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By Thomas F. O'Neill

I’m planning on returning to China to continue teaching at the end of July. I was told by the Chinese Consulate in New York that I can apply for a residential visa a month prior to the start of my new teaching contract.

In the meantime I accepted a temporary summer position with the YMCA in Williamsport, PA and I got to know some of their employees. I was shocked to learn how low their full-time hourly pay is and that they are working without health benefits. The person in charge of the summer program said to me “the YMCA has a lot of challenges. The only people who are willing to work for minimum wage are individuals with criminal records.” A criminal background check is required in Pennsylvania for a job working with children and that is a good thing.

I enjoy telling others about my teaching experiences in China because it has given me a unique perspective not only about teaching but about life in general. I say this because in China summer programs are all about learning and gaining new experiences. Most summer camps in Asia pay their employees well and the employees are highly skilled when it comes to teaching. My experience at the YMCA was the exact opposite because the workers are working for minimum wage. In my opinion the children are being short changed by the company's lack of insight. In China teachers instill a love of learning within the children. At the YMCA in Williamsport, PA the children have very little respect for the employees because many of the staff reflect a dissatisfaction with their job mostly due to low pay.

I had to participate in a day of training with some of the other employee’s and I was dumbfounded to learn that most of the full-time employees qualify for section 8 housing. One individual, a recent college graduate, had to quit his Job because rental agencies in Williamsport, PA refused to rent an apartment to him because they said his income was too low.

In China summer programs pay teachers extremely well because of their respect for the teaching profession. It is sad that the YMCA in Williamsport does not fully understand the power and influence they have in shaping young minds. If they truly want to be a positive force for good in their community they must start by respecting their employees by offering them a living wage. I feel it is unethical to hire full-time employees that qualify for section 8 housing and offer no health benefits. Minimum wage is no longer a living wage in America and how a company treats their employees is a reflection on the company’s overall value and where their priorities are.

Perhaps the YMCA should reflect on what their mission truly is because my experience with their summer program shows that there is something profoundly lacking in their so called educational program. I say this because there was no teaching going on mainly due to the company’s refusal to pay their workers adequately. They also need to hire qualified people to run what they claim to be educational programs. One employee told me he saw himself as an “underpaid babysitter.” That to me is sad when you consider the true potential that is being wasted due to sheer incompetence at the top of the YMCA’s management.

    Always with love,
    Thomas F O’Neill
    Phone: (410) 925-9334
    WeChat - Thomas_F_ONeill
    Skype: thomas_f_oneill
    Facebook: https:/

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