25 Day High School Service Program
Below is the VISIONS Alaska summer program itinerary for our teen volunteers!. The chronology of the adventures will change somewhat because of the flow of community service projects, weather or cultural events that we are invited to, but the primary activities are always woven into this adventurous high school summer program.
Days 1 & 2: Arrive at the Fairbanks airport, where VISIONS leaders will be waiting to meet each student. All teens make a quick call home before the group heads out. (Additional calls home happen about once a week but as with all VISIONS locations, this is otherwise a tech free teen summer program.) We stay the first night at a community center in Fairbanks and make the 5-hour drive to Tetlin the next morning, taking in Alaska’s astonishing wilderness along the way. Upon arrival, we settle into our homebase, meet community friends and come together for program orientation, icebreaker activities and our first Circle meeting.
Day 3: Take a worksite orientation and tool safety class, breaking into rotating groups so each person gets to try all of the power tools and gains a solid handle on the Alaska community service work yet to come. We also get oriented to the community, do a scavenger hunt and learn more about where we are.
Days 4 – 7: We start our first week with a full slate of service projects. For a couple days, rotating groups take turns getting the hang of each project, whether it’s carpentry on a community member’s home, building a smokehouse for preserving food in winter or leading day camp activities for local children. After that, our high school volunteers choose their worksite each day. Work ends a bit later than in other VISIONS summer programs—between 3 and 4 pm. But in this “land of the midnight sun” that still leaves time to play games with local kids, hear stories from elders, and explore the immediate surrounds — all of which get us rooted in the community. (The longer work days also allow us to carve out time for our Alaska adventures and excursions further afield.) We start implementing “homebase crew days,” when a rotating group cooks, cleans and runs errands. We have Circle meetings every other evening for about an hour, and leave other evenings free for leisurely downtime and community activities.
Days 8 – 10: Drive to the wild-western town of McCarthy, where we set up campsites for a few days of adventure, including ice climbing with our professional guide company and exploring this former copper-mining and lively small town, . Upon returning to our homebase, we cook a hearty dinner and get a good night’s sleep in preparation for the week of Alaska service projects.
Days 11 – 14: Dig in for a big week of work, which will get us to our 45th hour of community service! But it’s not all work and no play. We also take a boat trip to Big Lake with Darron, a local fisherman and friend of the program; travel up river to visit “Old Tetlin,” the original village; help prepare fish and wild game for smoking; go canoeing in the Tetlin Wildlife Refuge; and learn about native plants while berry picking and taking hikes. One morning will be a sleep-in with time to relax, play pick-up sports games or do crafts taught by our Athabasca friends, and have an evening barbecue.
Days 15 – 17: Take a two-night backpacking trip in the Wrangell Mountains. We hike to our basecamp the first day, take day hikes the next day, make our meals over campfires and cook stoves, hang out with friends, take in nature and wildlife, and hike out the last day. No previous backpacking experience is required.
Days 18 – 22: Continue making progress on projects, and relaxing after work with activities that can include canoeing at Moon Lake; lessons in birch bark basket weaving; fishing; learning to make local cuisine, going on picnics or taking a traditional steam bath. Now well established, our every-other-night Circle meetings deepen our communication and listening skills, and our understanding of what it takes to be part of a productive and inclusive group dynamic.
Days 23 – 25: After our last big workday, we acknowledge our accomplishments, take project pictures and celebrate. As we prepare to depart, we do a Big Clean to make sure we leave our homebase in ship-shape condition. We also make a jaunt to Alaska’s famous amusement park, MukLuk Land. We fill our hearts and bellies at the goodbye dinner and then pack up for the trip home. After bidding farewell to our Tetlin friends, we soak in Alaska’s natural majesty on the drive to Fairbanks. At the airport, leaders ensure everyone makes their flight. Most departures begin the evening and go into the early hours after midnight.