by: Jacob Blount and Ivie Macy, Ozarks First
Currently, there are 190 international student workers in Branson as part of the J-1 Visa Program. Many embassies across the world are still restricting travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Silver Dollar City was facing staffing issues earlier this year, but with J-1 students returning late spring, they have not had to close any of their attractions due to the local workforce shortage. Deanna Partridge, the vice president of human resources for Silver Dollar City, says the program is a win-win.
“The J-1 Program, we actually recruit from Thailand, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic. So we bring in folks to help us through the summer months, which are the busiest, but it’s also a great experience for them because it’s a work and travel program. It really helps them to enhance their English skills. Get an opportunity to see the United states, but also earn some money to go back to college with.”
Melisa Lewis is originally from Mexico, and works in human resources at Silver Dollar City helping international students achieve their goals.
“They get to know that there’s no limit,” said Lewis. “The sky is the limit. You work hard, you can get wherever you want to go!”
Lewis started at Silver Dollar City four years ago in its ticket office, but has worked her way up after leaving her home country.
“It has been a wonderful journey just to learn and to take the best of everyday and every experience,” said Lewis.
Wilber Martin and Manuel Feliz are both from Santa Domingo in the Dominican Republic. They are working at Silver Dollar City this summer as part of the J-1 Program.
“A cool foreign exchange program that you can take if you’re in college and you know some English, and I was like that sounds too good to be real,” said Feliz.
This is Feliz’s second year in the program. He started back in 2019, and wasn’t able to return last year because of the pandemic. Even though he missed out last year, he said he was thankful for the opportunity to work in the United States.
“You have fun, you meet new friends as I said and also you can try the food which is really good by the way (laughs),” said Feliz.
Wilber Martin has the personality for a theme park ride operator. He said he enjoys his job, especially when he can put a smile on a child’s face.
“It feels great because kids sometimes come and say thank you sir. They are so cute and they, can you tell me where the bathroom is. Well you know, makes my day.”