While the sun was fighting its way through dark clouds last Wednesday, June 10, dozens of young pale looking Irish men and women pounded the pavements, newspapers tucked neatly under their arms, backpacks on their backs, bottles of water in one hand and a pen and paper in the other.
This has become a regular site on McLean Avenue in Yonkers and Woodlawn in the Bronx the past few weeks. These young men and women, most of whom are in possession of a J-1 student visa which allows them to live and work the U.S. for four months, are all between the ages of 18 and 23.
They came to New York in droves late May, early June in the hope of earning their own piece of the American Dream, at least for four months. However, dreams are far from the reality these young children of Ireland are encountering.
“Not yet Mom, it’s really hard,” shouted Darren Quillinan into his newly purchased cell phone on Wednesday while sitting outside a local store in Woodlawn.
While two of his friends, both donned in knee length shorts and Abercrombie t-shirts, turned pages in the newspaper looking for jobs, Quillinan continued to explain to his Co. Cork mother 3,000 miles away that finding a job in New York wasn’t as easy as he anticipated.
“None of us have been here before so we decided to give New York a shot and apply for the J-1 visas,” shared Blennerhassett.
“Ya, but sure if we don’t get a job in the next week we are going to have to go home and there are no jobs either there,” said Dolan gloomily.
The three boys, all students in different colleges in Ireland, said they are “fed up” at the lack of jobs in New York.
The trio, albeit together, claim they have gone into every bar and restaurant in the city, including McDonald’s, and they are still jobless.
The Cork boys, who are all sleeping on blow up airbeds in the basement of a friend’s home, are running out of money and energy.
“I have had friends who came over here last year and they all got jobs no problem, so I don’t understand why we are having no luck,” said Quillinan.
They each came with approximately $2,000 in their back pockets and admitted that they spent at least half of the money partying the first week they arrived.
“Sure if we knew that it would be this hard to get a job we wouldn’t have gone out as much,” added Dolan.
For now the future remains dim for the Cork boys. They have applied for several jobs and have been told there is no work available.
“Three or four places all right told us they would give us a call, but we haven’t heard anything yet,” added Blennerhassett.
In the meantime the lads plan to continue buying a subway card every day, boarding the trains bound for Manhattan and continuing on their path to employment.
“We’ll get something,” said Quillinan positively to his friends.
Dolan and Blennerhassett laugh nervously.
Although Brian Walkins, Sandra Nolan and Michael Dwane, all from Co. Offaly, are not students, they are in the same predicament as the J-1 students. The trio are planning on spending the summer in New York working and having fun.
Both Walkins and Dwane are here to play hurling for the New York Offaly team. Nolan, who is Dwane’s girlfriend, lost her office job in Ireland a few months ago so she decided to join her boyfriend, a welder who also lost his job in Ireland.
Walkins, when he spoke with the Irish Voice, was just off a plane from Australia, where he spent six months traveling around. On Thursday he was expecting his Irish girlfriend to join him for the summer.
But on Wednesday the friends were walking the streets of Woodlawn and McLean Avenue looking at notice boards for jobs and accommodation.
The three young lads hail from Co. Clare and have the opposite problem to the Cork boys. They have jobs, but their accommodation issue is causing them great distress.
Condron, a civil engineer student at Limerick Institute of Technology, and his friends have been in New York since May 24. After spending a few nights lodging at an aunt’s house they found a floor to sleep on with some Mayo friends.
However, the apartment where they put their head down at night is on 120th Street in Harlem.
“This is just something temporary but we want out of there straight away,” Condron tells the Irish Voice.
“It’s just really dodgy,” adds Lawlor, a third year construction student at Limerick Institute of Technology.
“Plus,” said Hoot, “there are eight of us in a two bedroom apartment that is so small so there are four of us sleeping in the living room.”
Condron said they don’t really feel safe in the area. “There is a drug rehab center right next to the house and there are a lot of dodgy characters going in and out at all hours of the night,” he said.
Little did Condron and the boys know that Wednesday was going to be their lucky day – well, sort of!
Last Wednesday they took a half day from their maintenance jobs -- the three friends work in an apartment building in the city for $500 each a week doing odds and ends jobs -- to find a better place to stay for the remainder of the summer.
After hours of searching the Internet for accommodation and sharing their story with Maura Jordan at the front desk of the Aisling Center, the center staff introduced the boys to four lovely ladies from Co. Mayo -- Niamh Healy, 19, Denise Gallagher, 19, Aislinn Farrington, 19 and Meave Rattigan, 19.
Luckily for the boys, the girls, who were at the center looking for jobs, needed to rent out a room in a house they sub-letted for the summer in Yonkers. A perfect match was created.
After informal introductions, the Clare boys, with big smiles, took the next bus back down to Harlem, packed their bags and were back up in Yonkers within two hours.
“This is just great altogether,” said Condron, with one leg out the door of the center. “We never thought we would get that lucky.”
However, it turned out the accommodation is only available to the boys until the end of June, so Condron contacted the Irish Voice on Monday to let us know they are still in the market for a one bedroom apartment come July.
“We just need somewhere for six or seven weeks because the girls have other people coming over, so hopefully someone will have something they can rent to us for that short time,” said Condron.
“We are very clean lads and very respectful to others, so we won’t be noisy or anything like that. Basically we would be good tenants,” he added.
Said Lawlor, “I really think that those few students last year who wrecked some of the places they stayed in have spoiled our chances of getting a decent place to stay for the summer.”
The girls, all friends from Co. Mayo, have had no luck finding jobs. Similar to the three boys from Cork, they have handed in resumes and filled out numerous application forms for several jobs, but to no avail.
Farrington, a law student at the University of Limerick, arrived in New York at the end of May but has still not found a job.
“I had a few waitressing interviews and an interview in Zara (clothes store) but nothing back yet,” said Farrington.
Like Farrington, the other three girls have found themselves with a lovely apartment, but no job to pay the rent.
“We need to get jobs soon or we are going to run out of money,” laughs Healy, a second year student teacher in Dublin.
The girls, who are having the time of their life in New York, were putting a new plan together for Thursday in search for a job.
“We will probably head upstate tomorrow because the city is not giving us anything,” adds Gallagher.
O’Connor arrived in New York with a friend on May 31. So far his J-1 experience has been lonely.
“I really want to meet other J-1 students,” said O’Connor, who has been busy trying to find a job he is happy with and a place to live.
Up until last Wednesday, O’Connor and his friend have been staying with a friend of a friend. Not an ideal situation. He feels they are intruding and came to the Aisling Center on Wednesday in search of a room for rent. He soon learned that he had to get in line.
“To be honest I’d prefer to be a laborer or furniture remover or something like that, you know, a nine to five job, but so far I’ve had no luck with anything in that area,” he said.
O’Connor was initially hoping to have a summer of fun in Long Island, but after being rejected for a job New York was next on his agenda. So far he is questioning if he made the right decision.
“Me and Frankie (his friend) really need to get somewhere to live soon. We are imposing on the person we are staying with and he has family coming from Ireland,” said O’Connor urgently.
O’Connor, who came to the U.S. with $1,500, said he was sensible with his money and would be able to pay a deposit and rent if somewhere becomes available.
If accommodation doesn’t present itself in the next few weeks O’Connor and his friend may be forced to back to Ireland for the remainder of the summer.