PABLO – Community service, personal growth and a lively cross-cultural experience spell out the goals of VISIONS International, an unusual youth group spending a month on the Flathead Reservation.
Formed as an outgrowth of the Long Acre Farm, a Pennsylvania summer camp where urban visitors learn more about themselves while working in a rural setting, the VISIONS program allows youths to take their talents on the road, said coordinator Kevin Hortens.
The non-profit group, which expanded its activities into Montana for the first time this year, also sends teenagers to Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Hungary to work, have fun and learn about local customs.
Hortens said program leaders seek out interesting areas with special needs and offer free labor and materials toward specific projects. The youths, who live in urban, middle-class areas around the United States, pay a tuition fee to work in month-long stints, he said.
On the Flathead Reservation, a group of about two dozen teenagers is working with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to clear trails in the Mission Mountains, spruce up tribal campgrounds and prepare land in Pablo for a new office building.
The group also is construction a teen center in the Ronan Methodist Church and has built a number of community baseball dugouts.
During their stay in the Pablo area, which was arranged with the help of Salish Kootenai College President Joe McDonald, the youths have gone whitewater rafting, attended two powwows, learned the basics of Indian drumming, visited the National Park and tried rock climbing and horseback riding.
Another VISIONS group is now working under the direction of Hortens’ wife, Joanne Pinaire, on the Crow Reservation, and a second round of recruits will work on the Flathead Reservation in August, Hortens said.
“We come into a community and say we’ve got free labor and free money and we ask what we can do,” Hortens said.
“Everyone’s reaction to our program is, ‘What’s the catch?’”
According to Hortens, VISIONS International is what is appears to be: an outlet for teens to learn about themselves by helping others in a healthy environment.
“One of the things that comes out a lot in this is that you get out of it what you put in,” he said. “What’s different about us is that our kids are allowed to branch out emotionally and physically.”
Hortens said that while younger people are eligible, the program usually takes in youths in the 14-17 age range. No drugs or alcohol are allowed, and rules concerning sex and other activities are firmly enforced. Group leaders do not consider the program to be religious, however.