One Site, Many Teen Summer Programs Abroad: Link by Link

One of the wonders of VISIONS is the lives touched by it both during and after each teen summer program abroad; the lives of people who are moved by the generosity of VISIONS participants, the participants themselves who are moved by the generosity of local hosts and inspired by the beauty of the communities visited. For example, the lives affected in just one VISIONS summer volunteer program site—the Dominican Republic, one of our oldest programs.

1997 was our seventh summer in the Dominican Republic in our host community of Sabana Perdida. VISIONS participants and the Junto de Vecinos began construction on a new community center. It is starting to take shape with the foundation, walls and now a new roof completed. At the Melvin Jones school, our beloved home base, we installed windows and accomplished extensive painting. We also ran the ever successful Campamento de Juveniles, in which participants supervise and organize activities for some eighty local children each summer.

Sounds like a lot, but the list of our work is incomplete: some things can not be cataloged, inventoried or drawn up in blue prints. Don’t let the tanned arms, callused hands and twinkling eyes fool you; the real changes happen inside VISIONS participants, in their hearts and their imaginations.

Each VISIONS participant is a link. What teenagers experience in a summer program both forges and connects them to an ever-growing chain. Here is a story about links in this chain over the course of a few youth summer camps, in only one of VISIONS’ many sites in North America and the Caribbean.

Mai Nguen was featured in The Visionary Spring 1995 edition for her participation in the 1994 Dominican Republic program. Mai was a scholarship participant whose tuition was funded through a private summer scholarship foundation. Mai and her family came to the US from Vietnam when she was eight years old, having survived crossing the South China Sea and a stay in a Philippine Refugee Camp.

In preparing for her trip to the DR, Mai thought to pack several large boxes of candy to give to the children she knew she would meet in the Dominican Republic. (VISIONS participants bring school or crafts supplies to Sabana Perdida for use in our day camp. It is a small gesture, but one which unfailingly builds an instant bridge of trust and friendship between participants and local children.)

During the trip a friendship developed between the VISIONS students and Paula, our laundress, and her son, Miguel.

Miguel accompanied Paula to work every day and voluntarily helped VISIONS with the main construction project, which was finishing the second story of Melvin Jones School. When our participants learned that Miguel’s family would be unable to afford the $80 tuition required to enter eighth grade, they convened a brainstorming meeting and came up with an inspired plan. Someone thought of Mai’s candy. The whole group decided to purchase the candy themselves (but still give it away as planned to the local kids) and offer the money to Paula to send Miguel to school—the very school he had been helping to build.

The spirit of the summer returned home with another participant in the program, Jake Lindstrom. He also was a scholarship student from VISIONS hometown of Newport, Pennsylvania. With the help of friends, Jake and his mother established a scholarship fund through VISIONS for Paula’s four children that will support tuition until they graduate. Indeed, one of the wonders of VISIONS IS the number of people it touches.

That was summer 1994. In the summer of 1996 the VISIONS group visited San Luis Batey, as every VISIONS group in the Dominican Republic does, where Haitian workers and their families live in desolate poverty. Few people who visit the Batey communities leave without being affected by the severe conditions. Our students were no exception.

Two students, Aubra Levine and Maggie Fienstein, were moved to action. They started a scholarship fund for the children of the San Luis Batey. Through the fall, Maggie and Aubra worked diligently with a Dominican community friend to establish a viable scholarship fund that would cover the cost of school tuition, uniforms and books for four students.

In January of 1997, Andy Luisa Sala Rosario, 15, Wilma Polimi Destin, 16, Ramon Emilio Virgen, 16 and Glorybelle Eduvige Marte Javier, 8 were able to afford and attend school. The hope and vitality of the poor
 families in San Luis Batey left an indelible mark on Aubry and Maggie. The two Visionaries have continued the chain of giving and service, as did Mai’s and Jake’s group before them. Like so many VISIONS participants, Mai, Jake, Aubry and Maggie responded to both the poverty and the beauty around them; their actions not only have changed the lives of others but also surely their own lives as well. Another wonderful summer under our belts and countless new links in the chain of giving, forged out of service.

Thank you to all our participants, staff and community members who shared in the building of our projects. Remember: la familia de VISIONS siempre esta creciendo.

VISIONS in The New York Times