During the summer of 2014, Michelle Geffner, a Great Neck teenager, spent 18 days over summer vacation on the Montana Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation with Visions Service Adventures, an international community service-based adventure travel program.
Geffner was part of a group of high school students who lived in Lame Deer, the major town and government center of this reservation. The students spent their summer break immersed in community service in two reservation communities. The teen volunteers worked on building projects for Dull Knife Community College and Cheyenne Children Services and they also organized activities with local children through the Kids Kollege program. They also helped prepare and serve lunch to approximately 60 older community members (elders) on a daily basis. Within this project, they created “goody bags” from donated items, stocked pantries, watered plants, cleaned the lunchroom and kitchen, prepared hors d’oeuvres and spent time interacting with the seniors and listening to their unique and interesting stories.
For Geffner and the other teen volunteers, the trip was not just work. They learned about Cheyenne culture in regular visits with elders, tribal historians and other local leaders. They joined in a sweat lodge ceremony and took basic lessons in traditional beading from a Cheyenne artisan. They also hiked and backpacked in the Big Horn Mountains.
Geffner found the entire experience absolutely fascinating. In the after-work hours and on the weekends, she and her fellow students had the opportunity to travel and “experience different cultural activities.” In addition to visiting with “elders” and listening to their stories, the volunteers learned native crafts, such as beading. The volunteers also enjoyed attending the Fourth of July pow wow, where they watched traditional dancers in their regalia, listened to drumming circles and enjoyed a meal at the kickoff communal dinner. Other special recreational opportunities included an overnight backpacking and camping trip in the Bighorn National Forest, just across the border in Wyoming. They also swam in cool streams, attended a youth rodeo and accompanied local kids to a county fair.
“Service in the cross-cultural context allows teens the opportunity to make a difference and, just as important, know the people whose lives they are impacting in personal, mutually respectful ways,” said Katherine Dayton, VISIONS executive director. “We give students tangible ways to be challenged through ambitious service work, thereby developing resilience and self-confidence, and realizing their potential in this world.”
Visions programs are rooted in the service work, and that really comes first. said Dayton: “These kids work really hard, choosing work sites each day that include construction projects. Under the guidance of a staff carpenter, the kids learn how to plan out building projects and how to use the different tools. They also have the option of working with local reservation kids and with the community elders.”
Visions operates high school volunteer travel programs in Alaska, the British Virgin Islands, Cambodia, Mississippi, Montana Blackfeet, Montana Northern Cheyenne, Myanmar (Burma), Dominican Republic, Ecuador & Galapagos, Nicaragua, Peru, Guadalupe (French West Indies) and middle school programs, including the Island Passage in the British Virgin Islands and Northern Passage in Montana’s Northern Cheyenne Indian reservation.
“Each of our program locations is unique,” said Dayton, “but all provide primary ingredients of community service, cultural immersion, adventure and opportunities to explore places off the tourist track.”
For more information about Visions, check out www.visionsservice
adventures.com, or contact Corinne Garcia at 406-272-0221 or Corinne@visionsserviceadventures.com.