Growing Up With VISIONS: A Multi-Generation Alum Family

Maya Mastin followed in her father’s footsteps after volunteering in three of VISIONS teen summer programs, and became a leader herself.

By Maya Mastin

My dad gets mad because my sister and I love to steal his old VISIONS shirts. I have three of them sitting in my drawer right now. He gets especially agitated when we call them vintage, but some are probably more than 20 years old at this point.

My dad, known in the VISIONS community as Marvin Mastin, aka MarvDog, has been a VISIONS leader off and on over the years since starting when he was my age, X years ago. I grew up hearing story after story of his summers. He and my mom even worked together on the Blackfeet Reservation right after they were married.

My first real memory of my dad leaving for a VISIONS summer was when I was about 9 or 10. He spent two summers working in Vietnam, one of VISIONS retired sites. I loved hearing his stories and seeing all his pictures when he returned!

When I was going into 6th grade my dad asked if I wanted to be a participant on a program—a now-retired middle school program in Montana. That summer we headed to the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation for my first VISIONS program. We arrived early with the other leaders for training. I thought I was so special to be able to help set up homebase, make signs, write the participant name cards and create the big calendar.

During this pre-program time, we were able to go to a powwow with Mike Runningwolf, a community member and long-time friend of VISIONS. I was captivated by the colors of the traditional regalia, music and dancing. Once the other kids arrived I was finally able to experience what my dad had been describing for so many years.

Over the next couple weeks, my connections with the other kids grew as we backpacked, experienced a sweat lodge and painted homes. The VISIONS experience grabbed hold of me just as it had my dad. I was hooked. I still have vivid memories of how special this first program was for me. I loved the combination of learning about the Northern Cheyenne community, their history and traditions. I felt a sense of accomplishment from the projects we finished, and was happy about all the new connections I made.

A couple years later I joined my dad again when he was the director for the middle school program in the British Virgin Islands. Again, I arrived early with him and met the other leaders to prepare for the program. I loved this time.

We stayed in the heart of the community, interacting and meeting local kids and residents. They showed me how to climb the trees nearby and find a sweet fruit called guinep. Once again as the program started, I became close with the other kids. We explored the islands and worked on our projects. We learned about steel drumming and snorkeled in crystal blue water bays. Through these experiences, we became very close, and since then I have been able to visit some of them.

I remember the day we dropped all the kids off at the airport to go home. The leaders were sad to see everyone go but also relieved for the program to end, ready for a few days off. I now know this feeling firsthand after my induction into being a program leader on a program, but as a kid in the BVI, I remember bawling in the airport, promising reunions in the near future and sharing contact info with all my friends.

The last program I did as a teen volunteer was in Peru. This opened my world up to Latin American culture and my love for the Spanish language. This program is an amazing cultural and language immersion experience. We built irrigation systems, shared meals and explored the town of Urubamba. An obvious highlight was hiking up Machu Picchu and visiting the ruins.

This high school trip influenced me to take a Gap Year after graduating to live in Chile as an exchange student. I continued to work on my Spanish, which set in motion my decision to major in Spanish once returning to the U.S for college. This past summer when I was finally old enough to be a VISIONS leader, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to apply and was thrilled to be hired for the Dominican Republic program.

Once again in the throes of a familiar VISIONS experience, I was excited to jump into the planning and setting up of homebase, but this time through the lens of a leader. I was a little nervous for the teens to come because I knew how much I had looked up to my leaders and I wanted to be the same positive influence for them. I’d like to think I brought a unique and calming perspective for the high school volunteers when I told them I had been in their shoes three times before.

Just as I loved being a participant, I truly loved being a leader. I wanted the participants to have the same rewarding experiences and new friendships that the VISIONS programs had given me. It was wonderful to see them grow, and bond with each other and the community. One incredible aspect of the D.R. program is the vibrant neighborhood where we live. We picked mangoes together, played beteyah and gave some TLC to the cute puppies.

My Spanish strengthened even more, and my local friendships deepened as the weeks went on. I truly miss everything about it.

One of the best things about VISIONS is the relationships you collect with each program. Growing up I was used to friends my dad had met through VISIONS stopping by our house while on road trips and their various adventures. When my family traveled, we almost always visited some of his old VISIONS pals and fellow alumni. My dad likes to brag and say he’s popular with all these friends around the world, making my sister and I roll our eyes. However, after experiencing four programs, I understand how he has all these deep connections. I now keep in touch with my own VISIONS friends and community members.

VISIONS draws people of hospitality and giving. They know what it’s like to be a guest in another country and culture, to listen to others and do rewarding work. They tend to be like-minded, welcoming each other into their homes and reaching out when they are passing through others’ hometowns. I like to believe that hospitality can be found in every job and corner of the world, but I’ve learned this is especially true among the VISIONS community.

While I may not be able to go on a VISIONS program every summer, it will always be an important part of my life. One day I can’t wait to pass down my cement-stained VISIONS shirts to my kids and watch them go on their first program. Until then, I will continue to take what I have learned and bring all of the important lessons into my daily life.

Owen Clarke is a writer for VISIONS. A career outdoor journalist, his work appears in 30+ international magazines, including Iron & Air, Climbing, Outside, Rock and Ice, SKI, Trail Runner and The Outdoor Journal. He is also the executive editor of Skydiving Source and Indoor Skydiving Source.

VISIONS in The New York Times