Frequently Asked Questions
We Are Community
VISIONS Statement on Coronavirus | Letter from Executive Director
(March 20, 2020)
Dear VISIONS Families & Community,
By this time, the news of COVID-19 is dynamic and frequently updated. We understand as you do that today’s reality will be different from what it is in a couple months. VISIONS remains optimistic that summertime will bring a reprieve to the levels of uncertainty and physical distances that are currently advised, and with safety top of mind, we continue to make plans for programs in all of our locations.
Perhaps now more than ever, young people need what VISIONS provides: the opportunity to connect deeply, be of service, and understand from the heart and soul what it means to embrace true teamwork and ground oneself in a complex, beautiful world. Catalyzed by today’s challenges, we see a growing awareness of the importance of greater care and gratitude for our neighbors, communities, and world. This is the message that has always been at the heart of our programs. Over our 32 seasons , we are repeatedly reminded of the simple fact that, in giving, we receive and we grow.
We know that we—like you—must be nimble in our strategy and responsive to changes in order to provide tremendous experiences to kids this summer, while also ensuring that each host community is prepared to receive our groups. Our diverse program locations and 20+ years of local relationships in most sites would make some changes a relatively seamless process, and we will keep you updated along the way. Each person who enrolls will be asked for their backup program options so we can prioritize those preferences in case any changes need to be made.
We Pause. We Take Stock.
While these weeks are indeed challenging, these are also the moments when we can step back and take stock of what’s important. I am grateful for my team at VISIONS—they are dedicated and creative people who know how to weather a storm. We’ve also been in touch with many alumni, and it’s been a chance to renew our commitment to forging ahead and providing the programs that kids of today deserve and desire.
Our 120% Promise to Families.
Please continue reading below my signature for our 2020 season updates and policies. We have been in touch with many other summer organizations, and we believe this is one of the most practical and transparent policies available right now. It also recognizes that we are all in this together, as a community, in order to fulfill a promise of providing exceptional, transformative experiences to our kids this summer.
We wish everyone well as we move through the coming weeks. May we all remain here for one another, and come through the other side stronger together.
As always, we encourage you to call or email us with any questions.
Executive Director | Owner
What is VISIONS position on COVID-19?
Updated April 2, 2020
- VISIONS is following the situation carefully through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other travel organizations as part of a risk management consortium.
- 45 days prior to any program, VISIONS will publish protocols pertaining to pre-program travel preparations (e.g. possible health documentation to ascertain each person’s current health status). At that time, we will also publish the health protocols that our leaders and local partners will follow on-site. Because this information is still evolving, we will use the most up-to-date guidelines in accordance with industry standards and CDC travel health notices.
- We are in regular contact with our host communities to get updates on their wellbeing and any needs they may have during this time. Local partners provide critical guidance in our decision-making process, and we won’t run programs in communities that are not ready to receive our volunteers if health threats remain and cannot be managed.
- We continue to receive and welcome applications for all of our program sites, knowing that we may need to be nimble if some locations require cancellation or date adjustments. We will also assess if additional programs can be offered later in the summer if needed and feasible.
- We have modified our tuition refund policy in order to provide more flexibility during these times. Our tuition deadline has been extended from March 15th to May 1st, and you can read more by visiting our Tuition Refund Policy.
- Consider booking your airfare. As you know, many airlines are relaxing their cancellation and rebooking policies. Our travel agent will help you arrange a flight that has flexibility should plans change.
What Can I Do To Keep Myself Healthy While Traveling?
(Publish date: March 1, 2020)
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds. At minimum, you should do this before every meal, after using the bathroom, and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Carry hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol; use this whenever soap and water are not available.
- Cover mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue out.
- Avoid other travelers who are coughing or sneezing.
- Wear a mask if feeling ill or becoming symptomatic, particularly if sneezing and coughing repeatedly.
- Avoid touching the eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Use antiseptic wipes to clean surfaces in and around eating areas and airplane seating areas. This includes armrests, tray tables, movie screens and remotes, and any lighting and vents overhead.
