February 6, 2015 – Bozeman, Montana – In 2014, Ian Berkey, a Wyckoff area resident, spent a month of summer vacation in a remote Alaska native village with VISIONS Service Adventures, an international community service based adventure travel program.
Berkey was part of a group of high school students who did volunteer community service projects while living in an indigenous Athabasca village in the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. About 100 people live in the village, situated on the Tetlin River, and they welcomed the teen volunteers into their community with open arms.
In partnership with Tetlin Village Council and local community members, the teen volunteers constructed an outdoor cooking facility for use at community meals and events. This project entailed clearing and leveling ground, measuring and cutting lumber, digging postholes, placing and securing post beams, erecting and staining walls, framing the roof, and installing screens and windows. Other services the teens provided to Tetlin included moving an outdoor community basketball court, assisting community elders with chores and small projects, and organizing a small day camp for local children
The trip wasn’t all work for the youth volunteers. Berkey and peers learned firsthand about Athabasca culture, backpacked and ice-climbed in the Wrangell-St. Elias Wilderness, attended Fourth of July celebrations in McCarthy, viewed wildlife, and toured an old mining town.
“Service in the cross-cultural context provides teens the opportunity to make a difference and, just as important, know the people whose lives they are impacting in personal, mutually respectful ways,” says Katherine Dayton, VISIONS Executive Director. “We give students tangible ways to be challenged through ambitious service work, thereby developing resilience and self-confidence, and realizing their potential in this world.”
VISIONS operates high school volunteer travel programs in Alaska, the British Virgin Islands, Cambodia, Mississippi, Montana Blackfeet, Montana Northern Cheyenne, Myanmar (Burma), Dominican Republic, Ecuador & Galapagos, Nicaragua, Peru, Guadalupe, and middle school programs, including the Island Passage in the British Virgin Islands and Northern Passage in Montana’s Northern Cheyenne Indian reservation.
“Each of our program locations is unique,” said Dayton, “but all provide primary ingredients of community service, cultural immersion, adventure and opportunities to explore places off the tourist track.”