By Corinne Garcia

During the 2015 summer, Bloomingdale High School student James Stanton traveled to Tetlin, Alaska with VISIONS Service Adventures, an international community service program for teens. Stanton was part of a group of high school students who accomplished service projects while living in a native Athabasca village in the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. About 200 people live in the village, situated on the Tetlin River, and because of the remote location and lack of access to many resources, there are a variety of projects that the group completed.

In partnership with Tetlin Village Council and community members, the teens built a wheelchair ramp for a community member who lost his legs in a fire, built wood sheds for village elders who depend on firewood to make it through the frigid winters, made renovations to the Tetlin Community Center and built a wild game processing table to be used for harvesting food sources. They also worked with the Tetlin Wildlife Refuge to remove invasive weed species that pose a threat to the native landscape.

Stanton said, “The trip to Alaska really brought home to me that you don’t need a lot of things to have fun with people. I went up with 23 other kids from across the country who I had never met, and didn’t know they existed, and we experienced something amazing together with the very little we went up with. I’ll remember this trip for the rest of my life, and also the wonderful people I met along the way.”

In equal measure with the volunteer work, the experience focused on cross-cultural exchanges and outdoor excursions. Students learned firsthand about Athabasca culture, backpacked and ice climbed in the Wrangell-St. Elias Wilderness, attended Fourth of July celebrations in the town of McCarthy, viewed Alaska wildlife, and toured an old mining town.

“The students who attend our programs tend to be interested in trying something new, working with people on hands-on projects, and expanding who they are in some way,” explained Katherine Dayton, VISIONS executive director.

VISIONS Service Adventures has been running high school and middle school volunteer travel experiences since 1989, and is well known for programs that are centered on ambitious projects in a cross-cultural setting. For more information, visit www.visions-service.com, or contact 406-551-4423 or Corinne@visions-service.com.