VISIONS is a unique teen summer program that has worked for over twenty-five years to create programs that enable teenagers to experience the richness of other cultures through long standing community relationships, challenging work, and invigorating travel.
The VISIONS Model
We began as a community service program, choosing to be anchored in host communities where participants live, work, and socialize with community members for the length of the program.
Travel is part of VISIONS, yet we do not travel through a country or region doing service along the way. Instead, we root ourselves in a community and make it our home where we work and socialize during the week and travel on the weekends. By being regular inhabitants of a neighborhood, participants gain a natural sense of place, have time to build friendships with community members, and gain a holistic understanding of their temporary home.
Construction Based Service Work
Our focus on construction sets VISIONS apart. We build in order to thank communities for welcoming us year after year and are proud of what has been accomplished over our twenty-five summers. We have built everything from community centers and private homes to latrines and outdoor classrooms. Where we do wood construction, we employ a staff carpenter who trains staff in safety and technique before the participants arrive. The carpenter also works hammer-by-hammer with kids, showing them the ropes of a working construction site. When the focus is block and mortar or adobe, we engage local maestros to teach the technical skills.
While construction is our main project focus, VISIONS service projects are not exclusively construction-based. Every program location also offers non-construction projects––educational, social service, environmental, agricultural, health––from which participants can choose.
VISIONS days and weeks are structured without feeling rigid. Workdays usually end with planned activities or recreation before dinner. Downtime is a planned part of every day; it is a time to mingle with community members, explore the town, take a short hike, or simply hang with trip mates, or escape for a bit to journal.
VISIONS Relationships with Host Communities
A hallmark of VISIONS is our close, long-standing relationships with host communities and project partners. We typically return to the same communities or regions year after year, as long as our service is useful and we are welcome. Our year-round focus on relationships creates a robust, authentically challenging cultural experience for our participants. In most of our locations, local people know us, expect us, and welcome us every year as family. For example, in the Dominican Republic (est. 1992) Santiago has been our driver since the first summer (with a perfect, accident-free record). Victorina has cooked all but four of our seasons there. In the British Virgin Islands (also est. 1992), Carol has been our cook and beloved mom to staff and students alike since our first summer.
We strive to create family-like teams of participants and staff leaders who will work together to create a smaller community within the host community. VISIONS staffers model appropriate behavior and help the participants to understand how to live in a culture so different from their own. Staff members are more than monitors and trackers of students’ whereabouts; they are adult friends and mentors who participate fully with students in the whole experience.
Extraordinary Staff Teams
We select passionate and experienced staff teams. Most staffers are college graduates in their mid-20s to mid-30s with the minimum age for a VISIONS staffer being 23. We hire a good deal of teachers, returned Peace Corps volunteers, and outdoor educators. Many are Masters and PhD candidates who have summers free or are recent college graduates who are teaching, and have traveled and worked in cross-cultural communities in the U.S and overseas.
The staff-to-student ratio in every VISIONS program is 1-to-4. A maximum group size is 25 kids and 6 leaders, including the program director. Additionally, we employ local people as project coordinators, drivers, and cooks.
VISIONS annual staff return rate is 45% to 50%. VISIONS also receives a large number of new applicants which allows us to choose high-quality individuals from a very competitive pool. Every staff team includes the director who is a veteran of previous VISIONS programs.
In June, VISIONS program directors convene at our headquarters for an intensive week of review and preparation, followed by three jam-packed days of staff training and orientation. Then the staff teams depart to their program sites for 8 to 10 days of training, orientation and preparation before participants arrive.
Focus on Communication
VISIONS believes that service and conscious community-building go hand in hand and stresses inclusiveness in our programs while simultaneously recognizing, accepting and respecting differences. To encourage spontaneous community-building, we do not knowingly allow three or more friends to attend the same program. Most kids come to VISIONS solo, without a friend.
Every program, staff and students together, meet three to four nights weekly after dinner to reflect, share reactions and insights, ask questions, and air issues inherent to group living. This process offers our participants the voluntary opportunity to learn productive communication skills. These regular meetings focus on the here and now of the program experience and help build the foundation for teamwork as well as a palpable sense of community.
Ultimately, the best people to speak to the special nature of VISIONS are the participants.
“My VISIONS experience is something I will never forget. Every moment I felt like I was learning something new and getting to know new people… My month with VISIONS taught me so much about myself and how to better understand others. The relationships I formed with fellow VISIONS campers, counselors, and natives are ones I will treasure forever.” – Grace Parker, VISIONS participant 2013