Youth in dire straits bumps into the right person
By WENDI WINTERS, For The Capital
Published July 08, 2008
Shahin Ismayilov, 21, a resident of Sumgait, Azerbaijan, is hard at work at his new job at Wendy's on West Street in Annapolis. He traveled from his homeland to work at a shop in Eastport, but that offer was rescinded after he arrived June 23.
Annapolis Alderman Sam Shropshire recently stepped out of the Calvert Street offices of Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and nearly knocked over a wiry young man.
"Excuse me," Shahin Ismayilov said in broken English. "Can you please show direction of Social Services?"
Mr. Shropshire, D-Ward 7, wondered why Shahin needed to go to Social Services. He quickly found out.
Shahin had just arrived on a 35-hour odyssey from his home country and had little money and no place to stay. Further, his confirmed job offer with a Royal Farms shop in Eastport had been rescinded, but only after he arrived at the store.
Shahin, 21, is from Sumgait, Azerbaijan, a town on a peninsula in the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan is surrounded by Russia, Iran, Georgia and Armenia. His father, a worker at a local pipe factory, and an older brother, who once visited the Ukraine and England, urged him to travel and sample the world's cultures.
Shahin arrived in Annapolis as part of a summer work program through the Portland, Ore.-based Council on International Educational Exchange, which is one of a few companies approved by the State Department. It has managed several cross-cultural programs for 61 years.
But he was one participant who fell through the cracks.
After what turned out to be a 7-hour trip to Annapolis from Dulles International Airport, he walked to Royal Farms, where he thought a summer job would be waiting.
According to both Shahin and Mr. Shropshire, a district manager told him there was no job for him. The chain, with more than 120 shops in this region, already had more than enough foreign students, so she suggested that he go door-to-door in Annapolis and ask for a job.
A representative at the CIEE office in Portland told him the same thing. So, Shahin went from store to store downtown. "I filled out six or seven applications," he said. One shopkeeper said he should go to Social Services.
That's where Shahin was headed when he ran into Mr. Shropshire, who, as it happens, speaks fluent Russian, Shahin's second language.
"Nobody's ever walked up to me like this," marveled Mr. Shropshire. "This was providential."
The alderman began making calls. By 8:30 a.m., CIEE's local contractor, Easton resident Doug Lozinak, of People First International, had located a new job for Shahin at the Wendy's on West Street.
Shahin had anticipated a 40-hour a week job at Royal Farms for $8 per hour and a free daily meal. His Wendy's job is 28 hours weekly at $7.25 an hour, and he pays for 50 percent of everything he eats.
Royal Farms has since offered Shahin his original job back - 40 hours at $8 per hour and free food, but he hasn't decided what to do and there are other job offers coming in.
Mr. Lozinak explained his firm provides jobs for approximately 750 of the students who come to the United States on the CIEE US J-1 program during the summer season. He estimated about 25 or fewer are currently working in Anne Arundel County.
"I spoke to Shahin last week," he said. "The business required a certain number of students. In some cases, we get them more. There's an extreme number of visa denials and other things. It's not an exact science, but it's a great way for U.S. employers to supplement their staffing needs during this season."
The company doesn't sign a contract, Mr. Lozinak said. Rather, they sign a job offer. In a lot of cases, a job offer might be for 35 hours and turns out to be for 26 hours. It's a great program for businesses in Maryland and throughout the country. When there's an issue, we react as quickly as possible."
Participants are expected to find and pay for their own place to live, using their earnings. Shahin paid $1,400 for the council services and another $1,000 to fly to the United States. It was his first trip on a plane - and his first trip away from home.
During the summer session, from June through October, more than 30,000 people flock to the U.S. on temporary J-1 work visas arranged by the council.
Frank Gargiulo, vice president of Human Resources for Royal Farms, was aghast when he was later informed of the situation.
"We asked for a number of students that we can handle, that we can find jobs for. Especially in the beach areas where we have a huge labor shortage. Our issue is with CIEE, the way they dump more people on us than we expected."
Mr. Shropshire also found Shahin a temporary home. He's living in Annapolis with Jan Chapman, an analyst with Raymond James Financial, Inc. Shahin was relieved, because his one night at the Westin, plus breakfast, took a $150 bite out of the $450 he brought with him. He was prepared to sleep on a park bench. Ms. Chapman plans to take Shahin sightseeing in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Mr. Shropshire hopes to take him to an Orioles baseball game. Others also are chipping in. Shahin also is hoping to see the Atlantic Ocean - he's never seen an ocean.
"I'm finding people here are very kind," Shahin said. "From Washington, D.C. to here I came alone. People helped me a lot. I'd ask them and they'd answer 'Come with me' and they showed me."
"Annapolis is very quiet, very green and very beautiful," he added. "I'm glad to meet people like Ms. Chapman and Mr. Sam Shropshire."
But, he's troubled by one thing.
"Americans like a lot of fast food."
Shahin Ismayilov can be contacted through Ms. Chapman at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 443-994-8150.