This summer, Mercer Island student Megan VanDerZanden will travel to Montana Blackfeet, with VISIONS Service Adventures, an international community service program for teens.
VanDerZanden will join other high school students from around the world on the Blackfeet Reservation, where they will live in the community, get to know the local customs and traditions, and tackle ambitious service projects that demonstrate the power of teens working for change.
“Students arrive with the intent of contributing to under-served communities, and end up a part of that community,” said Katherine Dayton, executive director of VISIONS in a press release. “They build relationships with other participants, mentors and community members, and step out of their comfort zones and into experiences that create lifelong impact.”
Together with a local nonprofit, students will renovate buildings and fences on the conservation ranch where they live. Other projects include building wheelchair ramps and weatherization improvements for community elders. In addition, students will partner with the Nature Conservancy and Montana Conservation Corps for a few days to remove invasive plant species. This is the 28th year VISIONS will spend in Montana.
Afternoons and weekends are set aside for regional travel and exploring the home-base area. In Montana, students will attend a powwow and meet with tribal leaders and historians before experiencing a sweat lodge. They will also spend time backpacking in Glacier National Park, as well as shorter outdoor excursions including horseback riding, wildlife viewing and a rock-climbing trip.
All programs are overseen by adult leaders and long-time local partners, who guide and teach the students in hands-on construction and other development projects. Beyond completing service projects, the summer is an opportunity for students to explore the idea of community in both a local and global sense.
“VISIONS is not about construction projects,” explained long-time program leader David Kramer in a press release. “It is about deconstructing how we view the world and then framing a new vision upon the foundation of real experience with a global perspective.”
VISIONS has been running high school and middle school volunteer travel experiences since 1989, and is well known for programs that are centered on community driven projects in cross-cultural settings. Locations include Alaska, the British Virgin Islands, Cambodia, Mississippi, the Montana Blackfeet and Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservations, Myanmar (Burma), the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and the Galapagos, Nicaragua, Peru and Guadeloupe.