Finding Meaning as a VISIONS Leader

Three Summers & Counting for Service, Cultural Exchange and Profound Insights

By Armeno Pellegrini

Since graduating from Temple University in 2019, I have been a part of three different teen summer service trips with VISIONS, all of which have profoundly changed my life. After each of the programs I find myself asking, “Is this really my job? I can go to these incredible places and make a difference through service work, and then grow as a human while helping others do the same?”

In our world today it feels increasingly rare to find real connection and meaning, but I’ve never had that problem during a VISIONS program. Spending months with dozens of strangers in a new place doing meaningful and challenging work forces you to grow and adapt every day, while also giving you memories that will last a lifetime.

Montana Farm & Ranch Teen Program, 2020

I was introduced to VISIONS through a friend who asked if I was interested in quitting my corporate job to work as a teen summer volunteer leader during the summer of 2020. For weeks I had been looking for a change. It felt like the universe was opening a door for me and I had to go through it.

That summer was the most demanding, exhausting, and rewarding time of my life. The two and a half months in Bozeman working on service projects and exploring the beautiful state of Montana felt like two and a half years. Never had I been pushed to such extremes and been forced to be so present. It felt like each day, multiple things didn’t go according to plan and the leader team needed to scramble to create a solution.

COVID-19 presented unique obstacles and this was the first time this program had run in that environment, so we were sometimes figuring it out as we went. At our home base on a local farm, teens and leaders slept in their own tent and our kitchen was in a large event tent. Living without modern luxuries you’d have at home imparts a new sense of gratitude and appreciation that sticks with you. Even during the pandemic, we still had the opportunity to connect to the land, work on local farms, and learn about regenerative agriculture.

Unsurprisingly, it was amazing and the little issues along the way are what made the adventure that much more memorable. Never had I seen so many shooting stars, or felt such connection to nature sitting and laughing around a campfire. That summer gave me more than I ever could have dreamed of, and I knew that it wouldn’t be my last time with VISIONS.

Perú 2022

After the Montana program I was incredibly excited to return for another summer session. While looking at the Peru itinerary leading up to the trip, I had a hard time believing that it was real! It was going to be my job to play soccer with locals, learn how to make jewelry and chocolate, and hike Machu Picchu at sunrise.

When I arrived in Peru, I immediately felt a sense of belonging and excitement. Each day was filled with meaning and purpose. Our interactions with the members of the community were genuine and the work was actually fun, like passing buckets of concrete down a line to fix irrigation canals. Or participating in an elementary school gym class, while also painting and installing a new floor for their cafeteria.

Another one of our community service projects was to build a bathroom for a local preschool, which had been destroyed in a flood. After three weeks of difficult and physically taxing labor, we had successfully completed it. On our final day, there was a ceremony that the community and school wanted to share with us to thank us for the work we did. Hearing the principal’s voice choke up and seeing tears well in her eyes still brings tears to my eyes this day.

We were having so much fun working, it was easy to forget the weight and impact of what we were actually doing. It’s hard to put into words how magical that summer was. I was once again reminded of the beauty of our world, the power of spending time with love and intention, and embracing whatever life threw at me.

Before the summer ended, I knew I wanted to return, and hopefully as a director so I could facilitate the magic that had genuinely changed my life.

BVI 2023

The British Virgin Islands was a place I knew very little about before going. When the Peru program had to be canceled in 2022 due to temporary political unrest, I was upset initially but knew I needed to look for whatever opportunity came next and embrace it.

Spending my summer on a small island (Virgin Gorda) in the Caribbean leading a group of teenagers is not something I ever thought I would do. The sun was intense, but it made exploring and relaxing at the beaches that much more rewarding after a hard day’s work. Scuba diving was something I always wanted to try, and once again, VISIONS provided me with a magical experience that I was able to share with others who were going through the same thing.

The beauty of the island and sea radiated through everyone with warmth. Outward friendliness from strangers isn’t something I was used to while living in a major city. People would smile and say good morning, ask about your day, and quickly recognize you if you saw them again. It truly was one of the most beautiful and welcoming places I’ve been and without VISIONS I likely would never have gone.

Perú 2024 and Beyond

Your life can change in a day, and it can give you enough to think of for a lifetime. When you do something like a VISIONS program, you don’t even realize how much you are growing as a person until after you are back home.

Each day is filled with both new wonder and hardship. Being vulnerable and talking about it with others in Circle really drives that home, while leaving you with everything you need to overcome whatever challenges lie ahead. I like to tell the high school volunteers and fellow leaders that nobody can ever take this experience away from you.

The memories, the highs and lows you felt, tears shed, blood and sweat, it’s all real and a part of you. You can tap into that weeks, months, years from now and remember the way you felt when you were trying your best and embracing a community.

I’m forever grateful for what VISIONS has given me, and I know that going forward it will always be a part of my life in one way or another. I’m honored to be the director for this upcoming program, and can’t wait to return to one of my favorite places in the world.

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.

VISIONS in The New York Times