Life-Changing Summer Program

Hilary Moses Reflects on Experience and Impact of VISIONS

1994 Appalachia Alum

In 1994, Miami, Florida, Hilary Moses dreamed of summer in Kenya. She was sixteen and ambitious. The vast and distant continent of Africa had a storied past of service abroad programs and seemed like the ideal place to put her mettle to the test. But as Hilary recounts, her father wasn’t having it. Instead, her parents found a summer service program in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with VISIONS Service Adventures—a destination that Hilary described as “the perfect spot for my 16-year-old self.”

“So, I ended up in PA. And, it was great. We hiked, camped, spelunked, white water rafted and lived at a Quaker Meeting House through the week. From the meeting house, we went off to work each day. Some of us worked to rebuild a barn, some worked in town at a place I believe was called Casa, with families in poverty,” Hilary said.

One experience in particular resonated with Hilary and became the topic of her college essay. She met a little girl named Gillian when the program visited a reservation for a sweat lodge ceremony. “I remember her dancing around a fire after the sweat lodge, free, uninhibited; I remember how joyful she was to guide us around and spend time with us,” Hilary said. She described Gillian as someone, “whose brightness I wanted to carry with me everywhere I went for years following that encounter.”

VISIONS, as we know it today, was relatively new when Hilary participated, but the roots of the organization run deep in Pennsylvania. A group of educators started an experiential summer camp for teens on a farm there in the early 1970s. The success of that program led them to expand the scope of their mission by founding VISIONS in 1988 and establishing programs all around the world. The headquarters remained in Pennsylvania until moving to Bozeman, Montana, in 2010. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, VISIONS canceled regular programming this year and created the new Montana Summer programs where teens will live and work on an organic farm. While this program will not include the cross-cultural element that VISIONS is known for, it will tap into the organization’s deepest roots and still provide teenagers with the sense of purpose, connectedness and self-discovery that has been changing lives for over three decades.

“VISIONS was foundational for me, for many reasons, but primarily because it tied together my passions and paved the way for my career,” Hilary said. “The experience curated by the staff, with group conversations, journal writing, team-building experiences and authentic connections, led to an opening for deep relationships among participants and got us, in moments anyway, out of our immature adolescent minds into a new perspective.

VISIONS stewards the importance of being in service to others and therein drives individuals toward a sense of purpose, which ultimately I have found is a key to long term health and well-being. The balance between service work and outdoor adventure that summer at VISIONS pointed me toward work in wilderness therapy, a field that I dove into prior to and after getting my Master of Social Work. Oh and, by the way, while I did not get my experience in Kenya, being in Harrisburg set the stage for college for me, as I headed from Miami to PA, albeit Philadelphia, for college and graduate school.”

Twenty-six years later, Hilary, now a therapist for adolescents, has stayed in touch with some of her VISIONS peers and holds on to the photos, group journal and her “letter to self” from the program. She and her mother, Martha, an educational consultant, have referred countless families to VISIONS over the years. But Hilary is especially excited about the prospect of her sons experiencing a program. 

“I could not wait to offer to them the same experience that I had. Maybe they won’t be shaped by it the way that I was and maybe they will. It will shape them somehow, even if they don’t know it for years.”

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