A question we’re often asked is, how serious, how authentic, are the service projects VISIONS undertakes? Is it ‘real’ service? Our archives from 1989 to last summer overflow with stories that tell of the impact VISIONS projects have had on communities and individuals.

Here is one from the archives, an email received in July 2005 from our leaders in the Dominican Republic. Before 2005 and starting in 1991, our first summer in the Dominican Republic, participants had already built 24 houses, 3 schools (2 that serve as hurricane shelters), 2 community centers, a medical clinic, and several cisterns.

You may or may not know that we were just dragged through the ringer by what I am guessing is now Hurricane Dennis. Not sure how much of the constant rain that explains, but it has been constant and powerful.

Anyhow, after we destroyed one of the shanties we are rebuilding as a house, we left behind a really tall cinder block wall that was a retaining wall for the hillside on which this “house” had been built. It had to be at least 25 feet tall. We stripped it down so that there was nothing left but this back wall and the floor of the house. Then we started clearing and rebuilding. Late Wed. night the worst of the rains were upon us, fierce downpours, winds and lightning. While we were huddled in Melvin Jones (school), the retaining wall at the work site gave way and a landslide of thousands of pounds of wet dirt and cinder blocks smothered the entire work site, and a few days of our own work was lost.

When the family of the house woke up in the morning, they found the wreckage as did our work site crew when they arrived on site to work yesterday. It was day 3 of work for us. The mother of the house took Courtney’s hand and walked her up and over the mud pile to the highest point and told her that this was where her bed was, and, right next to it, the bed of her daughter. She explained while holding her head that had we not been building her house and had we not started exactly when we did, they would have been lying in those beds under the mud and rubble at that very moment.

People kept saying that VISIONS saved lives this week, although fate and serendipity could obviously take the credit just as well if not better. Nevertheless, it was a deeply moving thing to experience, and no matter how one might try to explain it, I think that despite the luck and chance in this particular case, the indisputable truth is that we are building houses that will withstand the next storm and the storm after that, and that the work we are doing isn’t leaving things like this, things like people’s lives, up to chance.

VISIONS in The New York Times