18 visa sponsors gathered in November in Branson, Missouri to attend the annual Community Support Group (CSG) Summit. We were joined by State Department staff, employers, housing providers, and community stakeholders from towns across the US. About 100 of us met to troubleshoot, share ideas and concerns, and improve experiences for Summer Work Travel (SWT) exchange participants.
The Branson/Lakes region is known for its beautiful lakes and family-friendly entertainment. Although the population of Branson is just 7,500 year-round, the area receives 7.2 million visitors annually! Many local businesses rely on SWT staff to support this influx.
We visited The King’s Quarters and Plato’s Cave, both of which offer affordable short-term student housing. Although there is no public transportation in Branson, both are centrally located. Perks include a gym, English language classes, pool, and communal lounge.
Plato’s Cave is shown here.
The Branson Chamber gifted all of us with lunch and tickets to Silver Dollar City theme park. The more adventurous in our group tried the roller coasters while others attended a Dickens’ Christmas Carol.
Besides these attractions, Silver Dollar City is home to an explorable cave, shopping, and many southern-inspired restaurants.
In our workshops we learned that the Branson CSG started with one concerned visa sponsor who persistently invited stakeholders to get involved. Over time the consortium has grown to include community leaders, employers, and sponsors, all dedicated to creating a great summer for visiting SWT participants. The CSG now holds a welcome event, Christmas in July, Exchange Day, and a farewell event for exchange visitors. They are also available for regular day to day support too.
Thank you to the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce for organizing the event and hosting us on site!
We all left with inspiration and ideas. More to come!