Frequently Asked Questions
What distinguishes VISIONS from other teen service programs?
We are small on purpose, for purpose. We keep our organization small and focused in an effort to stay mindful of community-building, while maximizing the impact on the individual. That impact becomes apparent both in the short-term during the program, as participants come to understand their place in the community of peers and the host community, and also over time, as they gain insights about themselves and the global community. We offer a curated set of program dates and locations, and we cap the number of participants in each. Our leaders are active mentors who help each teen tap into the best parts of who they are, and our noteworthy average ratio of one leader to every four students allows for experiences that are personal and personalized.
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.
- VISIONS participants come from all over the world, from Paris to Shanghai and including about 32 U.S. States on average.
- 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.
- We strive to maintain programs that are gender-balanced, with no more than 15 of either gender on a program of 25 participants.
- 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 always is time to enjoy your surroundings, absorb the culture, do fun activities and make deep friendships.
What are VISIONS key values and mission?
Our Mission: Provide the best service exchange programs for teens, be present and engage whole-heartedly, build a foundation for change that benefits the individual, community and planet.
- 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 backpack through Glacier National Park in 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?
VISIONS programs are gadget-free. You may bring a cell phone or music device for the flight, but we collect all electronics and store them until the end of the program. Here’s why:
- 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 ensure my health and safety?
Supervision, Training & Local Contacts
VISIONS has a long history delivering consistently safe programs. A primary component of safety is our relationships with local people who we have known for years, some of whom we employ and who alert us to unusual safety 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 always with at least one buddy. Our buddy system ensures that no participant goes beyond homebase boundaries alone and without informing a VISIONS leader. Homebase boundaries are clearly 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 safety and health protocols, basic policies and contingency plans specific to program locations. During annual leader training at our headquarters, we teach and review safety and health guidelines. Leaders also carefully review safety policies and site-specific considerations in the field before participants arrive. In addition to First Aid and CPR certifications, many leaders carry advanced certifications such as Wilderness First Responder (WFR) and EMT.
Health & Safety
- Water is a critical focus. In places that lack reliably clean drinking water, we use bottled water and also treat the bottled water for an extra line of defense. Leaders continually remind participants to carry water bottles daily and to hydrate throughout each day until it’s a habit.
- We have clear and consistent protocols in place 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 safety 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 to the program. In programs where leaders do not drive, we hire professional drivers and occasionally take public transportation.
- VISIONS places the utmost importance on frequent communication among leaders, participants, community members and with the home office. Leaders hold regular meetings to go over a checklist covering how each individual participant is doing in the program. Our Executive Director talks regularly with each director in the field to stay current with program elements, including participants’ health and wellbeing.
- All of our sites are near physicians, medical clinics and/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.
- 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?
Packing lists, along with everything you need to know to prepare for your summer are provided on the Program FAQ pages of our website, which will be sent to families upon enrollment. Program FAQ pages can also be found listed below:
How do I choose which program to attend?
You won’t make a wrong decision when it comes to choosing where to spend your VISIONS summer. Each program follows a tried-and-true model that includes meaningful service projects, cultural immersion and adventurous exploration. Before making your decision, we recommend looking through program photos and reading the descriptions of the locations that interest you most. From there, ask the following questions of yourself to narrow down the options.
- 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?
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)
- $50 Application Fee (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, 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 March 15th)
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
- 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.
- In most cases, changes must be made by March 1. In some cases, we are able to accommodate changes after March 1. Please call the VISIONS office for consultation.
What is the tuition refund policy?
The $800 tuition deposit holds a space on the program and is credited toward tuition. Half of the deposit is refundable until March 15th, when the full balance of tuition is due. Anyone who enrolls after March 15th 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 March 15th 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.
How often are programs cancelled?
It is unusual for VISIONS to cancel a program. We make long-term commitments to our host communities and projects are planned well in advance. Because of that commitment, community members count on our presence each summer. We will run programs if enrollment is less than capacity, as long as the integrity of the experience can be maintained. In the rare case that a program is cancelled, any paid tuition will be applied to a substitute VISIONS program or refunded if a comparable substitute is not available. The cost of airfare is not the responsibility of VISIONS, but could be included in and covered by the trip cancellation 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.