Frequently Asked Questions
What distinguishes VISIONS from other teen service and Gap programs?
We are tech-free, and allow one call time per week. Being fully present during the program requires that we are truly connected to the experience and people around us. Disconnecting from gadgets allows us to develop sincere relationships with community members who rarely are equipped with tech devices and who want to share their lives with us. Putting aside smartphones also raises the bar for programs like VISIONS—not many organizations will promise to keep participants engaged and having fun without having to resort to screen time. You’ll have plenty of stories and photos to share once you’re home! Read more here.
VISIONS is rooted in long-term, respectful relationships with local partners. We don’t develop new programs on a whim. We have worked in most of our locations for decades, so our participants are welcomed like old friends into communities that know us well. We partner exclusively with local nonprofits on ambitious construction projects that are needed by the community.
VISIONS also can be distinguished by what we are NOT.
- VISIONS is not religiously or politically affiliated. Some program locations may offer an opportunity to explore the religion and religious monuments of our host communities, but all programs are secular.
- VISIONS is not a teen tour or “voluntourism” program. Participants and leaders live together in a community center, school or rented home that is part of a local neighborhood. For our Montana reservation programs and Montana Farm & Ranch, we live slightly out of town. We stay in our host community for the duration of the program and use the weekends for travel and excursions. Participants quickly become part of the fabric of daily life and are at home in the community.
VISIONS is not a homestay program. Instead, we live together as a group and spend our days working and communicating with local families and community members, and we often share meals or spend days with local friends. This format allows for greater flexibility in scheduling the community-driven service projects and the program itinerary.
Who participates in VISIONS?
- VISIONS participants are motivated, curious and adventurous people who want to gain a deeper commitment to self, each other and the natural world. Our expectation (and what we look at during the application process) is that each participant is open to the experience and to putting the community needs ahead of their own.
- Most participants come on their own to VISIONS programs. To ensure strong group dynamics and a spirit of inclusiveness, we do not allow more than two friends to attend the same program together
- Because the programs focus on service projects and team-building, age is much less relevant than during regular school life. We prioritize an inclusive group dynamic, and a family feeling defines every VISIONS program. Your new friends will include fellow participants, VISIONS leaders and people of all ages from the host community.
- Gap programs are for participants aged 17 – 23. High school programs are for kids ages 14 through the summer of graduation, with the average age on a program usually being 16. Middle school programs are for kids ages 12 – 14 (with the occasional mature 11 year-old). 14 year-olds may choose between our middle and high school programs.
- Most participants arrive with no construction or outdoor adventure skills. Our leaders are well trained and highly knowledgeable. They coordinate projects, teach requisite skills and closely guide participants every step of the way.
What does VISIONS expect of me?
- As a member of a team, you’re expected to commit to our goals, to be aware of how your actions and reactions affect others and to look for ways to contribute positively to the overall group dynamic.
- Cooperation and flexibility are imperative, and a sense of humor is indispensable.
- Considerate conduct and respect for program policies are required. VISIONS is a Zero Tolerance program with respect to alcohol, drugs and inappropriate sexual behavior, and breaking such a rule will result in immediate dismissal from the program (read more on our Terms and Conditions, here).
- You live and work in the public eye, therefore appropriate behavior, language use and dress are essential. Chronic bad behavior will also be grounds for early dismissal. Such situations are rare given the positive peer pressure and group dynamics that define VISIONS programs, but we are nonetheless clear and consistent when we enforce our guidelines.
- You will be expected to be actively curious about the culture and community. To watch, listen and reach out to local people. When you think of yourself as both an ambassador and a student with respect to the local community, you will be rewarded tenfold.
- We expect you to take advantage of every opportunity offered, even downtime. There is time to enjoy your surroundings, absorb the culture, do fun activities and make deep friendships.
What are VISIONS key values and mission?
- Connection. Forge connections with the self, others and that natural world in ways that build empathy and make us whole.
- Communication. Foster clear and honest communication that becomes the bedrock for meaningful relationships.
- Engagement. Actively and fearlessly strive to make a positive difference for other people, living creatures and the earth.
Will I receive community service hours?
Each participant who successfully completes a VISIONS high school or middle school program receives a Certificate of Service that includes project details and the service hours associated with the program location. We also are happy to provide participants with special forms or letters that may be required by their school.
Will I receive credit hours during my Gap Program?
