VISIONS programs are grounded in a philosophy that has been changing the lives of teenagers for 30 years. We believe it is best to do one thing and do it well. That’s why across all programs we have one model, built on the pillars of meaningful service, full cultural immersion and adventurous exploration. This is not a teen tour. This is a time to step outside of yourself, to do more and be more.
When it comes to determining community needs, we believe our local partners know best.
That’s why the organizations we partner with choose each VISIONS project. Far from trivial, these undertakings—from water conservation to school expansion to home renovations and organic farming—meet the most pressing concerns of the community. No matter what the job, the work is hands-on, directed by local experts and team leaders who work side by side with teen volunteers.
Projects may involve carpentry, masonry or adobe construction but no previous experience is required, just a willingness to get dirty and a desire to work hard (5 to 7 hours a day, 4 to 5 days a week). Many VISIONS programs also include social service, such as running day camps for children. In addition to all of the skills acquired, students expand problem-solving abilities, resilience and appreciation for teamwork. The work can be challenging, but the sense of accomplishment that comes from completing meaningful projects is a lasting reward—one that carries through future endeavors.
“I can truthfully say I have never had so much fun with such amazing individuals, completing projects that will benefit so many people.”
I loved seeing how much one small group of people can accomplish.
I learned a lot by
from the outside
world for four weeks.
I learned a lot
from the outside
At VISIONS, almost everything we do is driven by the desire to connect with local culture and friends.
We start by removing a major obstacle to connection: electronic devices. They aren’t allowed. This gives you a better chance to be really present and develop new relationships. (Many alums say the idea of being tech-free worried them at first but ended up being one of their favorite aspects of the program.) Meanwhile, our decades of working with host communities means that participants are welcomed like family.
We join in cultural events, festivals, and more intimate gatherings such as bonfires and cookouts. Our French and Spanish immersion programs provide real-world opportunities to improve language skills. Some VISIONS cultural immersion programs include one or two day stays with local families. We understand community members are not subject matter for us to study—they are our friends and equals. We believe fostering this deep sense of community is an instrumental component of shifting perspectives and making the world a better place.
“I love how VISIONS allows us to be really immersed at the location. I always feel like I’ve been living there my whole life.”
The greatest reward of working on a VISIONS project is knowing you’re making a difference in the community.
But you’ll also enjoy spending well-deserved time off in beautiful and fascinating settings. Most days after work, we unwind closer to home with activities such as workshops with artisans, swimming, hiking, shopping at local markets or playing games with neighborhood kids. Weekends are for full-day excursions, trips and events. (Because all VISIONS locations include volunteer projects and cultural immersion, consider choosing a program based on the excursions that interest you most.) We visit world-renowned destinations, including the spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, the fascinating temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the lush rainforests of Bosawás Biosphere Reserve in Nicaragua.
We also adventure off the beaten path: swimming with sea lions in Ecuador and Galapagos, backpacking in Montana, ice climbing in Alaska, beachcombing in Guadeloupe and the Dominican Republic, scuba diving in the British Virgin Islands and more. Along the way, we have fun and stay open, allowing each experience to enrich our understanding of the world.
“I learned so much about myself and the meaning of what it is to be human and how to make an impact on the world.”
It taught me that taking risks can lead to beautiful experiences and growth.
One of the most exciting aspects of a VISIONS summer is the change from life at home.
Away from all your usual habits and schedules, you begin to discover new things about yourself, and new ways of being in the world. VISIONS students and leaders live together in the heart of the host community—in rented houses, community centers, or schools—making it easy to become immersed in the fabric of daily life. This is not a typical “tour,” with daily excursions to locations far afield. Instead, we settle into our home away from home, embracing both special events, such as cultural ceremonies, and the day to day. Each work day, volunteers choose from multiple projects, either returning to a favorite or opting to change things up.
One day per work week, each student serves on the “homebase crew,” cooking breakfast and lunch, shopping at local markets for upcoming meals (meat and vegetarian options are provided; see FAQ for details), cleaning our living space, doing laundry and running errands. Homebase crew day balances out the work week and increases the sense of place, as well as independence. Once a week, students make calls to eagerly awaiting family, providing personal updates that augment VISIONS leaders’ regular social media posts.
“My program was absolutely amazing. I was surrounded by the most incredible people 24/7, and that really makes a trip like this.”
VISIONS leaders keep our programs safe and dynamic.
These conscientious, motivated and compassionate mentors truly enjoy teenagers and Gap students—so much so that summer after summer nearly half of them return. Mostly in their mid-20s to mid-30s, our leaders are former Peace Corps volunteers, teachers, graduate students, wilderness instructors and more. They understand that young people have tremendous energy, empathy and enthusiasm, and are skilled at turning these qualities into effective action.
Leaders are all certified in First Aid and CPR, and many hold advanced safety certifications. And here’s the kicker: With an almost unheard-of average ratio of one leader to every four or five participants, VISIONS ensures that everyone gets the most out of these relationships and the entire experience.
“Our leaders provided us with wonderful guidance and acted as role models, teachers, and friends.”
The sense of camaraderie
is something I will never forget.
Inclusive and healthy group dynamics are a priority for VISIONS.
That’s why we insist on a couple of requirements that differ from most teen service and Gap programs. First, most of our participants come solo, and no more than two friends can attend the same program together. This helps create a productive dynamic and encourages students to get to know people whose paths they might not cross otherwise. Second, we maintain a high leader-to-student ratio, with an average of one leader per every four students. This assures that students receive clear communication and guidance, as well as the opportunity to bond with a mentor. In addition, breaking the group into subsets on the worksites and for some activities means that everyone gets to be hands-on and engaged, instead of watching from the sidelines.
Teamwork is essential on VISIONS projects, both to ensure the work is completed and to afford participants that special sense of belonging that comes when everyone pulls together. Our groups are large enough to include diverse personalities, backgrounds and interests—which makes for a vibrant exchange—but small enough to feel like a supportive family.
“I had a wonderful experience that I know I will never forget and made friends that I will hope to keep forever.”
Three or four nights a week, we sit down together in a circle.
This deliberate slow-down is an opportunity for everyone to speak their minds and hearts honestly, openly and voluntarily. We set this time aside to build our summer community, intentionally and step by step. Issues that arise naturally in a group of people who live and work together are acknowledged and addressed. In the process, circle meetings unite the group, help new insights stick and bind all of the other elements of the program together.
These gatherings also encourage self-reflection and awareness of one’s impact on others. If we are able to feel, think and behave thoughtfully within our group, we are more likely to positively influence the community in which we live. Learning to listen to others and become more comfortable giving genuine feedback helps participants communicate with each other and make constructive life decisions down the road.
“I think that Circle is something that really sets VISIONS apart. It provided us with emotional outlets and got us to reflect on the work we were doing. I had the experience of a lifetime.”
Circle helped show me the person I want to be.