What distinguishes VISIONS from other teen service programs?
We are tech-free, and allow one call home 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. Participants and leaders live together in a community center or rented home that is part of a local neighborhood. We live 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 teens who want to do meaningful service work in cross-cultural communities with like-minded peers. And while some might choose VISIONS to add to a resume or because parents encouraged them to “give it a try,” 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.
- 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 very 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?
VISIONS is challenging in different ways and on different levels. With your commitment and engagement, this life-changing summer will expand your comfort zone and push you to embrace the unfamiliar.
- As a member of a team, you’re expected to 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 summers, 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 and others in ways that create enduring bonds, build empathy and make us whole.
- Communication. Foster clear and honest communication that is the bedrock for meaningful relationships, that takes listening further into understanding and that makes us real.
- Engagement. Actively and fearlessly strive to make a positive difference for other people, living creatures and the earth.
- Community Building. Commit to being part of an interdependent group that learns from setbacks, accomplishes shared goals, and challenges each other to tap into the best parts of themself.
- Knowledge. Cultivate understanding that comes from being fully present in the world and that engages the mind, body and heart. Through knowledge comes consciousness, transformation and love.
Will I receive community service hours?
Each participant who successfully completes VISIONS 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.
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?
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. We go to Machu Picchu in Peru, explore the Galapagos in Ecuador, and camp in the national forests of Montana. Our adventures take us through sprawling markets, off the beaten path with friends from the host community and, in Alaska, up the side of a glacier. 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.
What is the living situation?
- We live together in a community center, school or rented home in a neighborhood. While basic, accommodations are clean and comfortable.
- Boys and girls have separate 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.
What are the meals like?
Rotating homebase crews, comprised of 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.
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 are also able to accommodate gluten-free and vegan diets as long as we receive advance notice. If your diet is highly specialized, please call to discuss your needs.
Who are VISIONS leaders?
Our diverse leader teams are comprised of returned Peace Corps volunteers, teachers, graduate students, wilderness instructors, carpenters and professionals from the host community. They bring with them a wide range of life experiences and skills working with youth. The minimum age of our leaders is 22, and most are in their mid-20s to early 30s. All are First Aid and CPR certified, and many hold advanced safety certifications, such as Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or Wilderness First Responder (WFR). Some leader teams may include one junior leader who is either an alumni of a VISIONS program or who holds special, advanced medical or construction credentials that make them an excellent addition to our well-rounded teams.
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 students who may not have outdoors experience. Leader interviews are conducted face-to-face or through video conference. 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. This is in addition to our local staff hired on the ground as drivers, project coordinators and dinner cooks.
What is the technology and 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.
How does VISIONS handle risk management?
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 students ensures that participants are well supervised. Teens 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. 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 and how do I prepare?
Is there a dress code?
Yes, VISIONS does have a dress code. The modest dress codes have been developed intentionally to be appropriate for the cultural and social standards in our communities. As guests, temporary residents, and collaborative partners in our host communities, we aim to be as respectful as possible when it comes to our clothes; insensitivity to the dress code interrupts the program and undermines local relationships.
Articles of clothing not permitted on VISIONS programs:
- Spaghetti straps
- Low cut shirts
- Clothing that reveals undergarments
- Short shorts or skirts
- Low-rise jeans
- Spandex or tight clothing, including form-fitting yoga pants
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?
Give us a call, chat or email if you are still unsure! 406.551.4423
What is the application process?
Updated March 1: Tuition deadline was changed from March 15 to April 15.
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.
- Contact information for participant and parent/guardian(s)
- Participant Questionnaire
- Contact information for two references (waived for alumni)
- Passport information and photo
- Application Fee (waived for alumni and financial aid recipients): $50
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, families then submit the following in order to be registered:
- Enrollment Contract
- Health and Behavior Form
- $800 tuition deposit (or full tuition if enrolling after May 1st)
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 summer leader?
TUITION & OTHER COSTS
What does tuition include?