VISIONS does not currently offer college credits. However, participants may work with their educational institution to receive technical, elective, independent study or internship credit. Some Gap curriculum includes certifications, such as the Wilderness First Responder course.
Does VISIONS offer Custom Programs for groups or spring break trips?
VISIONS offers customized volunteer programs for schools and other groups seeking an in-depth volunteer experience. We operate special trips to any of our locations on a year-round basis for people of all ages. Read more here.
What is daily life like on a VISIONS program?
Summer High School & Middle School Programs:
Four days a week, participants typically work on their chosen projects, such as helping on construction projects, working on farms, leading day camps and more. We work until mid-afternoon most days, and have time before dinner to participate in artisan workshops, take short hikes, go swimming, play games with neighborhood kids, or to simply have free time to relax or stroll in the community.
One day a week, every participant joins the “homebase crew” with a few other other teens and a leader. The crew wakes up early to cook breakfast for everyone, cleans our homebase, does errands and shops at local markets for the rest of the day’s meals.
No matter which program you choose, weekends are for traveling to the best sites and attractions. Our adventures take us through sprawling markets, to World Heritage Sites, and off the beaten path with friends from the host community. Some programs also include day stays with local families.
Three to four nights a week, participants and leaders have group meetings that last about an hour. This deliberate slow-down time allows everyone to get to know each other while reflecting together on our volunteer and cultural experience. Issues that arise naturally in a group of people who live and work closely together are acknowledged and addressed. Group meetings help bind everyone together as we work toward a common goal.
Daily life on a Gap program has similarities to the summer programs, though with a greater emphasis on curriculum, hands-on workshops, guest speakers and film series that complement the program modules. As part of the well-rounded learning experience, Gap participants engage in volunteer projects and work at local farms and ranches, but there are fewer days of volunteer work than during VISIONS teen summer programs. Due to the longer duration of Gap programs, there is also more downtime, including at least one full day off per week.
What is the living situation?
- Participants have gender-separated rooms and leaders live with kids. There are social areas, kitchens, bathrooms and showers for each gender.
- We provide bunk beds or floor mattresses. You bring your own sheets and pillow. You will have a shelf or cubby for storing clothes and personal items.
- You may encounter unexpected, temporary inconveniences. This is the reality of life in many of our host communities. What we take for granted at home, such as ample water for daily showers, may not happen reliably at your program site. You can count on having a shower at least every other day. Electricity at some sites can be inconsistent at best. Together, we adjust and adapt.
- Laundry is done once a week.
Montana Programs: The Montana Blackfeet program takes place at a large conservation ranch a few miles outside of Browning, the largest town on the reservation. Similarly, VISIONS Farm & Ranch takes place on a large farm that is building additional infrastructure each season. Current infrastructure includes a farmhouse, barns, large wall tents with cots for sleeping, and port-o-pots for additional bathroom facilities. Possible plans for 2021 include the addition of high tunnel greenhouses, a pole barn and yurts.
What are the meals like?
Rotating homebase crews, including a few participants and a leader, prepare breakfasts and lunches that are plentiful and varied. Scrambled eggs, pancakes, French toast, yogurt, fruit and cereal are among the regular options for breakfasts. Lunches often feature sandwiches, salads, as well as some hot meals.
Fruit, crackers and trail mix are just a few of the items available throughout the day as healthy snacks. Participants also can purchase their own favorite snacks at local stores.
At most program sites, VISIONS employs local cooks who prepare dinners that satisfy each person’s palette. Meals blend Western fare and local cuisine. VISIONS programs are accustomed to accommodating allergies and food restrictions. There are full vegetarian options at all meals, and we welcome vegan diets, as well. If your diet is highly specialized, please call to discuss your needs.
Who are VISIONS leaders?
For programs with backpacking, climbing, diving and other adventure activities, our leaders or contracted guides teach the required skills and are accustomed to working with participants who may not have outdoors experience. Leader interviews are conducted face-to-face or through video calls. In addition, VISIONS speaks to three professional references for each leader, and also performs background checks on each person before they are hired. Our leader return rate is exceptionally high, at 40-50 percent. Every season we receive many more applications for employment than we have positions to fill, which allows us to be highly selective in our hiring.
VISIONS maintains an average leader to participant ratio of 1 to 4 on teen summer programs, and 1 to 5 on Gap programs. This is in addition to our local staff hired on the ground as drivers, project coordinators and dinner cooks.
