Volunteerism is a strong component of civic life in the United States. As such, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors J Day, a nationwide event held every August that connects J-1 visa students and professionals with their local communities. State Department Designated Sponsors partner with a range of non-profit organizations, foundations, faith-based organizations, community groups and corporations in over 40 cities in the United States to coordinate community based service projects for exchange visitors. Through partnership with local service organizations, J-1 participants help address the needs of their communities as well as learn about America’s spirit of service. As one participant who distributed school supplies in Maryland noted, "I learned that even in America there are needy people. Americans of all ages do volunteer work. This never happens in my country." Participants observe the potential impact of service and gain an appreciation for volunteerism that they then take back to their respective communities when they return home.
In addition to helping spread the value of service across the globe, impact from J Day is felt locally across the country. Through J Day, J-1 volunteers revitalize community gardens in New York, help collect shoes for shoe drives, pick up trash from beaches and highways, and more. Over the course of a day, one group of J-1 volunteers made enough food packages to feed 54 hungry children for an entire year. Reflecting on her experience, a J-1 volunteer who planted trees in Utah said, “It [J Day] meant giving back to Utah and the local area, helping ReLeaf Utah, and meeting some local Utah residents and other J-1 interns from the area.”
J Day is a way for Americans and J-1 volunteers to work together to lift their communities, fostering cross-cultural understanding and allowing volunteers to share their perspectives and values. The effects of their hard work and collaboration leaves visible impact in American cities, and the experience participants take with them creates a legacy of promoting the spirit of service abroad. As one J-1 participant put it, “you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.” Each year J Day hopes to continue to celebrate volunteering, help J-1 participants engage with their communities, and promote positive and sustainable impact in the U.S. and beyond.
To learn more about J Day 2017 and J-1 participants, see the Route J-1 Blog here.