frequently asked questions
About VISIONS & Philosophies
Enrollment & Logistics
About VISIONS & Philosophies
We are small on purpose, for purpose. We keep our organization small and focused in an effort to stay mindful of community-building, while maximizing the impact on the individual. That impact becomes apparent both in the short-term during the program and also over time as participants come to understand themselves and their place in their community of peers, the host community, and their global community. Our leaders are active mentors that help each participant tap into the best parts of who they are, and our noteworthy student to leader ratio of 1 to 4 or 5 allows for experiences that are personal and personalized.
VISIONS is rooted in long-term, respectful relationships with local partners. We offer a curated set of program dates and locations, and we cap the participation of each. We don't develop new programs on a whim. We have worked in most of our locations for 15–20 years or more, so our participants are welcomed like old friends into communities that know us well. We partner exclusively with local nonprofits on ambitious construction projects that are gratifying and needed by the community.
- Community: We consider the whole person, the whole community, the whole ecosystem of living beings, and the Earth that supports us.
- Knowledge: We are committed to continuous improvement through the gathering and attempted understanding of information and ideas about people, places, and things.
- Respect: We are grounded in a mindful regard for the beliefs, convictions and cultures of others, and we trust that we will receive the same in return.
- Fun: We take a spirited approach to our work. We celebrate successes and we encourage laughing with abandon, the linking of arms and minds, and believing in the magic of humanity.
VISIONS can also be distinguished by what we are NOT.
- VISIONS is not religiously affiliated. Some program locations may offer an opportunity to explore the religion and religious monuments of our host communities, but all programs are secular.
- VISIONS is not a teen tour. Participants and leaders live together in a community center or rented home that is part of a local neighborhood. We live in our host community for the duration of the program and use the weekends for travel and excursions. Participants quickly become part of the fabric of daily life and are at home in the community.
- VISIONS is not a home stay program. Instead, we live together as a group and spend our days working and communicating with local families and community members, and we often share meals or spend days with local friends. This format allows for greater flexibility in scheduling the community-driven service projects and the program itinerary. We feel this makes a decided difference in each participant's overall experience.
To understand more about what makes VISIONS different, please read our Story.
- Motivated, curious, adventurous teens and middle school students who want to do ambitious service work in cross-cultural communities with like-minded peers. *Approximately 32 U.S. states are represented each summer, with about 60% of participants from the East and West Coasts. Students from all over the world attend VISIONS programs, and we welcome the diversity of backgrounds and geographical regions.
- Most participants come on their own to VISIONS programs. To ensure strong group dynamics and a spirit of inclusiveness, we do not allow more than two friends to attend the same program together.
- Because service projects and team-building are such a focus, age is much less relevant on VISIONS programs than during regular day-to-day school life. Furthermore, we place a premium on an inclusive group dynamic, and a family-like feeling really does define almost every VISIONS program. Your friends will include other participants, VISIONS leaders, and people of all ages from the host community.
- Programs are gender-balanced, with no more than 15 of either gender on a program of 25 participants.
- Most participants arrive with no technical or building skills. Our leaders are well trained and highly skilled. They coordinate projects, teach requisite skills, and closely guide participants every step of the way. Our safety record is not an accident.
*Not all participants come equally motivated. Some choose VISIONS primarily to meet school community service requirements or because a community service program is a “resume builder” or because parents and others encourage them to "give it a try." Our experience since 1989 is that regardless of why students enroll, after a few days on site they are captivated, engaged and already feeling tangible rewards.
- Our diverse leader teams are comprised of returned Peace Corps volunteers, teachers, Masters and Ph.D students, wilderness instructors, carpenters and professionals from the host community. They bring with them a wide range of life experiences and skills working with youth.
- The minimum age of our leaders is 22 and most are in their mid-20s to early 30s. All are First Aid and CPR certified, and many hold advanced safety certifications, such as WFR, EMT or Wilderness First Responder. For programs with backpacking, climbing, diving and other adventure activities, our leaders or contracted guides teach the required skills and are accustomed to working with students who may not have outdoor experience.
- VISIONS speaks to three professional references for each leader, and also performs background checks on each person who is hired. Interviews are conducted face-to-face or through video conference.
- Our staff recidivism rate is exceptionally high at 40-50%. Every season we receive many more applications for employment than we have positions to fill, which allows us to be highly selective in our hiring.
VISIONS is jam-packed and challenging in different ways on different levels. With your commitment and engagement, this life-changing summer will expand your comfort zone and challenge you to embrace the unfamiliar.
