VISIONS has been running teen community service programs in the Dominican Republic since 1991. Among our many projects are schools, which serve approximately 3,200 students every year.
My first summer with VISIONS was in 1996, in the Dominican Republic (D.R.). Fresh out of college, I imagined it would be a one-summer adventurous job that offered a chance to do something meaningful, to buy some time before figuring out a career, and to travel. It ended up being the first of five summers that I worked in the D.R., where I fell in love with the lively culture, the VISIONS philosophies, and our projects.
Now, 20 years later, I sit at the helm of VISIONS as Executive Director, and most of my time is spent at our home office in Bozeman, Montana while younger generations carry the torch of service projects and local connections in the field.
The site visits I do are still one of the most important things, however. Not only do they help keep connections with our host communities during the off-season, but they also serve as a profound reminder of why the work we do every summer is so important.
This past December, I visited our partners and friends in the D.R., and we also took time to tour several project sites that are now functioning schools, homes, busy community centers, baseball fields that are community recreation centerpieces, and the list goes on.
Approximately 3,200 kids attend school every year in the schools that we’ve built with local partners. These are kids who otherwise wouldn’t attend school, as there simply were no facilities. If you multiply by the number of years each school has been in operation, a conservative estimate is that 40,000 Dominican kids have received at least a K-8 education in the schools built by VISIONS teens.
This work could not be done alone. Our partner since our first year in the D.R., in 1991, is the Lions Club of Sabana Perdida. The Club does the legwork to ensure that any school that we build will be government-sanctioned, and they are also central to the planning and construction process, at the project sites every day teaching our participants how to build. They have received international recognition as one of the Lions Clubs that has achieved some of the greatest projects in terms of impact, scope, and scale, and most of the large-scale projects have been with VISIONS.
This year we will break ground on yet another school in a district where there isn’t any classroom space for K-8 students. And while all VISIONS program locations offer incredible summer experiences, I certainly have personal affection for the D.R., where we’re excited to carry on the tradition of important projects and great friendships.