(April 19, 2019) Despite losing its former leadership, the Irish Outreach Center at 12th Street and Baltimore Avenue has new hands on board to provide a welcoming beacon as J-1 student workers arrive next month from Ireland.
Taking over the reins at the Irish Outreach, albeit with a tinge of sadness, is Lisa Romersa, who said former administrators Pat and Rick Fairbend, who guided operations since 2011, left an indelible mark on the nonprofit operation.
“Pat Fairbend, who was wonderful for the center, passed away tragically and her husband, Rick, retired and moved away,” she said.
Pat Fairbend, 75, passed away last July with her husband of 54 years, Rick Fairbend, at her side.
Possessing an infectious energy with eyes that projected kindness, Pat Fairbend was revered by volunteers, who assisted the couple at the Irish Outreach Center and left a lasting impression on hundreds of J-1 students each season.
“They built the center up since 2011 to where it is now,” she said. “We’re looking to continue that through the support of additional new volunteers.”
Although family backgrounds are often the basis for volunteer interest, Romersa said the primary criteria is an interest in lending support and guidance for Irish J-1 student workers
“You don’t have to have an Irish heritage,” she said. “We’re looking for new volunteers even if it’s only for a few hours a week.”
To that end, Romersa said a meeting of returning and prospective volunteers is scheduled for April 24 starting at 11 a.m. at the Irish Outreach Center, 1208 North Baltimore Avenue.
“We’re opening the center the middle of May,” she said. “Students will start to come in about the second or third week of May.”
In addition to donations from private sources, the center is funded by taxpayers in Ireland through the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs Emigrant Support Program and the Irish Episcopal Council for Emigrants, Romersa said.
To help newly arrived J-1 student workers navigate unfamiliar surroundings, donations of lightweight towels, blankets, sheets, toiletries, sunblock and assorted sundries are sought, she said.
Unlike accommodation challenges in past years, Romersa said locating summer rentals for J-1 students has become less difficult.
“The housing has been good this year,” she said. “I’ve been really successful getting Realtors and [business] owners to come forward.”
Romersa said monitoring social media posts and targeting employers directly has helped find a reasonable amount of housing. Still, more is needed, she said.
Before the students depart in September, they will be guests at cultural events that will include a trip to Washington D.C., a Shorebirds baseball game and summer picnic, Romersa said.
“So they don’t just feel like they’re in here working the whole time and can pass along the good experiences that they have here,” she said.
Anyone interested in applying to volunteer or making donations can call Romersa at 443-513-6176 or email Lisa.email@example.com