April 19, 2023
VISIONS alum Olivia Coward has served with us both on the plains of Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation and the rugged highlands of the Peruvian Andes. Today, she sells jewelry and clothing on the online platform Depop, donating 30% of her profits to the VISIONS Foundation!
VISIONS Director of Outreach connected with Olivia to learn more about her VISIONS experience, what she’s been up to since then and why she decided to raise money for the VISIONS Foundation through her online business.
One of my mom’s friends referred her to VISIONS, and my mom asked me if I was interested in the camp session on the Montana Blackfeet reservation. I was immediately hooked by the opportunity to work with Native Americans and live on a reservation, but I was also nervous.
Upon looking through the itinerary and photos on the VISIONS website, I knew I couldn’t miss out on an experience like this. This trip ended up being one of the best experiences of my life, so I decided to attend the Peru program the following summer.
One of my most memorable times during my VISIONS experience was in Peru when we were working on the canales. I was in a concrete bucket line with maybe 20 or 30 other locals and VISIONS campers. Because the concrete buckets were so heavy, we had to stand almost shoulder-to-shoulder in the line. There were also people who would run up the line, bringing empty buckets back up to the concrete pile to be refilled, people who dumped the concrete into the canales and people who would poke the concrete to ensure that there weren’t any gaps.
Even though the work itself was monotonous and hard, the feeling of closeness and cooperation with the people around me, and the feeling of working as a piece of a greater whole was so rewarding.
The VISIONS experience has taught me a lot about how I act in social situations. It takes a while for me to warm up to people, but by the end of both VISIONS service trips, I had made connections with people deeper than I imagined could be possible, especially given the short three-week time span. But VISIONS has also taught me that I like to stay in my comfort zone.
Both during summer programs and everyday life, I make deep connections with a small handful of people, but I also fail to reach out to a broader range of people. The program really helped me reflect on myself, and provided insight into what I should be proud of about myself as well as opportunities for self-improvement.
Running a Depop account is a lot of work. I play the many different roles required to run a Depop business: customer service, sourcing items, taking photos, writing descriptions, packing orders and dropping them off at the post office. I’m always thinking of ways I can grow my account, whether it be establishing a more coherent brand by curating a more specific aesthetic of clothing, or recording statistics to see how I can optimize profits by adjusting variables like pricing, discounts and item type.
It felt wrong to limit my community service to a short three-week window during the summer, and I wanted a way to prolong my contributions to the community in Urubamba. I thought donating proceeds from my Depop account was the perfect solution because it would allow me to pursue my passions while also giving back to the community that hosted me in Peru.
I think what makes VISIONS unlike any other summer camp are the long-standing relationships it has with the communities it works with. Some of my most memorable moments in Montana and Peru were the dinners that VISIONS hosted. The opportunity to nurture connections with local people is something rare: something I have never experienced at other summer camps or traveling with family.
I also loved being able to talk to and work with local people daily on worksites. I was able to learn so much from the people around me that I would never be able to learn in my regular life, and hopefully I was able to teach others something too.
A community is a group of people who learn from each other and support each other. Within a community, each person gives and takes, forming interpersonal bonds that hold the community together.
I encourage any other high school students out there to seek service work outside of school, even if that means just signing up for a short service summer camp. When I was deciding whether I wanted to go on each of my VISIONS trips, I was scared about an endless list of things. I was scared that I wouldn’t make friends, that I would hate the food, that I would get homesick.
When I started my Depop account and decided to donate a portion of my profit, I was scared that my business would fail and that I would have nothing to donate. While my fears at the time seemed valid, in hindsight worrying turned out to be pointless, because working with VISIONS has not only had a positive impact on the people around me, but has deeply impacted myself and my life for the better. So if you want to engage in service work but are scared, just do it.