Love and Leadership: Q&A with Barry & Nolan Rivera, Former VISIONS Leaders

Barry and Nolan’s paths first crossed during a VISIONS Leader Training session in June of 2013. The spark that ignited at training led them down the aisle two years later without ever working on a program together! Now, with two children, a barn cat and a life in Austin, TX, they reflect on their journey with VISIONS, sharing insights on love, leadership and the impact of meaningful experiences.

Washington state, 2015

Barry and Nolan were drawn to working for VISIONS for similar reasons—seeking something more meaningful, a love for the outdoors, and an interest in engaging with community on a deeper level. When each of them stumbled upon VISIONS, they knew it was the right fit. Barry got a head start and started working in Mississippi and Montana in the summer of 2011, and did another summer in Mississippi in 2013. Nolan’s first summer as a leader was in Montana in 2013.

After meeting at the three-day leader training in 2013, Barry and Nolan discovered they were interested in learning more about each other. They each continued to their separate locations for the summer—Barry to the southern bayous of Mississippi and Nolan to the northern Rockies in Montana—but kept in touch about their experience and the magic of the Montana Blackfeet program by writing letters.

Unsurprisingly, they shared a similar love for the Montana Blackfeet and the projects. Participating in building a Sundance lodge, and then witnessing it during the Sundance itself—is truly an honor for anyone outside of the tribe. They both cherished memories of remodeling an elder’s house with teenagers and leading camping trips, and they were proud of the profound social and emotional growth observed in the participants.

In addition to loving the program, Barry and Nolan credit VISIONS with fostering personal growth and a deeper understanding of themselves and others. Their experiences shaped their approach to relationships—emphasizing authenticity, vulnerability, and community engagement.

Fast forward to today, Barry works with the Austin Parks Foundation, focusing on community engagement and park stewardship, while Nolan has transitioned from working at a Montessori preschool to nannying, embracing being a mother and an active community member. They hope to cultivate a rich family life echoing the community spirit of VISIONS, and dream of a future where their children embrace a simple and fulfilling life focused on personal and community well-being.

Barry and Nolan reminisce about revisiting the places that marked the beginning of their shared adventures, symbolizing a full circle from their separate VISIONS experiences to a shared life journey. Read on for their interview, the impact VISIONS experiences had on them, and what they’re up to today.

Barry and Nolan sit on a log in the Canadian Rockies

Crypt Lake in Waterton on honeymoon, 2016

Q: How did you first hear about VISIONS?

Barry: I graduated from college during the recession. I had a job I hated. I was very discontent and started googling jobs abroad. VISIONS came up and I was intrigued.

Nolan: I had just gotten back from a big trip to SE Asia with a friend and was at a turning point in my life. I googled something like “Meaningful Outdoor Summer Leadership Counseling,” something very specific—and found VISIONS. I immediately got a rejection because it was June, and they were fully staffed. A week later (on my birthday!) they asked if they could interview me. And then they put me in the game! I was so grateful, I wanted a meaningful adventure.

Q: What made you choose VISIONS?

Nolan: I was very interested in working with youth. The volunteering aspect of the program was also incredibly important and stood out to me. It was such a cool opportunity for these teenagers to have an outdoor adventure, but also a meaningful connection to the communities where they were staying, all while doing service projects.

Barry: The prospect of deep cultural immersion and language immersion. I was initially hoping to go somewhere Spanish-speaking. Even though I ended up in two different English-speaking spots, my favorite part was the intense cultural immersion. I think the closest I’d been to something like that was studying abroad—and knowing you can go somewhere but not experience it fully. So to go somewhere and just be an integral part of the community felt rare and hard to achieve. It made me want to be a part of it.

Q: Talk about when you met!

Barry: I remember the first time at training, how impactful and fun those couple of days were, and the excitement before everyone was sent out. There were so many unique and cool people, and everybody going to all these different places… It was very fun. So I was particularly excited about going back the second time and this time being there early for the Director portion of the training. I loved Bozeman and was excited to spend more time there and be there with people I had met the year prior. And knowing that it was going to be a bunch of cool new people.

The staff all arrived on a Friday. Nolan came in late, so I didn’t see her. Then Saturday morning, everybody was in the big church hall where we all slept. And I saw her walking across the room with her Patagonia zip-up, and I was like “Whoa, who’s that babe?!” There was this absolutely gorgeous girl who hadn’t been there the night before.

Nolan: I first noticed him when you guys [Amanda & Barry] did a skit! He was rapping… he was so fun, and I was impressed. I would never do a skit in the middle of people. I was drawn to him. He was always joking.

Barry: I can still see that room so clearly.

I think what was important looking back on that training is that we were doing Circle activities as leaders—things that foster vulnerability and the potential for intimacy. There were a lot of people there, so it was hard to get to know any one person all that well. But doing those exercises did provide the opportunity to get to know people more deeply. I saw that Nolan was pretty, but then over those days of doing those activities and just spending time together, I saw that she was also a very caring, kind, heartful person that I wanted to get to know more.

The fact that Nolan was going to Montana, where I had just been two years prior, gave us something to talk about and a reason to want to stay in touch. That was a big part of our connection. Being in our individual places that summer, and doing such an impactful thing… and for Nolan it being at such a pivotal point in her life… it opens your heart up.

VISIONS leaders take VISIONS teen boys backpacking in Glacier National Park

Barry and another leader (Amanda) lead a backpacking trip in Glacier National Park, 2013

Barry & Nolan sit at a summit along the Canadian Rockies

Boulder, CO, first meet up after VISIONS

Q: Do you have any specific memories of VISIONS that are special to you?

