. I had been in town three hours and started right away,” Cunningham said.
The situation isn’t a free-for-all, though. Irish Outreach works closely with visa agents to check on students, who still must report their jobs to their sponsoring agent, who must then get them vetted via the State Department. Email notices are sent out every 30 days, with survey questions students are required to answer.
“If we don’t hear back from you, we will reach out to you and to your employer,” said Sandi Wickenden of CIEE, one of largest visa agents sending students to the resort area.
“We’re doing it to look out for you guys and to make sure your employers are honest.”
Irish Outreach will also assist students in dealing with disputes with employers or landlords. Fairbend vets a number of housing locations to make sure that owners are offering fair leases. As the summer wears on, and housing become tighter, many landlords are often looking for any justification to kick foreign students out and free up their properties for higher-paying tourists.
“Remember, if you’re on the lease, you’re the ones responsible. If the police get called, they’re going to have everyone who doesn’t live there leave, and the ones on the lease are the ones liable,” Rick Fairbend reminded the students.
So far, things have been fairly quiet.
“I had two kids get picked up for open containers,” Fairbend said. “That’s something you can do in Ireland that the kids don’t understand you can’t do here. But two out of 300 isn’t bad. If nobody had any problems, I’d be surprised.”
One of the big talking points for students this year – Irish, American, or otherwise – is bicycle safety. Many visa sponsors are on edge since the recent fatality of a Ukrainian student bicycling in Rehoboth.
“This is how serious it is,” Wickenden told students. “You don’t realize how bad the traffic situation is going to get as the summer goes on.”
“If you’re on your bike, please stop at every red light and wait for all the cars to make their turns,” Pat Fairbend said. “And please don’t walk with your phone. You’re not paying attention. Wait until you’re on the other side of the street.”
Irish Outreach is sponsored by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and also receives significant funding from the Irish Apostolate USA.
“If we weren’t getting funding from the bishops, we wouldn’t be able to afford to run this place,” Rick Fairbend said.
To volunteer or make a donation, find Irish Outreach on Facebook, stop by the center on Baltimore Avenue Between 12th and 13th Streets, or call 443-523-6978.