- You are a member of a team. Your actions and reactions affect others. Commit to our goals. Look for ways to contribute positively to the overall group dynamic.
- Cooperation and flexibility are imperative, and a sense of humor is indispensable.
- Considerate conduct and respect for program policies are imperative. VISIONS is a Zero Tolerance program (also referred to as our Airplane Rules), and chronic misbehavior also can be grounds for early dismissal. Such situations are rare given the positive peer pressure and group dynamics that define VISIONS summers, but we are nonetheless clear and consistent with the guidelines.
- You live and work in the public eye, therefore appropriate behavior, language use, and dress are essential. With VISIONS, you are a member of an interdependent group living in a community. It won't be "all about you" at the expense of the group or the community relationships.
- Be actively curious about the culture and community. Watch. Listen. Reach out to local people. Think of yourself as both an ambassador and a learner with respect to the local community. In this way, you will be rewarded tenfold.
- There always is time to enjoy your surroundings, absorb the culture, do fun activities and make deep friendships. Take advantage of every opportunity offered, even down time.
Each participant who successfully completes VISIONS receives a Certificate of Service that details the projects and gives the service hours associated with the program location. We also are happy to provide participants with special forms or letters that may be required by their school.
You will work hard, and you will play hard. After work, there is plenty of time to explore, simply enjoy your surroundings, absorb the culture and make friends with peers and local people.
How will I spend my time?
- Participants typically choose their worksite four days a week. On the fifth day you will be on "homebase crew” with a few other participants and a leader. The crew wakes up early to cook breakfast for everyone, cleans our homebase, does errands and shops at local markets for the rest of the day’s meals.
- We work until mid-afternoon most days, and have time before dinner to participate in artisan workshops, take short hikes, go swimming, play games with neighborhood kids, or to simply have free time to relax or stroll in the community.
- No matter which program you choose, weekends are for traveling to the best sites and attractions. We go to Machu Picchu in Peru, explore the Galapagos in Ecuador, and backpack through Glacier National Park in Montana. Our adventures take us through sprawling markets, off the beaten path with friends from the host community and, in Alaska, up the side of a glacier. Some programs also include day stays with local families.
- Three to four nights a week participants and leaders have group meetings that last about an hour. This deliberate slow-down time allows everyone to get to know each other while reflecting together on our volunteer and cultural experience. We take a step back to allow communication to flow openly and voluntarily. Issues that arise naturally in a group of people who live and work closely together are acknowledged and addressed. Group meetings are the matrix that binds the group together as it works toward a common goal and strengthens program structure and framework overall.
Supervision, Training & Local Contacts
- Our 1 to 4 or 5 leader to student ratio ensures that participants are well supervised. Participants are normally with their work or activity group, and there is a formal check-out process if going elsewhere.
- There is time for participants to explore our neighborhoods within clearly defined, nearby boundaries and always with at least one buddy. Our Buddy System ensures that no participant goes beyond homebase boundaries alone and without informing a VISIONS leader. Homebase boundaries are clearly defined from day one of the program.
- Our friends in the community are an extension of the leader team. Local friends know us, watch out for our participants, and take us in like family.
- VISIONS has a long history delivering consistently safe programs. A primary component of safety is our relations with local people who we have known for years, some that we employ and who alert us to unusual safety or health issues. Because we know the characteristics and challenges of our locations, fewer risk factors are left to chance.
- The VISIONS model is to return to places for consecutive summers. The knowledge accrued systematically from season to season has been carefully documented and is updated annually.
- Our Staff Handbook outlines safety and health protocols, basic policies, and contingency plans specific to program locations. During annual staff training at our headquarters, we teach and review safety and health guidelines. Leaders also carefully review safety policies and site-specific considerations in the field before participants arrive.
Health & Safety
- Water is a critical focus. In places that lack reliably clean drinking water, we use bottled water and also treat the bottled water for an extra line of defense. Leaders continually remind participants to carry water bottles daily and to hydrate throughout each day until the habit is de rigueur.
- We have clear and consistent protocols in place regarding sanitation, food preparation, and clean-up. Program directors work with local cooks to outline and enforce food storage and preparation protocols.
- Under the guidance of leaders, participants take responsibility for keeping their living spaces tidy and clean. The group is divided into "homebase crews," with each group having one weekly rotation.
- Driving is one of the most important safety factors for any summer program. At sites where VISIONS leaders drive, we verify driving records in the hiring process. Program directors then review driving guidelines on site, and each leader must pass a driving test before he / she is allowed to drive participants. In programs where leaders do not drive, we hire professional drivers and occasionally take public transportation.
