Seasonal Workforce Summit Held In Ocean City

OCEAN CITY – The Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce hosted officials from Community Support Groups (CSG) around the nation Tuesday to discuss challenges and practices of running a successful Summer Work Travel program.

Executive Director Melanie Pursel said Ocean City’s chamber is one of the few to lead a CSG program.

The resort’s Seasonal Employee Quality of Life Task Force began in 2005 under the direction of the city council, and eventually, the mayor’s office.

“I always learn a lot more from them than them from me,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “I don’t know how we would operate during the season without international students.”

In 2010, the chamber took over the program and formed a Seasonal Workforce Committee, tasked with providing J-1 visa students a safe and enjoyable experience.

“Mayor Meehan called and said, ‘This is a workforce issue, and we need to take this on,’” she said. “We have 12,000 seasonal job openings, and we don’t have enough American workers.”

Ocean City is one of 22 CSGs in destination resorts around the country. Each group acts as an advocate for J-1 students and addresses issues within the community.

Although most groups are run through non-profit organizations, Ida Abell, branch chief for the Office of Private Sector Exchange Administration, a program within the U.S. Department of State, said the goal of this unprecedented meeting is for everyone to learn more about other groups and utilize what they discovered.

“The goal here is to tap into each other’s resources,” Abell said.

At the Community Support Group Summit, Pursel was given the chance to share the committee’s origin and the chamber’s unique involvement.

“About 10 or 15 years ago, there were issues within the community,” she said. “But the churches really began outreach to our students. Those are the people that truly cared and were the metamorphosis of this program in our community.”

Since then, Pursel said she has seen hundreds of volunteers from the chamber and other organizations come forward to serve the students.

“There are a few major themes that are so beneficial when working with a chamber — partnership, communication, resources, credibility and accountability,” she said. “We have an arsenal of volunteers out there looking out for the interest of our students. Through these partnerships, we’ve accomplished a few things.”

Through collaborations with subcommittee teams and other community organizations, the committee helped establish hurricane evacuation plans, as well as bike safety campaigns, for the students.

“Before the ink was even dry, we had to implement [an evacuation],” Pursel said. “We moved almost 4,000 students to and from Baltimore.”

Additionally, the chamber established smaller work groups to host cultural and educational events for students during the summer.

These groups execute trips to Shorebirds games, Christmas in July parties and English classes.

“The Chamber of Commerce isn’t just about business,” Pursel said. “It is about community. The safety and wellbeing of our students is of the utmost importance.”

Volunteers who participate on the committee are vetted to ensure all members are involved for appropriate reasons, according to Pursel.

Also in the meeting, Summer Work Travel Program sponsors and CSG leaders from varying cities gave presentations on housing, transportation and outreach opportunities for J-1 students.

Officials from the U.S. Department of State were on hand as consultants for the event.

For more information on Ocean City’s group, visit or visit the OCMD Seasonal Workforce Facebook page.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.