25 Days

High School Service Program
Carpentry, Wilderness and Learning from Indigenous Athabascans



Program Overview

Live and work in an Athabascan Native village at the base of the Wrangell Mountains. Learn carpentry and power tool skills for construction projects, from wood sheds to smoke houses to home repair. Experience living off the land, including catching and smoking fish and preparing wild game. Weave birch bark with native elders, ice climb, canoe and backpack in spectacular Alaskan wilderness.

“I really enjoyed the fact that the volunteers were able to give input on each project that we did. I also liked that the community service was physically and mentally challenging and pushed us to work harder every day.”

Mei Nagaoka


Embracing Projects That Matter

The Athabascan community that lives along the Tetlin River in Southeast Alaska has been self-reliant for centuries, subsisting largely on nature’s bounty. For more than two decades, VISIONS has spent summers assisting these Native Alaskans with pressing needs, from construction projects that improve local infrastructure to residential projects, such as maintenance of elders’ homes. As with all VISIONS service projects, local partners determine what best serves the community. In past years, teen volunteers have built smoke houses to preserve meat for winter, added insulation to homes, constructed wood sheds to store the primary source of fuel, engineered wheelchair ramps and assembled a fish weir to catch salmon. Students work with an experienced carpenter to learn the tools of the trade. The hands-on work happens in tandem with neighbors, which builds connections across wildly different backgrounds. 

“Almost every day we were immersing ourselves in the community, which was great because we could see how people actually lived their lives day to day.”

Chase Chittester


You don’t need to leave the U.S. to experience a culture that feels worlds away. Native Athabascans have been hunting, gathering and fishing along the Tetlin River in Alaska for generations. Join our longtime partners in this remote corner of the United States and get to know people living a unique way of life.

Making Meaningful Connections

While the geographical location of this tiny Alaskan village is remote (about four hours east of Fairbanks), you’ll feel warmly welcomed by our local hosts. VISIONS has operated programs in Athabascan villages for two decades, building a strong sense of mutual respect and trust with tribal councils. In a small community like Tetlin—about 200 households—the impact you make is widely felt, and the immersion is deep. You’ll live in the heart of the village, in the local high school, and participate in daily life, which includes catching and smoking fish, processing big game, playing games with children, learning traditional basket-weaving and beading, making music, sharing meals, and perhaps taking a steam bath in the lodge that past teen volunteers helped build. All the while, you’ll soak up stories from the community about how ages-old Athabascan ingenuity has allowed people to thrive in this untamed and beautiful land.

Our Home: Tetlin Village, Alaska

“I loved seeing new places and having the opportunity to go ice climbing, backpacking, and climb not only one but TWO mountains! I have never had the opportunity to do anything like this before, and I am very thankful. The mountains and glacier were more amazing than I had ever even imagined.”


Sanelma Heinonen


Tetlin Village is located inside the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, which boasts nearly 700,000 acres of wetlands and forested mountains. You’ll experience this landscape with excursions including hiking, canoeing and ice climbing.


Your adventure begins as soon as you head east from Fairbanks toward the Canadian border. The 4 to 5 hour drive to Tetlin Village features snow-capped mountains, sparkling waterways and bountiful wildlife, including eagles and moose. Once settled in with your new neighbors, you’ll spend your free time enjoying the incredible natural surroundings. At this latitude, the sun never quite sets in the summer, so there is plenty of daylight (and night light) for exploration. Close to home, you’ll take short hikes, canoe the Tanana River Valley and visit the “Old Tetlin” historic site. Farther afield, you’ll take a two-night backpacking trip in the Wrangell Mountains, setting up camp and sharing stories around the campfire. A three-day trip to the town of McCarthy includes a visit to the storied Kennecott Copper Mine and the chance to climb the Root Glacier. As environmentalist John Muir put it, “To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the the most wonderful countries in the world.”


  • Take a guided ice-climbing adventure on the Root Glacier
  • Backpack for two nights in the Wrangell Mountains
  • Explore the historic Kennecott mine in the small town of McCarthy
  • Paddle canoes in the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge
  • Fish and learn to prepare local specialties
  • Learn native crafts including birch bark basket weaving and beading
  • Cap the program with a fun trip to Mukluk Land, an Alaska-style amusement park



Athabascan Elder

Yvonne John is one of our dearest and longest-term Athabascan friends. Born in tiny Tetlin Village in 1939, she has lived there her entire life. That fact has made her a treasured cultural resource for both VISIONS volunteers and other members of the Athabascan community. When she was young, Yvonne learned traditional arts (such as beading, sewing and basket weaving) from the elders, as well as how to fish and gather roots. Most of those elders have now passed away, and it’s Yvonne’s turn to pass along this ancient knowledge to the younger generation. She’s happy to do so, and also relishes sharing these ways with VISIONS volunteers.

Each summer, Yvonne teaches us how to collect birch bark for basket weaving, and loves telling students the stories behind her crafts. She also takes us berry picking, and invites us to traditional steam baths. We call her Grandma Yvonne—and we’re not the only ones. She has two daughters and two sons (one of whom, Virgil, lives with her in Tetlin), and a remarkable 53 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Like everyone in Tetlin, she heats her small home with a wood stove during winter. And like so many Alaskans, she is self-reliant, and proved it by chopping all her own wood up until recent years. Now that she’s a bit older and feeling an ache in her hips, she’s appreciative of the help VISIONS students provide. In the past, we’ve built her a steam bath for easing stiff muscles, and a sitting room she uses for teaching her special skills. It feels like the least we can do to thank Yvonne for her generosity and wisdom.

Alaska Blog Posts

Where We Live

Where We Live

While service work is at the root of each teen service program, it’s in equal measure with cultural immersion that transcends the experience of an average tourist. In all of our homes away from home, we live very much as local people do, and we are part of the fabric of daily life.


Read what others have said about their experience in this location. You also are welcome to contact the VISIONS office to request student and parent references.


Feel free to contact us with any questions! We are happy to help find the best program to meet your goals for the summer.

Celebrating 35 Years