Immersion Service Community

Tech-Free: Disconnect So You Can Really Connect




High school volunteers arrive at the Santo Domingo airport, where VISIONS leaders meet each student as they arrive. After making a quick call home, we head north for a lovely two hour trek through parts of the Cordillera Central mountain range. Our destination is the vibrant small neighborhood of Cotui, our homebase.

The rest of the day is spent settling into our home and beginning orientation to what’s in store during our time together. Marina, our dinner cook, prepares a delicious Dominican meal and we have our first Circle meeting to start getting to know one another more fully.



We become acquainted with our neighborhood through a fun scavenger hunt. This is just the start of many opportunities to practice Spanish, play with local children, and step into la vida Dominicana!

Then we jump into our projects, learning the context of what we will accomplish together. We visit the school that badly needs resources and a space for school kids, and get trained on proper tool use for the work ahead. One work group also starts preparing for campamento, the day camp  that we run for local kids, helping with lessons in environmental studies, animal welfare, English, and arts and crafts. 

In the evening, we have a Cena de Bievenida, or welcome dinner with community friends who prepare a large meal, give welcome speeches and bring you into a long legacy of collaboration in the DR.


DAYS 3 – 6

Work is underway! Community service projects include construction of schools and classroom additions, running campamento, and other activities such as designing and painting a mural at the community center. You’ll get to choose your worksite daily, allowing you to stay committed to a site you might find yourself most invested in. 

Homebase crew days also commence with groups rotating to prepare breakfast and lunch, clean our living space and shop at local markets for our next meals. 

Mid-afternoons we put our tools away, take stock of a job well done, and shift gears to recreation and cultural activities. We swim on the shores of Presa de Hatillo, a beautiful lake tucked in a forested mountain backdrop, learn the basics of salsa and merengue with local friends, and fire up dominoes leagues, pickup sports games, cooking workshops and more.

Read more about daily life on VISIONS programs.



One of the most popular days of the program is our “day stay” with a local family. Paired with a fellow participant, we step into the rhythm of Dominican life through the eyes of our host family, a window into their world. You’ll join your family after breakfast and stay into the dinner hour, sharing a full day. Don’t worry if your Spanish isn’t polished, as the desire to make connections will be the drive to understand each other and work through language barriers together. Many host families continue to be part of other elements of the program, deepening the connection you’ll have with our Cotui community.

“The homestay was one of my favorite moments on the trip. I loved talking with my homestay family and learning what their lives are like. The kids in my homestay family were really fun to be around and I got to chat with them in Spanish.”


DAY 5 – 8

Projects take root and flourish as days hum with purpose and community. It’s impossible not to notice the progress we’re making. Community members join us at worksites and your day stay family might also stop by to say hello. It’s a joint effort of the best kind, that mixes in laughter and lightness. You’re giving back in ways that take grit and resilience, and it gets more worth it by the day, as structures take shape. 

Worksites are also your opportunity to build a friendship with Santos Ramos, a partner with VISIONS for more than three decades who is always ready to share a big smile, words of affirmation and a pat on the back. 

Afternoons and evenings continue to engage us in ways that few cultures can do. A day is carved out for Dia de Cotui with options of working out at the local gym, going to a salon de belleza (beauty parlor) for a haircut or manicure, and checking out local markets. We also visit our favorite place to swim, let the dominoes and other sports games heat up, take a short hike, and continue to practice Spanish.


DAY 9 & 10

Adventure calls as we venture to nature’s sanctuaries. Load the bus (aka “guagua”) with your VISIONS pals and leaders for a couple- hour drive that will take you through new parts of the country. You’ll spend the weekend at two of the Dominican Republic’s most striking natural preserves, Los Haitises National Park and La Cueva de la Linea Nature Reserve

The excursion includes kayaking through mangrove forests at Sabana de la Mar, hiking through jungle terrain, swimming in natural pools and the incredible Samana Bay. We spend the nights at a hotel near the National Park, trying new foods, and connecting with a natural world that relies on our participation to be preserved for the abundant wildlife and for future generations.


DAY 11 – 16

Teamwork makes the dream work, which is abundantly clear in this final stretch of our service. Project strides mirror our personal growth and if you weren’t already in the groove of masonry and working with children, this week will get you dialed. You will have much to be proud of, and this truly is a foundation for more good you’ll be creating in your life.  

And what better way to complement our efforts at worksites than continuing to absorb the companionships of Santos, our cook Marina, and neighbor kids and families who have welcomed us like family. Activities continue to connect us with these folks who join us for the lighthearted olimpicos, compete with us in baseball and soccer scrimmages, and stroll with us to the local colmado to get ice cream.   

We also take outings, including a ferry ride at our favorite lake—the tranquil respite at Presa de Hatillo Lake rejuvenates and reminds us of the beauty within and beyond our work. Along the way, we take in panoramic views of the Cibao, the Tainos’ word for rocky land to describe this mountainous region of the country. 

Dominoes and laughter continue to mingle, the rhythm of Cotui in our hearts and each day weaves us further into the tapestry of Dominican life. 



We take a break during the workweek for a full-day excursion to the town of San Francisco de Macoris to tour an organic cacao plantation and chocolate-making facility. Known as La Esmeralda, the family farm produces for the global chocolate market while also working hard to keep an environmentally sustainable model. See the production process up close through an interactive tour that includes making your own chocolate to take home—or eat on the spot! 


Throughout the program experience, we’ve continued with our Circle meetings that reflect the group process and continue to give us opportunities to share our reflections, practice constructive feedback and develop real skills for community-building.


DAY 17

On this last full day in Cotui we do any needed final touches at the projects, which will continue to serve for a long time as a reminder for your Dominican friends that you showed up when some help was needed. The structures, as well as the appreciation from kids at campamento, will leave no doubt that for the rest of your life, wherever you see a need, you have the strength and heart to make a difference

This is also a day to clean our living space, write thank you cards to the local folks who have made the experience possible, savor time in our beloved little neighborhood and prepare to depart just as we entered, with a big dinner shared with sweet friends. 


DAY 18

Pack your bags into the guagua that has become part of the hallmark of our time together. It’s time for Juan Dolio beach! Located outside of Santo Domingo, we head out after breakfast and farewells to our Dominican friends. 

Spend the day basking on the white sand beaches, swimming in clear Caribbean waters, checking out some of the souvenir shops, and relishing this last day with fellow friends and leaders. 

That evening we hunker down at a quaint little hotel, have pizza for dinner and have our last group meeting together.


DAY 19

In the embraces exchanged and in the stories shared, our paths converge and part. The Dominican sun watches as leaders bid farewell, the echoes of this chapter lingering until we meet again. 

We wish you well, our VISIONS participants, and hope that you take your new-found ability to serve with skill and passion into every community you encounter, a bringer of brighter days and deeper connection.

 Hasta la próxima! 

What kids and parents say about us is more telling than what we say about ourselves.

VISIONS in The New York Times