Frequently Asked Questions
Letter from VISIONS Director
Updated May 14, 2020
Dear VISIONS Families & Community,
My colleagues and I are keeping everyone impacted by the novel coronavirus in our thoughts. For our parents and teenagers, we know the pandemic has brought a lot of challenges and adjustments to your daily life.
This season marks my 10th year as Director/owner of VISIONS, and the pause the pandemic demands has meant reconnecting with VISIONS leaders from 20+ years ago and tightening bonds with our community partners. I am reminded of the significance of the work that we do, and it is an honor to be part of this incredible organization as we collectively get through this with courage, heartache and optimism.
The concerns surrounding COVID-19 continue to be unpredictable. Not only do travel warnings and border closures persist, but it is also inappropriate for us to enter vulnerable communities where we might present an undue health risk. While we are saddened not to be with our friends around the world this summer, the decision to cancel our regular programs became as self evident as our 32-year commitment to return each season.
The silver lining, however, is that we will run an alternative program that has been a dream for quite some time. This summer, VISIONS will be offering a Montana Summer program in our home state that promises to be rewarding and fun. Teens will not only get to stretch out and adventure in the vast landscape of the Big Sky State, but they will also learn about food production, care for farm animals, and do construction projects. The program will delve into sustainability practices and the growing movement of food security and going local. It is our hope that lessons learned will be valuable skills that kids can apply in their own schools and home communities.
Please see dates and more details about the Montana Summer here, and let us know if you would like to register or if you have any questions.
We are grateful for your understanding and support as we navigate these unprecedented times.
With courage and gratitude.
Support VISIONS Foundation
We welcome your support and donations to the VISIONS Foundation. Your donation will help with: 1) Assistance to our community partners and local cooks, drivers, and others that make our summers successful whom we are no longer able to employ. And, 2) Scholarships for low-income students. Every season, VISIONS Service Adventures sponsors students, and your donations through the Foundation will help additional deserving kids participate while also supporting our business during these very difficult times.
2020 participants have the option to roll their tuition into a tax-deductible contribution. Additionally, if they choose the 120% Promise credit but are unable to use it, they may transfer their tuition to the Foundation for a tax deduction at a later date.
What distinguishes VISIONS from other teen service and gap 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 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. 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 people 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, please check with us if you want to request permission to attend with more than one friend.
- 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 students ages 17-22, although we will consider slightly older and younger participants. 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 experience will expand your comfort zone and push you to embrace the unfamiliar.
- 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.
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.
Will I receive credit hours during my Gap Program?
For students who want to have a break from academic evaluation, they will likely have a better experience not taking a course for-credit. However, students can elect to receive credit in the way of: technical credit, elective credit, independent study credit, internship credit, and more. Please note that VISIONS cannot guarantee that students’ home universities will always accept transcripts/certification from programs. Students must speak with their advisor to confirm that their home university will accept credits.
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 students 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.
- COVID-era update: In order to mitigate exposure risk, students and leaders each sleep in their own individual tent for at least the first portion of the program. Tents are clustered next to each other and each is equipped with a thick camp mattress.
- Multiple bunk rooms and leaders live with kids. There are social areas, kitchens, bathrooms and showers.
- 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 and by hand as needed.
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 for our high school programs is 22, and most are in their mid-20s to early 30s. The minimum age for our Gap program is 26. All are First Aid and CPR certified, and many hold advanced safety certifications, such as 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 & 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 or five students ensures that participants are well supervised. Teens and Gap students 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 & 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
How do I choose which program to attend?
You won’t make a wrong decision when it comes to choosing a VISIONS program. 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)
- 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, student and families then submit the following in order to be registered:
- Enrollment Contract
- Health & Behavior Form
- Tuition deposit (or full tuition if enrolling within 45 days of the program start date)
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?
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.
What is the tuition refund policy? And what is the 120% Promise for 2020?
Updated May 14, 2020
The $800 tuition deposit holds a space on the program and is credited toward tuition. Half of the deposit is refundable until 45 days before the program start date when the full balance of tuition is due. Anyone who enrolls within 45 days of a program’s start date will need to pay full tuition in order to be registered.
Updated Refund Policy for Summer 2020: VISIONS 120% Promise. Due to the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, we are offering all families an additional option for our refund policy. 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. This now includes Montana Summer 1 and 2 sessions as all other programs are canceled.
- Submit an insurance claim if you purchased trip insurance. Details here. Note that trip policies do not cover coronavirus.
- Receive a 120% credit toward a future 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.
- Roll all or part of your tuition into a donation to VISIONS Foundation for a tax-deductible donation.
- If you decide to cancel 45 days before the program start date, you also have the option of requesting a refund by calling the VISIONS office. The refund does not include the $400 non-refundable portion of your deposit.
If VISIONS needs to cancel your program, your choices include any of the following:
- Transfer your tuition to another 2020 program. Details here. This now includes Montana Summer 1 and 2 sessions as all other programs are canceled.
- Receive a 120% credit toward a future season. Please read more below.
- Roll all or part of your tuition into a donation to VISIONS Foundation for a tax-deductible donation.
- Receive a full refund of all tuition that has been paid. Please note that airfares and other trip-planning fees (i.e.: the $90 evacuation insurance) are not included in the refund.
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. *Update as of April 23: The 120% Promise tuition credit may be used for up to three years, through 2023, and you may carry all or part of your tuition forward.
- 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.
- Any carry-forward tuition that is unused can be rolled into a donation to the VISIONS Foundation for a tax-deductible donation.
The Reasons for our 120% Promise:
- You are extending your trust in VISIONS by making a tuition payment during uncertain times. We offer the 120% Promise for future seasons 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.