The J-1 Visa Camp Counselor program allows qualified international candidates to work in the U.S. as camp counselors for up to four months in the summer season. This program brings talented, experienced staff members to the diverse Crossroads family, and helps us fill our seasonal staff team of over 230 individuals each summer.
Will P. and Emily M., both of whom first came to the United States as part of the J-1 Visa program, are just two of many such successful counselors. When Will first came to the U.S. from England in 2006, he planned only to work one summer and then return to his life back home. Twelve summers later, however, Will now works for Crossroads full time as manager of Crossroads Connects. “I have no idea what my life would look like if this program did not exist. I have spent almost my entire adult working life with Crossroads, building relationships and playing an active part in the working community that we refer to as our family,” Will said. “[The J1 program] is a huge benefit to the youth in our program, as it provides a unique opportunity to connect with someone with a totally different background.” And these connections have proven to be life-changing.
Emily, also from England, came to Crossroads in 2005. Like Will, she started out as a camp counselor and continued to grow each year, advancing from counselor, to seasonal camp director, to her current full-time position as outreach manager. For Emily, the J-1 Visa Camp Counselor program gave her “a new career focus and passion for [working with] youth,” while providing “the opportunity to explore [her] strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes in a new culture and country.”
Diversity is essential to who we are, both as an organization and as a nation. In order to encourage youth to become economically independent citizens, socially responsible leaders, and emotionally connected adults, it is essential to expose them to a wide range of thoughts, skills, and abilities. Like Emily and Will, many staff hired through the J-1 Visa Camp Counselor program return over multiple summers to continue building long-term relationships with our young people and helping them grow into the informed decision makers of the future.
Crossroads will continue to rely on the J-1 Visa program to find great camp counselors, despite a possible drastic reduction in, or even elimination of, these critical exchange opportunities. Making up about 30% of Crossroads’ overall seasonal team, our international staff members bring unique experience to fill critical positions throughout the organization. Each summer, we need to fill more positions than there are qualified and available local candidates. This means that in addition to adding diversity, international applicants are filling essential roles. Crossroads simply would not be able to function the way it does without our international team.
On September 7, 2017, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment designed to ensure that any changes made to the J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor program undergo congressional transparency and due process. While this is a small victory, there is still work to be done to protect this important program. To help protect the J-1 Visa program, here are some simple yet impactful actions that the American Camp Association (ACA) suggests you can take to voice your support:
Stay informed by reading alerts from ACA and visa placement agencies.
Be ready when called upon to reach out to decision makers in government with appropriate messages, which ACA will share if and when they are needed. ACA is working on a multi-level engagement strategy right now, in conjunction with allies in this effort.
Share with the ACA Government Affairs team the contact information of people in your camp community who have personal relationships with relevant decision makers to influence the policymaking of this current administration.
We are truly grateful for all that our talented and dedicated staff brings to Crossroads. Whether they are from the United States or abroad, we know that all Crossroads employees have one goal in mind: empowering our youth to unlock their potential and positively impact the world. We appreciate your action on this important matter.