The seed was sown 1988 with a simple question…What if?

What if there was a Peace Corps for teenagers? A youth summer program of ambitious community service rooted in cross-cultural communities, and with doses of adventure. Unlike a Peace Corps solo experience, this would be a group of teens and summer leaders living together in the host community.

VISIONS founders had worked with teenagers for over a decade in a summer camp on a Pennsylvania farm, created in the 1970s. They watched youth excel at construction, farm labor and maintaining the physical environment. Summer camp students loved the camaraderie of shared physical labor (which they were good at) and a shared sense of purpose.

We created VISIONS in 1988 to take experiential learning to another level — tapping into teenagers’ abilities, with the goal of helping others and thereby expanding the rewards cycle.

In VISIONS first season in 1989, our participants were exceptional. They still are. Our youth volunteers want to be part of something bigger and to make a difference. Most come ready to work, explore and learn.

VISIONS has been a learning organization from the get-go. Our Staff Handbook improved exponentially every summer as we incorporated knowledge gained. We keep on learning from our local partners, leaders in the field, participants and their families. We developed resource manuals for each program location that capture information unique to the site from the projects accomplished to places to go, important local partners, and the subtle nuances of a community’s culture.

Communication is core to VISIONS success. We value clear, systematic communication. Summer groups meet three or four evenings a week to share reactions to the experience and build cohesion among diverse individuals. Staff meet daily and have longer, more structured meetings weekly to review how participants are doing, how projects are proceeding, and what aspects need special attention. VISIONS home office communicates with field directors minimum once a week to lend support and stay informed.

VISIONS attracts exceptional summer leaders, many of whom become personally invested in their program locations beyond the summer. Past leaders whose professional lives now keep them from working summers stay involved in meaningful ways. VISIONS keeps close ties with community members, more than a few of whom have made VISIONS part of their lives for over two decades.

VISIONS has evolved since 1989. Yet two things remain unchanged: VISIONS Mission and our belief in community.

Community is: “A group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to…delight in each other, make others’ conditions (their) own.” [The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, M. Scott Peck]

*VISIONS is not religiously or politically affiliated.

VISIONS in The New York Times