International Seafarers’ Center
Merchant mariners – people who work on a fleet of ships that carries imports/exports during peacetime and delivers troops and materials as a naval auxiliary during wartime – are considered an “invisible workforce” responsible for 90 percent of world trade.
“Most people don’t recognize the critical role that seafarers play in our lives and the risks they take,” says Valerie Crumpton, executive director of the International Seafarers’ Center at the Port of Brunswick, a nonprofit army of goodwill ambassadors who attend to the physical and emotional needs of mariners from all over the globe. “We call ourselves a ‘ministry of presence,’ providing respite to an average of 13,000 seafarers a year.”
Life on the open ocean can be fraught with perils, including storms and hurricanes, piracy, social isolation and depression, and mechanical glitches that might prove deadly. When a ship docks in Brunswick, volunteers go aboard to welcome the mariners and assess their needs. The organization has a fleet of vans that can provide transportation to a nearby hospital or pharmacy, and it offers free health screenings every week and free Wi-Fi so mariners can communicate with far-flung loved ones. There is also a library and a general store so the sailors do not have to trek far into the mainland for shopping.
The center is staffed by nearly 100 volunteers, many retirees. Some have performed this service for 20 or 30 years. “Our volunteers are people who are interested in learning about other cultures and fostering peace and friendship,” Crumpton says.
The organization also offers a Port-As-Classroom program for local schoolchildren, who meet mariners and learn about the intricacies of world trade.
The center will hold its 16th Annual International Night Out fundraiser Sept. 23 at the Jekyll Island Hotel.