Q&A WITH PATRICK FLEMING, VISIONS ALUM

Patrick is a VISIONS Alaska alum – a program that ran from 1993 to 2019 in various communities – who lives and works in his hometown in Connecticut, making the world a better place through volunteering and ensuring important natural resources are reused and recycled instead of thrown away. Let’s meet Patrick!

Tell us a little about yourself!

For sure! I’m thirty years old and care for a girl Siamese cat, Pheme, who lives with me in Waterbury, Connecticut–the mill city where I was born and currently work as a buyer for a local scrap metal yard.

I’m a buyer, or purchasing agent, of industrial scrap material. Car batteries, wheels, steel from construction sites—many commodities that would be in a landfill or tossed into a lake. This afternoon I identified, quoted, and purchased 2 truckloads of anodized aluminum. Instead of ending up in the ocean, that metal now will be sorted, processed, and sold to manufacturers who will recycle/repurpose it (in this case for the production of cosmetic and toiletry casings). I’m very proud to work for a scrapyard.

Plastic and other pollutants (and warm winters) depress me, but it makes me happy to know I’m in an industry pushing back.

I enjoy playing music (guitar), reading, writing, cooking, chess, painting, traveling (whenever possible), hiking, and backpacking. I’m a fan of the Baltimore Ravens and Boston Red Sox. My favorite film is Fargo (1996). I am also a stand-up comedian, an EMT and–as a child–was featured in an Oscar Mayer Weiner commercial.

Do you actively volunteer? If so, how?

Yes. I volunteer in two different food banks/shelters several days per week near me in Waterbury. I also assist with the Brian O’Connell Homelessness Project (BOHP), through my mother’s church. I’d love to share the link if people are interested: Brian Bags – Brian O’Connell Homeless Project (brianoc.org). It’s a really cool idea that I think could be replicated anywhere that people are experiencing homelessness.

What did your VISIONS experience mean to you?

My VISIONS trip was probably the most formative travel experience of my life. In fact, it was likely one of the most significant and cathartic experiences of my life, period. It’s difficult to put into writing what this trip meant to me, but it unearthed a connection that I still feel to this day and speak about with reverence. It seldom wanders far from my mind. 

Patrick working on the Teen Center in Tanacross, AK, 2008

What is your advice for students today who are considering a VISIONS experience?

Do it. My advice for students considering a VISIONS experience is to do it. I personally did not want to. I felt scared and apprehensive about the entire program. My father worked in a plastic molding factory and my mother was a bartender; they never had a chance to attend college, let alone travel, and subsequently did everything possible to afford me those opportunities. I was terrified to exit my comfort zone. I am so glad that I did.

In what ways did VISIONS help you develop life skills?

VISIONS provided me with cultural context I would not have otherwise obtained or experienced. I was briskly immersed in a new world with different people but concurrently felt at home. It fortified a sense of empathy and understanding within myself.

What is one lesson learned from your experience that you still use today?

The most important lesson I took away from my VISIONS trip was that meaningful experiences require the willingness to try something new–and often something intimidating. You can only win what you put in the pot. My VISIONS experience gave me the confidence and the courage to try new things that I would have avoided otherwise.

How did VISIONS change your perspective of the world?

VISIONS made my world smaller in the best way possible. I was comfortable in my considerably small ecosystem, tucked away in the Tri-State area. Living in Alaska (and I say “living” purposefully, based on how the residents made me feel) reminded me that people are people, no matter where you go. I still look at the stars and think about how the 130 residents of Tanacross, Alaska are viewing some of the same constellations. It’s important to me.

What’s on your playlist?

Tom Petty mostly right now. The Cars. Bryan Adams. I’m helplessly in love so there are a lot of love songs.

Patrick and Pheme, 2023

Patrick and other VISIONS participants camping in McCarthy, AK, 2008

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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