High School Service Program
Carpentry, Wilderness and Learning from Indigenous Athabascans
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
SETTING OUT TO GO BEYOND
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.”
ACTIVITIES AND EXCURSIONS
- 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
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
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.
NOT QUITE READY?
Feel free to contact us with any questions! We are happy to help find the best program to meet your goals for the summer.