KITTERY, Maine — The Seacoast J1 Hospitality Coalition is preparing to welcome as many as 70 foreign students arriving in town to work this summer.
The coalition was formed late last summer to help students with everything from transportation to housing to information about services in the Seacoast. This will be its first full season as an organization.
Town Councilor Jeff Thomson, who has spearheaded the group, said a core of about 12 Seacoast residents, mostly from Kittery, have stepped up to help the students. Thomson was moved to begin the coalition after learning of students who arrived in Kittery last summer without a place to stay, who had limited language skills and did not know the area.
According to Thomson, one of the key efforts being offered by the coalition is a bicycle rental program. To date, about 15 bikes have been donated, which were then fixed up by coalition member Don Gray.
The coalition is always looking for good used bikes, as students often have no way to travel between where they live and their jobs. Kittery residents may drop bikes off at the freebie barn at the town transfer station when it is open Wednesdays and Saturdays. Thomson said he also intends to call the Bicycle Coalition of Maine to see if it can assist with providing helmets and reflectors, but good used helmets are welcomed.
Coalition member Joan Feldmeier of Eliot has agreed to lead a group of volunteers who will help students with more significant transportation needs. These drivers will pick students up at the C&J Trailways bus terminal in Portsmouth when they first arrive, and will also take them to the grocery store, mall and the like as needed.
Paul Sorli, owner of the Portsmouth Gas Light Co. restaurant and a regular coalition member, is putting together a packet of information including maps, location of launderettes, COAST bus schedules and the like.
Another volunteer has agreed to take students farther afield to cultural destinations like Boston or Salem, Mass., on days off, Thomson said.
Unfortunately, he said, the group has been less successful in finding housing for students. He said it has identified some landlords willing to rent to students, and hopes to convince local motel owners to rent one or two rooms through the summer to students. But he said he is gratified at the work the group has been able to accomplish since forming.
All information is being placed on www.ourkittery.com. Organizations that contract with students are being made aware of the Web site, and will inform students to look there for information, Thomson said.
The coalition’s next meeting is May 27 at 6:30 p.m. It is also holding a welcoming dinner June 24 at 4 p.m. at the Portsmouth Gas Light. Those interested in making a donation to the coalition’s efforts may send a tax-deductible contribution to the Kittery Maine Improvement Foundation, P.O. Box 360, Kittery, ME 03904.