Tuition includes almost all program expenses, such as:
- 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.
May I change to another VISIONS program after registration?
When possible, we will accommodate changes to another program after enrollment. The following rules apply:
- The change must be to another VISIONS program occurring during the same year and for the same participant.
- Paid tuition will carry over for programs of equal or longer duration, with balance due. Changing to a program with a lower tuition may lead to forfeiting the difference, depending on when the change is made (see tuition refund policy).
- Nominal fees may apply to program changes if VISIONS has already made recreation reservations in the participant’s name.
What is the tuition refund policy? And what is the 120% Promise for 2020?
Updated March 24: Tuition deadline extended to May 1.
The $800 tuition deposit holds a space on the program and is credited toward tuition. Half of the deposit is refundable until May 1st, when the full balance of tuition is due. Anyone who enrolls after May 1st will need to pay full tuition in order to be registered. Because VISIONS makes commitments and financial decisions related to each person’s participation in advance of the program, tuition is non-refundable after May 1st for any reason, including but not limited to, family or personal emergencies, physical or mental illness or injury, voluntary departure, and participant dismissal. We recommend that families consider trip cancellation insurance if there is any doubt about being able to attend the program. VISIONS is not responsible for other expenses incurred during travel preparation, including airfare.
Updated March 24, 2020
Updated Refund Policy for Summer 2020: VISIONS 120% Promise. Due to the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic (also see our Position on Covid-19), we are offering all families an additional option for our refund policy. For reassurance while making plans for summer, please review the following guidelines.
If you decide to cancel your program, your choices include any of the following:
- Transfer your tuition to another 2020 program. Details here.
- Submit an insurance claim if you purchased trip insurance. Details here. Note that trip policies do not cover coronavirus.
- Receive a 120% credit toward next 2021 season. This is an addition for the 2020 season, and helps to provide financial certainty should you decide to cancel your program. Please read more below.
- If you decide to cancel before the May 1st deadline, you also have the option of receiving a tuition refund. This does not include the $400 non-refundable portion of your deposit (per the existing tuition refund policy).
If VISIONS needs to cancel your program, your choices include any of the following:
- Transfer your tuition to another 2020 program. Details here.
- Receive a 120% credit toward the 2021 season. Please read more below.
- Receive a full refund of all tuition that has been paid.
Further Details on our 120% Promise:
- Any tuition paid will be credited to the 2021 season at a value of up to 120%. For example, $5000 paid in tuition will receive $6000 in credit.
- The credit is transferable to friends or family, and extra funds may be shared between two participants.
- The credit cannot be combined with other discounts, and extra funds cannot be cashed out or have monetary value towards expenses beyond tuition.
- The credit cannot be combined with a trip insurance claim, as insurance companies do not pay claims if refunds are also issued.
- The full amount of tuition must go toward the 120% credit. (For example, we cannot provide half of tuition as a refund and half as a credit toward next season.)
The Reasons for our 120% Promise:
- You are extending your trust in VISIONS by making a tuition payment during uncertain times. While our expectations are that tuition will go towards this season, we offer the 120% for next season to reciprocate your trust and provide alternatives should they be needed.
- Most trip insurance companies do not cover cancellations due to coronavirus. While we still encourage purchasing trip insurance for coverage reasons other than coronavirus, VISIONS offers the 120% Promise as an additional type of “assurance” for the 2020 season.
Should I purchase Trip Cancellation Insurance?
VISIONS strongly recommends purchasing travel insurance to supplement the mandatory evacuation coverage that is billed with your final tuition payment.
VISIONS has partnered with Redpoint Travel Insurance to offer their Harbor Travel Insurance product. For a quote or to purchase, call 415-481-0717 or email email@example.com and be sure to let them know you are a VISIONS family. Certain benefits, such as Cancel For Any Reason coverage, are only available to purchase within 14 days of paying your initial trip deposit. Also, CFAR policies are not available to New York residents because the Department of Financial Services for New York does not deem CFAR coverage as insurance.
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.