- VISIONS places the utmost importance on tight communication among leaders, participants, community members, and with the home office. Leaders hold regular meetings to go over a checklist covering how each individual participant is doing in the program. Our Executive Director talks regularly with each director in the field to stay current with program elements, including participants' health and wellbeing.
- All of our sites are near physicians, medical clinics, or hospitals. We usually use local clinics for basic care and travel to hospitals with more sophisticated care, if needed. As an extra safeguard, VISIONS requires emergency evacuation insurance for each participant. Families receive information for a recommended insurance provider that offers emergency medical and non-medical evacuation.
- Participants must be current with MMR and tetanus vaccinations. While we do not require other vaccines for our programs, a typhoid vaccination is generally recommended by the CDC for travel to developing countries. We recommend that families consult a travel doctor and refer to the CDC website when making health decisions before the program.
- We live together in a community center or rented home that is part of a local neighborhood. Boys and girls have separate rooms and leaders live with kids. There are social areas, kitchens, bathrooms and showers for each gender. While basic, your accommodations will be clean and comfortable.
- We provide bunk beds or floor mattresses. You bring your own sheets and pillow. You will have a shelf or cubby for storing clothes and personal items.
- You may encounter unexpected, temporary inconveniences. This is the reality of life in many of our host communities. What we take for granted at home, such as ample water for daily showers, may not happen reliably at your program site. You can count on having a shower at least every other day. Electricity at some sites can be inconsistent at best. Together, we always adjust and adapt.
- Laundry is done once a week.
- Rotating homebase crews comprised of a few participants and a leader prepare breakfasts and lunches that are plentiful and varied. Scrambled eggs, pancakes, French toast, yogurt, fruit and cereal are among the options for breakfasts. Sandwiches, salads, as well as some hot meals are what we enjoy for lunch. Fresh fruit, crackers and trail mix are just a few of the items available throughout the day as healthy snacks. Participants also can purchase their own favorite snacks at local corner stores and markets.
- VISIONS employs local cooks who prepare dinners that satisfy each person’s palette. Meals blend Western fare and local cuisine. Each meal includes vegetarian and non-vegetarian options.
- VISIONS programs are accustomed to accommodating allergies and some food restrictions. If your diet is highly specialized, please call to discuss your needs.
VISIONS programs are gadget and widget-free. You may bring a cell phone or music device for the flight, but we collect all electronics and store them until the end of the program. Here’s why:
- Without tech devices, you are able to focus on the immediate experience––the people, sights, sounds and sensations of your program environment. VISIONS is a unique opportunity to step out of the regular routines and distractions of home for a short while to focus on an experience that potentially will be one of the most powerful in your life. Every season we get feedback from participants who tell us how refreshing it was to live without the constant pull of their devices.
- Equally important is that people in our host communities have far fewer material resources than we do. VISIONS chooses not to accentuate the electronics gap.
- Cameras are welcome as long as they are separate from other devices.
- Time is set aside every week for participants to call or email home. Parents also receive a "safe arrival" call or email once their child is received at the program airport. Parents are provided with a phone number for the program phone and may call if needed.
You won’t make a wrong decision when it comes to choosing where to spend your VISIONS summer. Each program follows a tried-and-true model that includes meaningful service projects, cultural immersion, and adventurous exploration. Before making your decision, we recommend looking through program photos and reading the descriptions of the locations that interest you most. From there, ask the following questions of yourself to narrow down the options.
- Upon first review, does one location appeal to you more than others? (The feeling of naturally being drawn to a certain place shouldn’t be ignored. “Going with your gut” can be a grounding way to make your decision.)
- Are you particularly interested in a certain part of the world or a particular culture?
- Consider the activities and excursions of each location. Would you rather climb a glacier or SCUBA? Would you like to backpack in the mountains or go swimming with sea lions?
- In regard to service, are there any themes or causes that interest you most? Are you interested in social justice or environmental sustainability?
- Have you studied Spanish or French and would like experience using the language in an everyday setting?
Give us a call if you are still unsure! 406-551-4423
Enrollment & Logistics
Tuition includes everything with the program: lodging, meals and healthy snacks, activities and admission fees, weekend travel excursions, service projects, a 1 to 4 or 5 leader ratio, and program transportation. What is not included is airfare and travel expenses to and from the program, personal spending money, medical needs, and evacuation insurance (approximately $40, and see Health & Safety section for details). Our listed tuition prices are for payment by check, and payment with credit card is an additional 3%.