Barry: The building of the Sundance Lodge and then watching the Sundance. And participating in the Sweat. It was significant to me that the Blackfeet community trusted us enough to help with it. It’s pretty rare as a white person to be part of it. It felt like such a privilege.

Nolan: I have so many good memories! The Blackfeet program felt so unique. We remodeled a house for an elder, and it was so fun getting a bunch of teenagers to do sheetrock—that’s really fun, and also really hard, and kinda scary. Going out and leading the camping trip. Hiking out, and staying there–some of the kids hadn’t done that before. Some hadn’t even gone on a hike! It felt very special to help them stretch, see them grow, and be there with them. The social and emotional stuff that happens there with the kids felt very special to witness and support.

Q: What did your VISIONS experience mean to you?

Barry: It was the most impactful stretch of my life. I was very adventure-driven, seeking those moments. As life moves forward and you’re changing diapers… you don’t have to be in Glacier National Park to have that type of adventure. You can have that same experience in the mundane. But it’s all the more reason to have those adventures while you can, and cherish it. Transfer what you can to daily life. I still wish we could do it every summer.

Nolan: You know the rule about “No sunglasses in Circle”? That is powerful, making eye contact with people. I wish I had been a teenager doing that program. Nobody told me that when I was growing up! I felt like I was learning all these tools with the kids. I felt in awe of that.

Q: What does your day-to-day look like?

Barry: I work for the Austin Parks Foundation. I oversee the Adopt-A-Park and Park Steward & Community Gardens programs, ways for people to get more deeply involved in their parks and have stewardship over them. I help people navigate the process of applying for funding because it’s not very intuitive.

Nolan: When my son turned 1, I stopped working at Montessori preschool to be with him, and have been nannying with him (6) and now my daughter (4) for five years. It’s been unique supporting children. I love cooking (I was the food honcho in Montana!) and now I get to do meal prep.

Nolan in a meadow at Glacier National Park

Nolan on the VISIONS Blackfeet program in Glacier National Park, 2013

Barry on the VISIONS Mississippi program, 2013

Barry on the VISIONS Mississippi program, 2013

Q: Have you used your VISIONS experiences as a guide for your current life?

Barry: It’s not always super explicit, but the idea of building trust before being transactional with people is something I saw in Mississippi and Montana with community members. I started trying to do that in my job now, talking to community members who are trying to make improvements in their parks. It could be very transactional, but it doesn’t feel like it. I try to meet people where they’re at. I try to go to their park and have them walk me through it and connect first, before getting into business. I probably saw that first through VISIONS, especially in Mississippi. Relationships were still being built and there was a lot of effort put into building and maintaining them. Vulnerability, authenticity, connectedness, no phones… it must be much harder now than it was 10 years ago.

Q: Where do you see yourselves in 10 years?

Barry: The way I would measure success is in relationship richness. So I’ve tried to pursue that. It’s taken me time to figure out how to prioritize, and how to make myself available for my family first. When we met, and how we connected in a situation like VISIONS—where you’re with a bunch of people you don’t know but you quickly become close because of what you’re going through—in ten years I hope to be getting back more to that type of stuff. Our kids will be a lot older and a lot more independent. I’ve also spent a lot of time getting to know and understand myself better. I want to steward the relationships in my life well. I want to be available for people.

Nolan: A special memory of VISIONS was slowing down. Working hard with people and serving the community, eating food with people, cleaning up together, and just enjoying those moments without technology and distractions. Oh, and eating outside every day! I want that to be part of my kids’ lives, to be secure in that rhythm, maybe through fostering children or having exchange students. Welcoming people into our home and doing that rhythm together. It stands out as different; you have to be intentional to live that way. Exercising, eating good food, getting outside… that’s what I want for my life.

Barry and Nolan take a motorboat across Crypt Lake in Waterton, Canada

Washington state, 2015

What would you like to say to the VISIONS Community?

Barry: I think about the kids from my first summer a lot, especially the kids in Montana.

Nolan: I discovered a lot about myself during VISIONS. I was 23. I’ve discovered that I’m a highly sensitive person, a deep empath, and I feel everything so deeply and love people so deeply… that first summer was very powerful. It takes a long time to know yourself.

Barry: Most people go through life with such a front, focused more on how they want people to perceive them. VISIONS is a huge journey of self-discovery. It’s a lot easier to be vulnerable on a VISIONS program than at school or work. It’s a huge goal of the program, and why so many people, like us, come back. Because it’s so special.

Nolan: What’s stood out from VISIONS was Circle and those chats, telling teenagers to fight to carve out moments like that in their daily life; to be in nature with people, to sit and journal and reflect, and find people that you trust to be vulnerable with about the hard stuff going on in your life; that you’re not alone.

Q: Anything else you want to say?

Barry: Delete social media! It’s the new cigarettes!

Q: You said there was something significant about your honeymoon, what was it?

Barry: My first time in Montana, my favorite day off was driving up to Waterton to go to Crypt Lake Park on the Canadian side of Glacier National Park. It was so amazing. You had to ferry to get to the trailhead, there was a glacier lake, and it was so cool. So I told Nolan about it when she was heading to the Montana program. She loved it.

When we were on our honeymoon we were in the Canadian Rockies. We were working our way south, so we did the Crypt Lake hike together after doing it separately those years before. Then we drove down to Glacier and stayed one night, and one night in Browning at the ranch (Yellow Bird Woman Sanctuary).

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.

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