What is the technology & phone policy?
- Without tech devices, you are able to focus on the immediate experience––the people, sights, sounds and sensations of your program environment. VISIONS is a unique opportunity to step out of the regular routines and distractions of home for a short while to focus on an experience that potentially will be one of the most powerful in your life. Every season we get feedback from participants who tell us how refreshing it was to live without the constant pull of their devices.
- Equally important is the reality that people in our host communities have far fewer material objects than we do. VISIONS chooses not to accentuate the electronics gap.
- Cameras are welcome as long as they are separate from other devices.
- Time is set aside every week for participants to call or email home. Parents also receive a “safe arrival” call or email once their child is received at the program airport. Parents are provided with a phone number for the program phone and may call if needed.
Note that VISIONS Gap programs allow additional limited tech use related to the Capstone project, and you may read more on the Gap FAQ pages.
How does VISIONS handle risk management?
Read more about Covid-19 safety here.
Supervision, Training & Local Contacts
A primary component of risk management is our relationships with local people who we have known for years (many for 20-30 years), some of whom we employ and who alert us to risks or health issues. Because we know the characteristics and challenges of our locations, fewer risk factors are left to chance. In addition:
- Our average ratio of one leader to four participants ensures that kids are well supervised. Participants are usually with their work or activity group.
- There is time for participants to explore our neighborhoods within clearly defined, nearby boundaries and with at least three buddies together. Our buddy system means that no participant goes beyond homebase boundaries alone and without informing a VISIONS leader. Homebase boundaries are defined from day one of the program.
- Our friends in the community are an extension of the leader team, widening the scope of trusted adults.
- The VISIONS model is to return to places for consecutive summers. The knowledge accrued systematically from season to season has been carefully documented and is updated annually.
- Our Leader Handbook outlines risk management and health protocols, basic policies and contingency plans. During on-site leader training, we teach and review these protocols and guidelines and also train on site-specific considerations. In addition to First Aid and CPR, some leaders carry advanced certifications such as Wilderness First Responder (WFR) and EMT.
Health & Wellbeing
- Water is a critical focus at international locations. In places that lack clean drinking water, we use bottled water. Leaders remind participants to carry water bottles daily and to hydrate throughout each day.
- We have protocols regarding sanitation, food preparation and clean up. Program directors work with local cooks to outline and enforce food storage and preparation protocols.
- Under the guidance of leaders, participants take responsibility for keeping their living spaces tidy and clean.
- Driving is one of the most important risk factors for any summer program. At sites where VISIONS leaders drive, we verify driving records in the hiring process. Program directors then review driving guidelines on-site with each member of the leader team before participants arrive. On sites where leaders do not drive, we hire seasoned drivers and occasionally take public transportation.
- Most of our sites are near medical clinics or hospitals. We usually use local clinics for basic care and travel to hospitals with more sophisticated care, if needed. As an extra safeguard, VISIONS requires emergency evacuation insurance for each participant. The cost is $90 and includes evacuation for medical or security reasons. Families will receive details of the plan upon registering or upon request.
- While we do not require vaccines for our programs, a typhoid vaccination is generally recommended by the CDC for travel to developing countries. We recommend that families consult a travel doctor and refer to the CDC website when making health decisions before the program.
What do I pack & how do I prepare?
Is there a dress code?
Articles of clothing not permitted on VISIONS programs:
- Spaghetti straps
- Low cut shirts
- Clothing that reveals undergarments
- Short shorts or skirts
- Low-rise jeans
How do I choose which program to attend?
- Upon first review, does one location appeal to you more than others? (The feeling of naturally being drawn to a certain place shouldn’t be ignored. “Going with your gut” can be a grounding way to make your decision.)
- Are you particularly interested in a certain part of the world or a particular culture?
- Consider the activities and excursions of each location. Would you rather climb a glacier or SCUBA dive? Would you like to backpack in the mountains or go swimming with sea lions?
- In regard to service, are there any themes or causes that interest you most? Are you interested in social justice or environmental sustainability?
- Have you studied Spanish or French and would like to experience using the language in an everyday setting? (Note that our 2021 French program in Guadeloupe is currently on hold due to Covid.)
Give us a call, chat or email if you are still unsure! 406.551.4423
What is the application process?
All participants complete the application process in order to be considered for a VISIONS program. Space on the program is held once the participant has reached “Registered” status.
