VISIONS Alaska community service program gives teens the opportunity to spend almost a month working with native Athabasca villages in Tetlin, Alaska. High school students earn 100 service hours doing meaningful summer projects including carpentry, environmental work, and social services, building upon community relationships that are almost two decades strong. You’ll be part of daily life in a village that subsists largely on hunting and gathering. During side projects, you will harvest fish and maybe even process big game, and with the Wrangell Mountains as a backdrop, you will experience incredible Alaska adventures including backpacking, ice climbing, cultural events, and more.
Service projects in Alaska rely on carpentry-based construction and a lot of building! In addition to hammers, nails and shovels, you will be trained to use circular saws, power drills, and perhaps even a mobile lumber mill. High school volunteers in our Alaska program have built bridges and playgrounds, community buildings, outdoor basketball courts, smokehouses, and more. In addition to a community-wide project every summer, we do repair projects at local elders’ homes, which offers a great way of getting to know several long-standing community members. We also do a few environmental projects at the Tetlin Wildlife Refuge and spend time with local children in non-work hours and during an intermittent community day camp.
One of our partners: VISIONS partners with Tetlin Village Council, which works to serve the needs of its 200 or so community members who are mostly Athabascan native people. Alaska’s Native Village Councils govern villages and also aim to preserve their ancestors’ beliefs, customs and traditions.
You will be immersed in daily life with our Athabascan hosts—people whose roots date back to the original inhabitants of Alaska’s interior. Visit with village elders, play games with local kids, and take a traditional steam bath in a lodge that past teen volunteers helped build. We are part of life in Tetlin, regularly invited to neighbors’ homes for meals, beading lessons, making unique birch bark baskets, playing music, processing and drying wild game and fish. We will also listen to stories and learn how the Athabascans’ ingenuity and resourcefulness are intrinsic to living in this remote and formidable land.
"Camping, ice climbing, backpacking, visiting Muklukland, and canoeing were all awesome! They were really great experiences."
With VISIONS Alaska, you will experience unspoiled natural beauty, including expansive mountain ranges and wildlife ranging from bald eagles to moose and caribou, along with adventures within some amazing landscapes. We work with St. Elias Guides, our trusted partners for ice climbing the Root Glacier, and we visit the popular town of McCarthy and explore nearby Kenicott, once home to the richest copper mines in the world. Another weekend is reserved for a two-night backpacking trip in the dramatic Wrangell Mountains. Exploring Alaska means living with a lot of light in big, wide open skies. Situated more than 1,300 latitudinal miles north of New York City, the sun never truly sets during the summer months, and the night skies remain like early dusk.
We live together as a group in the high school, centrally located in Tetlin Village. There are bathrooms, showers, and kitchen facilities, and VISIONS provides a thick floor mattress for each person.
Service projects take place five days per week, starting after breakfast and wrapping up in mid- or late afternoon. You typically get to choose between three different worksites each day, most involving construction and building. We take a lunch break and water breaks as needed, and work at a steady, productive pace.
One day a week you will be on “homebase crew” with a few other participants and a leader. The crew gets up a bit early to make a big breakfast for everyone, runs errands and buys food for the next meals, does laundry, helps prepare dinner, and takes in a fun “day in the life.”
After work there is time for activities in the community, a nearby excursion or short hike, or some downtime before dinner. Dinners include meat and vegetarian options with plenty of variety and always enough for seconds. There also are healthy snacks available throughout the day.
A few evenings a week, we have group meetings that last about an hour and are a time to reflect on the volunteer and cultural experience. Other nights we’ll hang out as a group, prepare for the next day’s projects, or have get-togethers with local friends. In addition to after work and evening activities, you’ll take part in exciting full-day excursions.
VISIONS is not a teen tour with a day-to-day travel itinerary. Instead we settle in to our home base and are part of daily life. In this place so far removed in location and attitude from the "lower 48" that Alaskans refer to everywhere else as simply “outside,” you soon will feel like an insider in your temporary home. The itinerary provides highlights of some of our activities in Alaska.