The students with the J1 student visa program originally slated to work at Timberline left the resort in December. After room and board negotiations fell through, the companies sponsoring the students began to look for other options. One option arose within a 10 minute drive.
The students were squeezed into the lodge at Canaan Valley right before the holidays. The students will remain there until the program ends in early March. This year’s students hail from Chile, Brazil, and Peru.
Managing Director Giancarlo Tocto of GoWex, one of the J1 sponsor companies, said students were surprised with some of the conditions Timberline presented. “The students were offered certain job conditions before they traveled, in September,” Tocto said. “Timberline did not disclose the meal plan or that they would be in the bunk house.”
The students stayed at the Timberline hotel upon arrival; however, they were told they would be relocated to the bunkhouse for the holidays. “Unfortunately, that was not a housing option that should be allowed for the program,” Tocto said.
According to one of the J1 students, they were asked to pay $300 a month to stay at the bunkhouse.
Another unexpected condition was students were asked to pay for a monthly meal plan, regardless of their desire to use that option as their main food source. “They have to pay $200 regardless if they wanted the meal plan or not. We asked them to give them the option,” Tocto said.
A J1 student reported the contractual agreement before arriving at Timberline was $10 per meal. “As the cafeteria and the restaurant were closed, they couldn’t really give us any food. So every week we would have to try our best to get a ride to a supermarket. They only offered food twice on the last days of our stay there (since the start of December),” the student said.
Tocto arranged a meeting with the J1 students and Tracy Edmonds Herz. After the meeting, Tocto and the students were unsatisfied with the terms.
Tocto alluded to a long running business relationship with Timberline dating back to 2005. “They usually ask for around 15 students. This year they asked if they could double those numbers,” Tocto said.
“We were all paid before leaving Timberline. The problem with it was that they were paying us with a paycheck from a bank in Oakland about one hour away. They knew we didn’t have a car to get there. Some of us are actually still trying to cash our paychecks,” the J1 student reported.
After negotiations stalled, J1 sponsors found other options for the students.
“As it worked out, we’ve never had J1s, so we didn’t know the program fully,” Canaan Valley General Manager Steve Drumheller said. “We got a call from their sponsor who said that they were looking for a place to place some J1 students. And frankly we had a need.”
The students were bused from Timberline to Canaan. Originally they were housed at the lodge, which was only a short term solution. After looking for local rental options, “It became easier to keep them here at the hotel,” Drumheller said.
Canaan Valley is employing 16 students. Eight other J1 students that were originally set to work at Timberline went elsewhere: three to Winterplace Ski Resort in Ghent, West Virginia, and five to a resort in South Dakota.
The students now work at the ski area and the lodge in housekeeping, food and beverage, cashiers, and lift attendants. Drumheller estimated that half of the students work at the ski area.
“The community reached out, and the community helped out as far as feeding them and taking them on day trips,” Drumheller said.
Community members created an account at Grant County Bank to facilitate the purchase of food and living necessities. Susan Miller helped coordinate the creation of the account. “I did it just because we’ve had the students in our houses in years past,” she said. “I knew the conditions that they were staying at were deplorable.”
There are currently four families that will check in on the students to make sure their needs are met.
The J1 students appear to be happy with their current situation. “We are right now very grateful for our current situation, we are finally out of there. Canaan Valley has taken good care of us and seems to be very pleased with our work. The community also has helped us a lot and everyone here is happy. The J1s that came to this country for the first time realized that Timberline is not Davis, nor West Virginia nor the United States. We are all very well thank all the community,” the J1 student said.
“Every time I see them they have a smile on their face. They like Canaan and the area and the people,” Drumheller said. He is already planning to have them back. “I already reached out to the sponsor to put me on the list for next year.”