PART ONE: APPLY. The following is submitted as part of the application:
- Contact information for participant and parent/guardian(s)
- Participant Questionnaire
- Contact information for two references (waived for alumni)
- Passport information and photo
- Application Fee of $50 (The application fee is nonrefundable and waived for alumni and financial aid recipients.)
We then review the completed application, check references and determine whether the participant is accepted to the program. Decisions are made within one week of receiving the completed application
PART TWO: ACCEPTED (CONDITIONAL). If accepted to the program, the following items then must be submitted in order to be registered.
- Enrollment Contract
- Health and Behavior Form
- $800 tuition deposit (or full tuition if enrolling after March 1 for summer programs or within 45 days of program start date for Gap programs)
PART THREE: REGISTERED. Once registered, space on the program is held. Families then receive additional travel details, packing list and access to a program login page.
How do I apply for a job as a VISIONS leader?
TUITION & OTHER COSTS
What does tuition include?
- Meals and healthy snacks
- Service projects
- Activities and excursions
- Weekly laundry
- Transportation beginning at airport pick-up and ending at airport drop-off. (Exceptions: Galapagos and British Virgin Islands programs. Ask for more details.)
- VISIONS leaders, local staff and guides
Tuition does not include:
- Airfare, baggage fees or other individual travel expenses to get to and from the program airport
- Evacuation insurance (~ $90)
- Medical expenses or cost of evacuation
- Health and optional travel insurance
- Personal spending money
- Cost of calls home
- Airport taxes
Does VISIONS offer financial aid?
How do I arrange travel?
- We strongly recommend that flights be arranged through our travel agent so we can coordinate arrival and departure times for all involved. Our travel agent has pricing that is competitive with online fares. Booking a flight using miles should be the only exception to using our travel agent, and in that case the itinerary must be pre-approved by the VISIONS office.
- We do not require that participants fly from any particular airport, therefore allowing the convenience of traveling directly from a home airport to the program site. VISIONS puts participants who are on the same flight itinerary in touch with each other a few days before travel so that they can make plans to meet at the gate. Participants also receive VISIONS T-shirts, which we recommend wearing on travel day so that you can easily find other participants at the airport. Parents have the option of purchasing Unaccompanied Minor service with the airline, though should be discussed with the VISIONS office beforehand.
- Our program leaders meet each participant at the airport upon arrival. Leaders also see off each participant at the airport at the end of the program.
What is the tuition refund policy?
DEPOSITS & TUITION
The $800 nonrefundable tuition deposit is due upon registering for a program and holds a space on the program.
- Summer Programs: Tuition balance is due March 1st or must be paid in full if registering after March 1st. Tuition is 50% refundable until 75 days before the program start date, after which point tuition is nonrefundable except through trip cancellation insurance, which we encourage all families to purchase.
- Gap Programs: Tuition balance is due 60 days before the program start date or must be paid in full if registering within 60 days of the program. Tuition is 50% refundable until 45 days before the program start date, after which point tuition is nonrefundable except through trip cancellation insurance, which we encourage all families to purchase.
- Notification of a participant’s summer or Gap program cancellation must be received in writing in order to receive the 50% refund. (Summer programs = 75 days or more before program start date; Gap programs = 45 days or more before program start date.)
- Tuition is nonrefundable for any reason, including but not limited to, family or personal emergencies, physical or mental illness or injury (including Covid-19), voluntary departure, participant dismissal, general anxieties and concerns related to Covid-19, and cancellation due to a failure to comply with destination or return quarantine and testing requirements.
- VISIONS is not responsible for other expenses incurred during travel preparation, including airfare and other fees.
IF VISIONS MUST CANCEL, REFUND POLICIES ARE MODIFIED
If VISIONS needs to cancel a teen summer or Gap program due to Covid-19 or any other reason, your options include:
- Participants are encouraged to transfer to another available program of their choice. Note that spaces may be limited, so your place in the queue for another program will be based upon the date that you registered.
- Carry full tuition (including the $800 deposit) to a future program (three year deadline; transferable to family or friends).
- Receive a full refund of tuition paid, less the $800 nonrefundable deposit.
- Roll tuition to the VISIONS Foundation for a tax-deductible donation.
STILL HAVE QUESTIONS?
Contact us anytime to chat about the programs or to request a list of references. It is our goal to accurately convey the VISIONS experience so that families can determine if VISIONS is the best fit for a participant’s summer or Gap program.