In the late 1960s and early 1970s, VisionQuest’s founder Bob Burton worked in juvenile correctional facilities across the country. He consistently saw that the methods used to address behavioral issues were punitive and ineffective. After serving as a VISTA volunteer working with the Crow Indians in Montana, Bob began to imagine an alternative to the traditional system.
In 1973, Bob met an Arizona judge― John Collins of the Pima County Juvenile Court in Tucson― who was also discouraged with what the system was currently doing with at-risk kids. Judge Collins placed the first youth into VisionQuest: six youthful offenders from Pima County. The new program began its operation as a residential program. It quickly implemented a unique wilderness component, incorporating the principles Bob learned while working with the Crow Indians. After three years of operation, there were 130 kids in group home and home-based programs in Arizona.
In 1976, the national Bicentennial Wagon Train passed through Tucson, Arizona on its way to Valley Forge. Intrigued by the Wagon Train’s drama of recreating history, VisionQuest purchased its first wagon and sent the kids on a cross country trek. The trip was such an extraordinary experience for the participants that VisionQuest began finding ways to include more such experiences into its ongoing program, such as hiking, climbing mountains, recreating historic military events, sailing tall ships, driving longhorns from Texas to Montana, running marathons, and much more. These challenging outdoor activities distinguished VisionQuest from many other programs.
VisionQuest is now a national organization that serves thousands of youth each year. VisionQuest’s goal has always been to put the needs of the youth first, constantly improve the infrastructure of its programs, and maintain sound financial management. Since its inception, VisionQuest’s Board of Directors has been made up entirely of a distinguished panel of leaders from different disciplines.
Developing new leaders who have a connection to the spirit of VisionQuest’s past and who can combine its rich heritage with evidence-based treatment practices is the challenge for the future. As an organization, VisionQuest’s goal is to continue to grow without losing the fabric and rich history which has made it so innovative.