How VISIONS Compares to Other Service Programs

When VISIONS started 27 years ago, we were considered pioneers. Although there were other summer travel programs for teens, very few included community service. For us, the service work was, and still is, at the core; it’s a fundamental element of our successful programs for both the teen volunteers and the communities where we work.

But it’s only one of the elements.

Here are other elements that make up the VISIONS matrix, that define and distinguish our programs:

The Service Model: A number of summer programs have added community service in recent years, but the service often tends to be more peripheral to a tour or adventure-based experience. Also, very few, if any, offer the depth of service work that VISIONS does. Far from a teen tour, we typically work five days a week, and have three or four projects to choose from each day. We live in the heart of the communities for the duration of the program and work collaboratively with local grassroots organizations and community members. We’re part of most projects from start to finish. But we’re also far from a labor camp! Afternoons and weekends are for fun excursions and experiencing the area’s exciting adventures.

The Work Experience: Often described as “robust” and “ambitious,” VISIONS projects always include construction and building. Many years ago, we discovered that teens enjoy the sense of accomplishment and life lessons that come from physical labor and building a structure from the ground up. Also, we are working in places where infrastructure is often lacking, and construction projects are what is needed most. Managing building sites is no small task, but it’s always worth the effort. Teen volunteers learn the basics of construction and tool use under the guidance of staff carpenters, while also learning the “tools” that are needed to make a difference for years to come. (Note: VISIONS programs also include social service and environmental projects, depending on the location.)

The Cultural Immersion: Because we return to our communities year after year, some for more than two decades, we are welcomed like close friends and family. We have a longevity that comes from 27 years of experience, and relationships that are built on trust, openness, shared goals, and honest communication. Our high school and middle school students are a part of the fabric of daily life, and get to experience cultures in much more depth than the average traveler.

Leader Ratio: VISIONS has always maintained a 1 to 4 or 5 leader to student ratio, which is higher than most international summer programs. Safety, security, and supervision directly correspond to the number and quality of leaders. Through our rigorous hiring process, we strive for the highest quality and quantity, with leaders who have diverse experiences working with youth, including teachers, returned Peace Corps volunteers, graduate and Ph.D. students, and experiential educators.

Community Building: Working and living in cultures very different from our own is an experience that encourages growth and communication. There is a constant emphasis on being active members of our host communities. Further to that, we carve out time from our jam-packed program to think about, and work on, community building. VISIONS leaders help participants process day-to-day life through Circle meetings a few nights per week. We share thoughts and reactions about the cultural and volunteer experience, and communicate with each other in sincere and open ways. It’s a time to build the foundation of trust and cohesiveness that is essential to community life, wherever one goes.

Learn more about the unique VISIONS Experience, and please call us with any questions at 406-551-4423.

VISIONS in The New York Times