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J-1 Participants Champion Disability Rights

Posted on Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 at 8:16 pm.

The United States has been a longtime leader in promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. In fact, championing disability rights is a core part of our foreign policy goals. The State Department recently commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and we used this opportunity to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in international exchanges. This summer, my colleagues Carolina Pena and Stephen Hill from the Office of Compliance had the privilege of visiting a camp for children with disabilities in Southampton, New York, which hosts several J-1 Camp Counselors and SWT (Summer Work Travel) participants each year. You can read all about their visit below!

Compliance staff members Caroline Pena and Stephen Hill with Camp Directors David Billingham and Thomas Naro and camper

Compliance staff members Carolina Pena and Stephen Hill with Camp Directors David Billingham and Thomas Naro and camper

Southampton Fresh Air Home, a camp for physically challenged children, has been an oasis for kids with special needs since 1901. With a range of activities uniquely adapted for them, children with physical disabilities grow their self-confidence, learn new skills, and develop positive attitudes. The camp hosts J-1 Camp Counselors and Summer Work Travel (SWT) participants, who bring cultural diversity and make meaningful connections with the staff and campers.

Left: Camp Counselors Thomas Huckstepp & Ciara Leeming | Right: SWT Participants Weronika Popiolek & Anna Bak

Left: Camp Counselors Thomas Huckstepp & Ciara Leeming | Right: SWT Participants Veronika Popiolek & Anna Bak

Thomas Huckstepp, a Camp Counselor from the United Kingdom, told us that he found the experience of working with the children so rewarding that he plans to return next summer. Anna Bak and Veronika Popislek, SWT participants from Poland, also hope to return next year to the camp. They volunteer to organize fun activities for the campers, and especially enjoy the family atmosphere of the camp and working together as a team.

Entrance to Southampton Fresh Air Home Camp

Entrance to Southampton Fresh Air Home Camp

Camp Director David Billingham attests to his staff’s sense of fulfillment with the program, “Everybody works hard—it’s a passion, an obsession…Nobody is here to make a fortune. They are here for the lifestyle.” A J-1 participant at this camp over twenty years ago, he fell in love with the lifestyle and continues to live it today.

Blue and purple hydrangeas line the camp's grounds

Blue and purple hydrangeas line the camp’s grounds

Executive Director Thomas Naro loves having the J-1 participants as part of the program and sees the positive impact they bring to the camp every year. He says the campers appreciate the culturally diverse environment the J-1 participants bring, “…it’s very uplifting. The campers love it and they love the English accents.”

Categories: J-1 Visa, Participants, Program Spotlight

About G. Kevin Saba

Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange


G. Kevin Saba serves as Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Private Sector Exchange at the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). In this capacity, he oversees the Exchange Visitor Program, which brings around 300,000 foreign citizens to the United States annually to teach, study, and build skills. He is the Director for the Policy and Program Support Division in ECA’s Office of Private Sector Exchange.

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