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Dinner, with a side of friendship: For eight years, St. Edmond’s Church has supported international students who work at state’s beaches

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For The Dialog   For eight years, St. Edmond’s Church has supported international students who work at state’s beaches   REHOBOTH BEACH — Chet Poslusny chatted with four students from Bulgaria, making them feel more at home by speaking in their native language. “He made my day,” said one of the students, Denis Ismet. He was surprised to meet someone who not only knew about Bulgaria but spoke the language. The encounter came during a weekly International Student Outreach Program dinner at St. Edmond’s social hall, held every Wednesday during the summer. Three other weekly dinners are conducted for the students at other churches in Rehoboth Beach. The program’s goal is to help the students feel more at home while meeting some of the needs they encounter while temporarily living in the United States. The Lewes Rehoboth Association of Churches and area chambers of commerce support the outreach to international students who work in hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and factory outlets during the summer beach season.

Gary Morton for The Dialog Students from Bulgaria attend a recent International Student Outreach Program dinner at St. Edmond in Rehoboth Beach social hall. From left, are Zoya Botseva, Denis Ismet, Viktoria Krasteva, St. Edmond's volunteer Chet Polusny, and Stoyan Stoyanov. Polusny knows the Bulgarian language. The group chatted in both Bulgarian and English.
Gary Morton for The Dialog
Students from Bulgaria attend a recent International Student Outreach Program dinner at St. Edmond in Rehoboth Beach social hall. From left, are Zoya Botseva, Denis Ismet, Viktoria Krasteva, St. Edmond’s volunteer Chet Polusny, and Stoyan Stoyanov. Polusny knows the Bulgarian language. The group chatted in both Bulgarian and English.

ISOP also provides affordable day bus trips to Washington, D.C., Amish Country in Pennsylvania, and an amusement park; bicycles for the students to use; emergency assistance, and general information. Most of the students come from Europe, followed by Asia and the Caribbean. St. Edmond’s began working with the program eight years ago. A similar program started at Holy Savior Church in Ocean City, Md., about 30 miles south of Rehoboth Beach, in 2002. More than 100 students attended the July 2 dinner of chicken and dumplings, salad, and vanilla and chocolate pudding at St. Edmond’s. That is about average for this summer, said Debbie Donovan, who oversaw that dinner since parish coordinators Jim and Theresa Walsh were unable to attend. As Donovan and her kitchen workers served dinner, Randy Smith softly played a piano for background music while Bruce Kauffman waited outside the church hall in case any student needed mechanical assistance with their bicycles. Other volunteers such as Poslusny greeted the students as they arrived, or mingled among the tables where they dined. About 20 volunteers work the dinner each week. New volunteers quickly learn the ins and outs of the meals, making coordination of the dinner a comfortable task. “It kind of runs itself,” Donovan said. “People see what’s needed and get it.” Donovan and her husband joined the outreach last year after moving here from New York. “It’s part of our mandate to feed the hungry,” she said. “What better way to do that than to feed our international students? “They are so appreciative; that’s what strikes us.” Mark Patrick, a seminarian assigned to St. Edmond this year, and Father Chris Hanley attended the July 1 dinner. Patrick said he and the parish priests, including Father Joseph Piekarski, visit the dinners when possible. “I enjoy chatting with them, hearing about their homes, their countries,” Patrick said. When he encounters some of the students while walking about Rehoboth Beach, they often will talk for a bit. “It’s good for them and it’s good for me to keep that connection,” he said. Sometimes program volunteers provide emergency assistance. Victoria Girlea of Moldova recalled one young woman with an eye problem. She was unsure where to go. “One of the leaders helped the girl to get medical care and with her (health) insurance,” Girlea said. Outside the hall Kauffman had no takers for bike repairs. That was okay, he said, since he had already repaired four flat tires earlier in the day. ISOP provided more than 120 bikes to students this year, up from 80 last year, Kauffman said. Before the students can take the bikes, they must attend a safety class taught by the Delaware Department of Transportation and local police, and participate in a three-mile ride to learn how to properly use their bikes and the rules of the road in the United States. Smith, the piano player, believes his music “adds a definite feel” to the dinners, one the students seem to appreciate. The music is one more touch aimed at making the students as comfortable as possible. “It’s a wonderful event,” he said. “I wish our church would do more things like this. It’s a welcoming thing.” Poslusny definitely helped make the students from Bulgaria feel welcome and at home as they chatted both in English and in Bulgarian. “They loved my accent,” he said. He learned Bulgarian and was assigned to a listening post in Turkey while in the military. Now, when he meets students, he will surprise Bulgarians and Turks by speaking in their language. “I talked to one guy the other night in Turkish.” Just talking in English helps the students, according to Girlea and her Moldovan friends, since knowing English will help them in their future job search. Conversation also helps the students better understand English – a major challenge for many working in the United States for the first time. Girlea, in her second summer in Delaware, recalled being a waitress on her first day of work last year. “I could not understand what they (customers) were saying. They talked really, really slow to explain to me everything.” But the dinners mean much more than a chance to improve her English, Girlea said. “It is so nice for the churches to do this. They give us bikes, a chance to travel. It’s amazing.”