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Dollars for bike helmets

Student program asks public to help students ride safely
June 4, 2017

In an effort to try to get international students to wear their helmets while bicycling on Route 1, members of the International Student Outreach Program are appealing to them in the universal language of money.

Maryanne Kauffman, chairwoman of the program, is encouraging the Cape Region community to give $1 to students seen riding with their helmets on.

“I’m desperate,” Kauffman said.

She said the ploy is a reaction to two international students being killed riding their bikes on Route 1 in the last two years.

“I can almost cry when I think about how awful it must be for their parents to come pick them up at the airport,” Kauffman said.

She said Delaware has no mandatory helmet law and many students may not wear helmets on bikes in their home countries.

“Maybe they are not riding on roads like Route 1 during the height of the season,” Kauffman said. “I know a lot of community members are upset.” But, she said, “It’s not the law. You can’t enforce it.”

Kauffman said the U.S. State Department, which allows the students to travel and work in the United States on J-1 visas, has proposed regulations mandating students wear helmets as part of their visa requirements, but such regulations could take a long time to put in place.

“I thought, ‘Let’s deputize the community.’ The students are relatively easy to pick out. They are the only ones on Route 1 at daytime, nighttime, rain or shine. I don’t think a local person will have a hard time identifying who a student is,” Kauffman said.

She encouraged citizens who see a student riding a bike on Route 1 with a helmet on to give them $1 for doing so. The hope, she said, is that the students will encourage others to wear helmets to make some extra money.

Delaware Department of Transportation is expected to loan 170 students bicycles this year. Kauffman said helmets are free and are available at church dinners Lewes-Rehoboth Association of Churches holds four days per week. Kaufmann said DelDOT will also be putting lights on bikes at three safety checkpoints to be held throughout the summer.

Some employers also do their part. Chris Darr, personnel manager of Funland, said the Rehoboth amusement park, which will have 28 students this summer, provides bikes to its workers. He said the bikes were inspected by DelDOT, and Funland provides lights, locks and helmets.

Trey Kraus, owner of Carlton’s on Rehoboth Avenue, employing five students this summer, said, “We are very protective of our students and make sure they are safe. I'll do a quick look over of their bikes and always push them to take advantage of all the safety programs.”

Kraus said he tries to ensure that students have housing and bike training before they come over.

Students set to begin arriving

The International Student Outreach Program is gearing up as students have already begun to arrive. Kauffman said the majority will start coming in June. Last year, 885 students on J-1 visas worked in Rehoboth, Lewes and Dewey Beach, with the vast majority working in Rehoboth. The top four countries represented were Romania, Turkey, Bulgaria and Serbia.

Kauffman said students are interviewed by the U.S. government, which determines whether the student is approved for a J-1 visa. While most people’s interaction with the students is during work, Kauffman said the J-1 program is not a work program but a cultural exchange with a work and travel component. To get a J-1 visa, students must be currently enrolled in a university and are in the country for three to four months.

Kauffman said this year, employers have noted that students are coming in later, as paperwork has been slow coming from the U.S. Department of State. Nathan Arnold, a spokesman for the State Department, said the number of students eligible for the program has not changed, even as the Trump administration has taken a more hardline stance on people coming into the country. According to statistics from the State Department, last year’s summer peak was 805 students in the Rehoboth area alone. Arnold said while this is not the total number, it is close because most students stay for the whole summer.

“When it comes to visas, nothing has changed policy-wise. National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications.  Every prospective traveler to the United States undergoes extensive security screening.  We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes and to allow travel and immigration to the United States while protecting U.S. citizens,” Arnold said.

Students who come on J-1 visas are matched with employers via a sponsor organization. It is the sponsor organization’s job to ensure students have a job and housing before they come to the United States; students are also instructed to check in with their sponsor while they are in the U.S.

Haldis Toppen, work and travel director of employer relations and outreach for sponsor organization CCI Greenheart, said, “Visa appointments happen until July and vary from country-to-country, and embassy-to-embassy. However, currently we have not experienced any extraordinary difficulties with our participants’ visa approvals this year.”

Kraus said two of his five students have already arrived and will be here until just after Labor Day. He said the remaining three students will arrive at the beginning of June and leave in mid-September. Kraus said while he has not noticed students coming in later, they do have a more rigorous process to go through before they get into the country. He said he interviews the students in January and helps arrange for their housing and bicycle safety training before they arrive. Kraus said that is a change from several years ago.

“Years ago, we sat around and waited for them to come in and apply,” he said. “Now, they show up with jobs. It’s changed a lot, but its for the best as far as they are concerned.”

Last year, a big problem for students was housing, as more than 30 students were left without a place to stay. Some students were moved to other cities because they did not have a place to stay in the Cape Region.Kauffman said that left ISOP volunteers scrambling to find housing, something the organization will not be doing this year. She said the plan is to refer students to their sponsor, which Kauffman believes will be more successful.

Toppen said, “Greenheart has experienced the same challenges that we face year-to-year in the lower Delaware area. Housing can be difficult in this area as a whole, but we work with valuable employers and community members who help us to mitigate through this process.”