- We require that flights are booked through our travel agent, who books participants on flights together when possible, and whether from the same origination airport or at transfer airports where participants can meet up along the way.
- We have suggested flight itineraries from New York JFK for participants whose travel includes New York. VISIONS representatives are present at JFK to assist with check-in and introduce participants to each other before the flight. We do not require that participants fly from New York, and many families opt for the convenience of booking travel directly from a home airport to the program site.
- We do not fly with participants. Our leaders are at the program site well before the program begins, and meet each participant upon arrival, regardless of arrival time or travel delays. Leaders see off each participant at the airport at the end of the program and remain at the airport until the airline confirms the flight’s departure.
Packing lists, along with everything you need to know to prepare for your summer, are provided on the My VISIONS web pages that are available upon enrollment.
- APPLICATION: Complete and submit the online application form, which includes demographic and contact information of the participant and the guardian(s), a participant questionnaire, contact information of at least two references, and payment of the nonrefundable $75 application fee. Applications are reviewed by the VISIONS team upon submission.
- ACCEPTED (Conditional): VISIONS will contact accepted families and request some additional information. The full tuition payment is due within two weeks (14 days) of acceptance.
- REGISTERED: Once all requirements have been completed/submitted (including tuition payment), a participant will be registered for a program and his/her space is secured. Registered families will receive access to web pages that provide additional information regarding packing, pre-travel preparation, and additional program information.
- There is no deadline to apply, but program space is available on a first come basis for successful applicants.
What is the tuition refund policy?
Visions offers partial refunds until 60 days prior to the program start date. Families have the option of purchasing trip insurance for more comprehensive coverage. Plans and costs vary, and can include coverage up to a full refund as late as 48 hours before the program start date.
The refund breakdown is as follows:
- 75% refund from VISIONS if written cancelation is received 90 days prior to the program start date.
- 50% refund from VISIONS if written cancelation is received 60 days prior to the program start date.
- Up to 100% refund through trip insurance provider for cancelation up to 48 hours before the program. A full refund is only available if trip insurance has been purchased, and the refund amount is dependent upon the chosen policy.
Do I need to worry about canceled programs?
It is unusual for VISIONS to cancel a program. We make long-term commitments to our host communities and projects are planned in advance. Because of that commitment, community members count on our presence each summer. We will run programs if enrollment is less than capacity, as long as the integrity of the experience is not at risk of being affected. In the rare case that a program is canceled, any paid tuition will be applied to a substitute VISIONS program or refunded if a comparable substitute is not available. The cost of airfare is not the responsibility of VISIONS, but could be included in and covered by the trip cancelation insurance.
VISIONS recommends Trip Cancellation Insurance for families who feel that the enrollment status might change before the program begins. VISIONS offers partial refunds until 60 days prior to the program start date, but full reimbursement is only available through third-party trip insurance. Upon enrollment, families are provided with a web link and the option of purchasing insurance through TravMark, a company that specializes in youth trips. To get a quote in advance, you may do so here by entering your approximate program dates and the amount of tuition you wish to insure. The Preferred plan provides coverage for covered (medical) reasons. Preferred Plus allows you to cancel for any reason, including changing your mind at the last minute. Preferred Plus requires insuring the full cost tuition and airfare.
When possible, we will accommodate changes to another program after enrollment. The following rules apply:
- The change must be to another VISIONS program occurring during the same year and for the same participant.
- Changes made to programs of equal or longer duration will carry over the tuition already paid.
- Changing to a program of shorter duration will forfeit the difference in higher tuition, unless trip cancellation insurance has been purchased.
- In most cases, changes must be made by March 1. In some cases we are able to accommodate changes after March 1. Please call the VISIONS office for consultation.
- Nominal fees may apply to program changes if VISIONS has already made recreation reservations in the participant's name.
Yes, VISIONS does offer financial aid. Please read more about the process here.
VISIONS offers customized volunteer programs for schools and other groups that seek an in-depth volunteer experience. We operate special trips to any of our locations on a year-round basis to people of all ages. Read more here.
VISIONS aims to be consistent, clear and direct in the information we provide about our programs. It is our goal to accurately convey the VISIONS experience so that families can determine if VISIONS is the best fit for a participant's summer. We encourage kids and their parents to read through our web pages and look at pictures. Please do not hesitate to call with any questions or if you would like to receive a list of references.
Every season we are asked whether VISIONS is religiously or politically affiliated, which we are not.