HAMPTON — A group of young Native Americans will be coming to Hampton Beach for the first time this summer to work as part of a new pilot program in the tourist community.
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John Nyhan, president of the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce, said they plan to host a dozen 18- to 25-year-old Oglala Lakota tribe members from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, starting in May.
This will be in addition to the roughly 250 to 300 foreign students expected to arrive this summer to work in the beach’s shops, hotels, restaurants and state parks.
“This is a win-win,” Nyhan said. “These young Native Americans (from the Lakota tribe) will get to see a part of the country they’ve never seen before, and workers will get the help they need.”
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Beach businesses need workers
Nyhan said the chamber started looking last summer at innovative ways to bring more workers to the Seacoast.
Hampton Beach, he said, is reliant on college students from overseas to work in the seasonal shops, restaurants, hotels and state parks. In the last two years, he said businesses have run into issues with foreign students obtaining J-1 and H-2B visas that allow them to come to the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While they don’t expect that to be an issue this summer, Nyhan said, local leaders still expect to see fewer workers from overseas than usual. A number of the students who come to Hampton Beach to work each year are from Ukraine and Russia, and Nyhan said they are having difficulties getting their visas due to the war.
“Those two countries are so far up in the air right now,” he said. “We don’t know if we are going to get anyone from Russia or Ukraine … so we have to start to look elsewhere.”
Chuck Rage, Hampton Beach Village District commissioner and owner of the Pelham Hotel, said he’s excited the beach will have another pool of potential workers.
Even before COVID-19, Rage and other business owners reported seeing a decline in students from overseas.
“It was better last year than the year before (with COVID restrictions), but we are still having a hard time trying to find enough people,” he said.
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Rage said he’s still awaiting word on whether his J-1 visa workers from the Dominican Republic, Columbia and Romania will get their visas.
One of the benefits of the new pilot program, he said, is the workers from the tribe in South Dakota will not need to go through the lengthy visa process that international students go through.
“(Members of the Lakota Tribe) are already American citizens and they already have Social Security cards,” he said. “They can come here and work on day one.”
How did the pilot program come about?
Nyhan credits Hampton Beach business owner Ute Pineo, owner of Al Gauron Luncheonette, with the idea of partnering with a Native American reservation.
Pineo told Nyhan about the all-volunteer group One Spirit and the successful summer employment program it runs, where they match seasonal employers in Cook County, Minnesota, with young people from the Pine Ridge Reservation.
She thought Hampton Beach could be another work option for the reservation.
“It’s very similar to our Seacoast except the difference is we have the ocean, and they have Lake Superior,” Nyhan said.
Nyhan called organizers of One Spirit and asked if they were interested in expanding to Hampton Beach. He said the answer was yes.
Hampton needs help, tribe needs jobs
One Spirit created the summer employment program with Minnesota due to the shortage of work opportunities with unemployment at the reservation hovering at 80%.
The program, according to its website, exists to give young adults opportunities to “earn money and have an adventure” while learning important skills that they can use to help better the economy on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
As part of the Hampton Beach program, Rage said businesses will find housing for the Native Americans coming to the beach. The chamber, he said, is also planning weekly excursions for the workers on their days off so they can visit some of the attractions in the Granite State like the Isles of Shoals and Pawtuckaway State Park.
“So it’s not just coming here work,” Rage said. “They are going to experience some of New Hampshire.”
A trip to Pine Ridge Reservation
Nyhan along with representatives of state parks traveled Sunday to the Pine Ridge Reservation.
The goal of the three-day trip, he said, was to gain approval for the pilot program with the tribal elders.
“They have to sign off and feel comfortable that we are in a position of helping young natives learn skills and then sending them back to the reservation so they can apply those new skills on the reservation,” Nyhan said.
Nyhan reported Tuesday night the tribal elders were supportive of the program. He also met with young Native Americans who have an interest in coming to Hampton Beach for the summer.
If the pilot program is a success, Nyhan said they plan to expand it in summer of 2023.
Chamber also piloting new program for J-1 visa students
Nyhan said the chamber is also implementing a new pilot program for the J-1 visa students who come to work at the beach.
The goal, he said, is to match students up during their days off with employers in the field for whatever their major is.
“We want employers in the Seacoast area to give them an understanding of what job opportunities they would have if they ever considered coming back to the United States after they graduate,” said Nyhan.
Nyhan said the students would have a point of contact if they wanted to return to the U.S. and employers will have future prospects in a time where good help is hard to find.
“Even though we have one of the lowest or lowest unemployment rates in the country, even if we went to zero percent unemployment we would still not have enough people to fill jobs,” Nyhan said “So we have to find them from someplace else.”