Two-Time VISIONS Alumna Presley Spiller Now Returns as a Junior Leader

Another impressive young person committed to doing important work, who captures the spirit of what VISIONS aims to achieve with each high school summer volunteer program.

By Presley Spiller

In high school, I struggled to feel autonomous in a mass of state objectives ruled by teachers who were pressured by test scores. It was difficult to ignore the systemic failures that affected the education I received and that also impacted the lives of my peers. I felt powerless, and at the same time empathetic to the issues around me. When I discovered community service, I became filled with a certain motivation and purpose that I did not experience in the classroom.

As someone who is concerned about social justice issues, it reached a boiling point in high school. I needed to make a dramatic decision. I decided to get on a plane and travel alone to a country where I did not speak the language or know anyone, where I could live out my desire for doing community service.

Running on adrenaline and four hours of sleep, I ended up in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (DR), where I was greeted with an orange umbrella and a group of other seemingly exhausted kids. We got on the guagua (bus) and took an unfamiliar drive to Cotuí, a lush town found in the interior of the country.

Not having any technological distractions, conversation was our entertainment. For the entirety of the two-hour bus ride, I spoke to my now best friend (whom I still talk to every day!), Ella. We arrived sometime in the afternoon and post-dinner, Ella and I decided to take the soccer ball for a spin.

Children slowly creeped out of the houses, and within minutes we had a full-on soccer game in the middle of the dirt road. I immediately felt like I belonged in this community, where I could flourish and learn in humility. This feeling never went away; every day in the heat and humidity of the island, I grew closer to my new community, whom I now consider family. Although I went to the DR wanting to quench my thirst for community service, the town of Cotuí did me an immeasurable service. They showed me unconditional love; they loved me even though we spoke different languages; they treated me like family even though I was going to be there temporarily.

Leaving wanting more, I decided to do another VISIONS program in 2022 to Peru. The trip to the Dominican Republic, in retrospect, taught me more about myself by learning through others. On the trip to Peru, however, I was able to use my alum skills to have a “mini-leader” position on the trip. This empowered me and gave me further confidence to live the life I wanted to. These trips gave me the confidence to move across the country for college in Portland, Oregon, and to apply for a Junior Leader position for VISIONS this coming summer.

I would not be the person I am today if it were not for VISIONS. I move through life with more assuredness, initiative, and perspective. Being exposed to a different culture’s community allowed me to critically analyze my own life, and gave me the motivation to steer myself to a more holistic life.

Q & A 

Your relationship to VISIONS?

I attended the Dominican Republic (2021) and Peru (2022) trips

What does your daily life look like right now?

I currently live in Portland, Oregon, and attend Lewis and Clark College, a private liberal arts college tucked in Tryon Forest! I am currently taking on four classes: Indian Philosophy, Education in a Complex Society, Politics of Love, and Spanish. My day includes lots of studying, catching up with friends, and taking hikes on trails that are located on campus!

What does the word community mean to you?

When the word “community” is brought up, my mind ventures into a space of a hard-working group of individuals whose goals all gravitate towards respect, love, and growth.

What was most memorable about your VISIONS experience?

In the Dominican Republic, we had a street party with our vecinos, where we all danced the night away. We all had a big dance circle, where the local kids danced, and even taught us Americanos some new moves. This night was unforgettable in how simple it was, the street lights, a speaker, and some music.

What did the VISIONS experience teach you?

The VISIONS experience taught me more about myself than anything else. Even though I lived with several other people, I saw my strengths and potential reflected in others. Being out of my comfort zone allowed me to explore new areas of myself, and built my confidence in trying new things.

What is something that makes you hopeful for the future?

Youth advocacy makes me hopeful for the future. Seeing kids use their voices by sharing their experiences makes me hopeful for our future.

What do you feel is one of your greatest strengths that you have to offer the world?

One of my greatest strengths I have to offer the world is empathy. I believe I make others feel heard, seen, and valued, no matter the circumstance. This strength plays into my love for community and my passion for building lasting relationships.

What do you hope to be doing ten years from now?

Ten years from now, I would love to be living somewhere different (I love to travel!) and doing what I love. This could be in the realm of working for a local nonprofit benefiting others’ lives through sustainable energy, or working with communities to enhance social resources.

What would you like to say to other members of the VISIONS community?

That you are greatly appreciated and loved, and you make the world a better place!

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