Colleen Higgins traveled a long way from home to help make others feel more at home.

The senior at the Stony Brook School recently spent a month at a remote village in Alaska helping to build a pavilion for elders and renovating a playground and wood basketball court with Visions Service Adventures, an international service learning group.

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The Athabasca village she visited has about 270 residents, she said, and is in Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge southeast of Fairbanks. "The poverty struck us at first," said Higgins, 17. "But as we got to know the people, they were really normal and had a strong respect for their elders . . . It's important to open up your mind to other cultures."

Higgins and 24 high school volunteers from around the world also hiked and climbed glaciers in the Wrangell-St. Elias Wilderness and attended a three-day "culture camp" in which village elders taught them about their language and making baskets, among other things.

To get selected for the program, Higgins submitted an application and recommendation letter from a guidance counselor. At Stony Brook she is part of the cross country and track teams and academic, community-service and class councils.