International Summer Community Service Program For Teens

July 14, 2010 (PRLEAP.COM) Travel News
To a teenager, adolescence is a time that feels like the only time there is or ever will be. All things are possible, and, depending on the moment or day, nothing seems possible. Yet the yearning for possibility burns fiercely. As much as teens want to fit in, they want to matter and to be of use. To want to make a difference is not just a cliché to them.

Equal parts passion, curiosity and vulnerability, teenagers are an incomparable resource. One 22-year-old international summer service program for teens has an impressive track record of putting their transformative energy to use.

VISIONS Service Adventures was created in 1988 as a kind of summer Peace Corps for high school students. Students live and work in the heart of host communities in Alaska Athabascan villages, Montana Plains Indian reservations, the Caribbean West Indies, Central and South America, Vietnam and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

This summer the high school student volunteers in VISIONS will build irrigation canals, potable water systems and cisterns in Peru and Nicaragua. In a small Ecuador village, they will construct kiosks for local artisans to use when selling their crafts. VISIONS teen volunteers will fully renovate a community center in Dominica, build a home for an elderly woman and playgrounds for young children in the British Virgin Islands, assist the Pascagoula River Audubon Center in the clean-up effort from the oil spill, and accomplish much more in several other communities.

There are many summer service programs for teens, but very few were established expressly to immerse teens in cross-cultural communities where they spend over half their time working on ambitious service projects that benefit the community. The fees VISIONS charges for month-long programs either fully fund the service work or co-fund projects with local partners.

VISIONS teen community service participants do the work. Local masons and maestros teach building techniques. Where construction is wood-based, VISIONS hires bona fide carpenters as leaders who guide participants in all phases of construction.

In the Caribbean West Indies where VISIONS has operated since 1991 every house, school, community center and clinic was built to hurricane specifications. To date, all structures have weathered multiple hurricanes having suffered minimal damage.

High school students in VISIONS complete the service projects during a single program. Teenage participants come from an average of 28 United States and 10 other countries.

VISIONS Director, Katherine Dayton, notes that well over 90% of VISIONS participants have never hammered nails, never placed rebar or laid adobe bricks. Participants learn the technical skills at the program site in the first few days of their experience. Adult leaders and local people assist in and manage the work sites.

"The successes, the satisfaction and confidence gained by our participants are real; the rewards haven't changed in 21 years. Working and socializing with local people offers unique opportunities to learn about the culture, daily lives very different from our participants' home lives."

"Service work is the bridge to understanding another culture and other ways of life. The loyalties VISIONS forges in communities through service offer high school students a powerful combination of confidence-building and authentic knowledge about other cultures. Our program sites differ from each other, but all share the basic ingredients of culture immersion, service work, and exploration."

Not all the VISIONS teen volunteer opportunities are construction. Social service, sustainable development, camp activities for local children are other offerings. The scope of the construction is impressive, all the more so because teenagers accomplished it. And every program integrates recreation and exploration.

VISIONS programs blend service work, cross-cultural immersion and adventurous exploration for teens in the Caribbean West Indies; North, Central, South America, and Vietnam. Participants live in the heart of host communities, working and socializing with our hosts.