It began with my annual spring trek to Martha’s Vineyard.

As I was waiting to board the Peter Pan bus to Woods Hole, I noticed a young lady who appeared a little chilly (not properly dressed for East Coast weather) and more than a little apprehensive. We chatted, and once we got on the bus, I decided to move and sat next to her. We introduced ourselves and during the two-hour trip, I learned that she was a student from Jamaica, coming to the States to work for the summer on a J1 visa. Upon arriving in Woods Hole, we were informed that due to the winds and tides, the ferries were all going into Vineyard Haven. I realized that this might be problematic for her, since she was not familiar with the Island, and offered to give her a ride to Oak Bluffs. In Vineyard Haven we were met by my husband and uncle. Once we arrived at her destination, we exchanged numbers, and my husband walked her to the address, which according to her paperwork, was to be her accommodations. No one was there to meet her, but she was told to go to the establishment where she was to be employed. We weren’t alarmed, but got an inkling that something wasn’t quite right.

The next afternoon, I got a call from the young woman, who was distraught. Nothing was as it should be with her accommodations. First, the “apartment” was at a totally different address from what was listed on the paperwork.

Apparently, the other place was occupied by the owners’ family members. The problem wasn’t so much that the place wasn’t conveniently located to the restaurant, but that it was filthy. In addition, she shared that she had slept on the floor of her apartment mate’s room, because the lamp in her room didn’t have a bulb.

We had to keep a low profile, so as not to jeopardize her employment, but we invited her over, spent time with, and got to know her. We asked if we — my aunt, my aunt’s friend who is a lawyer, and I — could go and see the place for ourselves. What we saw was astounding and absolutely deplorable. I literally felt my skin crawling as we walked in the front door, which incidentally, had a broken lock. I didn’t want to touch anything.

Before leaving the following week, I gave the young woman a pair of my black pants, because the promised uniforms at her place of work had not yet been provided. To my knowledge, they never were. Between my aunt, who was there a lot during the summer, and the young woman, we were kept informed about her situation. We learned that there were days when she worked many extra hours, frequently by herself. Also, five to six weeks passed before she received a check. When she tried to advocate for herself, she and the others were told that if they didn’t like it, they could leave.

Eventually, she and two other girls did just that. They found other jobs and acquired nicer accommodations. They did not get their security deposit back, but with my aunt’s help and the continued support of friends, things got much better for the young woman.

Her time on the Island ended in September, and her opinion of our country went from one of confusion and frustration, to appreciation — at least for a few of its residents. The kindness of strangers, now considered family, helped her navigate through a very difficult time. She received an offer of a job in 2020 and plans to return.

Linda M. Suggs

Westchester, Ill.