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Background Information

The Columbia Irish Children's Summer Program was founded in late 1983 and the first group of children arrived in June 1984. Although the initial goals were to raise funds and find host families for a group of ten children, the Program found heartwarming acceptance and support in the Columbia community, and fifty children were able to come to Columbia from Belfast that first year. The original Irish coordinator was a schoolteacher named John McCullough; he worked with headmasters and principals to select the children who would benefit the most from the experience.

In the years since the founding, the Program has been refined and has become more focused in achieving its goals. The present coordinators, Fiona Austin and Laurence Rainey, still work with school personnel in selecting the children and in assisting the Irish parents with the necessary paperwork.

There are variations on the Irish Children's Summer Program in many cities across the country, but each program is local and independent. There is no national organization or funding. The Columbia program is in touch and shares ideas with a loose network of similar programs down the eastern seaboard. The project has been passed on from community to community, originating on this coast with an Episcopal priest named Father Cobben, who started the program in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. (The very first program was apparently begun by a Rotary Club in Hinton, Minnesota.) The Columbia program is indebted to the one in Greensboro, North Carolina, which provided invaluable assistance in the early days.

The Irish Children's Summer Program is not affiliated with any particular church or other organization. It is a community-based, grass-roots project which is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. Rather than a primarily policy-making body, the ICSP has a working Board whose members raise funds for airfare and insurance, recruit and interview host families, arrange travel and coordinate activities for the Irish child's visit. Board members provide orientation materials and sessions for the host families and arrange for various resources and support services. A Board member is sent to Belfast to accompany the children to Columbia and on the return trip to Belfast. On visits to Belfast, the Board member visits with Irish families, conducts information meetings, and represents the ICSP with schools and various governmental agencies. In the Columbia program, the bylaws allow for eighteen persons to be on the Board, these members serve indefinite terms which they may renew on an annual basis. When openings occur, nominations are opened and new members are elected.

The children that come are 9 or 10 years old. This is the impressionable age, and the period just before the age when they will be subject to pressure from extremist groups. The group that comes is always half Catholic and half Protestant, and approximately half boys and half girls. While they are in South Carolina the children will enjoy pillow fights at a slumber party, share a special weekend at the beach, and play their hearts out together at a soccer game - all with children they never would have met back home. When they are older and they are the decision-makers, the experiences of their South Carolina summer will have an impact on their attitudes and on their future.









© 2004-2007 The Irish Children's Summer Program