The 5th annual Community Support Group (CSG) Summit kicked off virtually for the first time this year, with opening remarks from three U.S. Department of State's Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) officials. In her opening remarks, Aleisha Woodward, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (A/PDAS) described Community Support Groups as "the secret sauce that make exchange programs so successful." PDAS Woodward is a career diplomat and has served in U.S. posts all around the world. She expressed the important "soft power" role the Summer Work and Travel program plays in U.S. foreign policy: "In Ireland, you can't get into a taxi or meet a young person who hasn't participated in, or known someone who has participated in, the Summer Work Travel program. They speak fondly of their experience in the U.S. and establish lifelong friendships with Americans as a result of living and working in our seasonal communities." Woodward encouraged and thanked CSG Summit attendees, saying "the real power of America is people like you. The real America is the best weapon we have in foreign policy."
So, What is a Community Support Group?
The Summer Work Travel Program is one of the largest of 15 different J-1 Exchange categories. The work component helps offset the cost of the program, therefore democratizing exchange programs and making an experience in the U.S. accessible to students from diverse backgrounds. The host community in which participants live, work, shop, experience American culture and interact firsthand with Americans, is a vital part of a participant's experience in the U.S.
Community Support Groups are comprised of local city leaders, Chamber of Commerce, visa sponsors, host employers, transportation and housing providers, all collaboratively working together to anticipate student needs and foster a welcoming environment. They often organize education forums in the community, host welcome orientations and cultural events for the students, identify systemic issues and concerns in their area and find solutions. Through the formation of Community Support Groups, local communities have established workforce housing solutions, night bus routes, streamlined seasonal workforce social security application processing, and enhanced cultural activities; all designed to attract, welcome and encourage future program participation to the community.
Find out if your city has a Community Support Group here. If not, why not start one?
Intrax has spearheaded and supported the start of Community Support Groups in dozens of communities hosting Work Travel participants. We believe in the sustainable impact of CSGs in enhancing the Work Travel Program experience.
Virtual Summit Engages More Communities
This year's Summit focused on the theme of Adaptability and Preparedness. Featured panels explored how local Chambers of Commerce and Host Employers are preparing to assist participants as they arrive in 2021. Employers understand that students are facing numerous hurdles in making the decision to come to the U.S. this year. Maggie Zeman, International Recruitment Coordinator from Wilderness Resort, explained how her company is preparing to offer grocery store giftcards and discounted housing during the quarantine period immediately following a student's arrival to the U.S.
Best practices were discussed and shared among attendees as they anticipate COVID-testing and following CDC guidelines to ensure safe and prosperous communities as the U.S. economy continues to reopen.
On average, a CSG Summit would previously host approximately 80-150 in-person attendees. This year's virtual Summit surpassed expectations and brought over 450 attendees with representatives from 37 states.
"I just wanted to send you a quick note and say great job the last couple days. Everything is just plain more challenging these days and you found a way to make it work. Great content, I especially liked the panel discussions, and nice job with the tech. That can be a challenge in itself, but you pulled it off with no issues. Please share this with anyone else you would like. Thanks for letting me be part of it again. It really means a lot and I enjoy talking about it (workforce housing solutions) and hope that we can do more to help the students and keep them safe and in nice housing. Hope to see you (in person) in the fall. I wish you all the best for the 2021 season." - Dan Bullock
"Thanks for the past two days. It really helped me see how Door County BRIDGES fits into the bigger picture." - Warren Pfohl
For more than 50 years,the U.S. Department of State Exchange Visitor Program has helped bring international students and young professionals to the United States to learn about American culture and meet real Americans. The Exchange Visitor Program was created by the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961, Senator J. William Fulbright’s landmark legislation designed to increase mutual understanding between Americans and the people of other countries.
“Work can indeed be an important educational and cross cultural experience. It may be more influential in forming attitudes and impressions of American life than a purely academic experience... I see nothing to be gained by restricting [these programs] and I think that doing so would be contrary to our foreign policy interest and our national interest.” — Senator J. William Fulbright