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My spring break experience on the Pay-it-Forward Tour

Students Today, Leaders Forever (STLF), is a student group founded at the University of Minnesota that is devoted to leadership through "service, relationship, and action." STLF provides the opportunity to serve the community and travel across the nation through its Pay-It-Forward (PIF) Tours, which are held every year and are available on many University and high school campuses throughout the United States. The most popular college tours take place during spring break. I participated in a Pay-it-Forward Tour in high school, and I had so much fun that I decided to participate in another tour over spring break this year.

The tour is a road trip that takes you to a different city every day, where you participate in a variety of community service projects. Everyone I traveled with was extremely energetic, fun, and helpful. In just a week's time, I made many friends I know I'll have for the rest of my college career and maybe longer! Together, we made a difference in many communities as we traveled to our final destination: Memphis, Tennesee.

Every Pay-It-Forward Tour is a different experience. Buses travel to a variety of locations. This year, there were two U of M buses that had a destination (or 'celebration city') of Memphis, where we met with even more people on tours from other college campuses across Minnesota. We completed one final service project together in Memphis, celebrated, and shared the experiences of our nine days together on the tour. 

The tour brought my bus of 43 people to Indianola, IA; Kansas City, MO; Tulsa, OK; Dallas, TX; Little Rock, AR, and Memphis, TN. I chose to go on the Mystery Tour, where the cities we visit before Memphis are unknown until we arrive. Each day was a surprise. The typical day consists of 4 hours of service followed by tourism in whichever city we are in, as well as plenty of travel time to bond with others on the bus. At night, we slept in community centers and gymnasiams that were offered to us.

The service projects vary from person to person, but the ones I took part in included cleaning and talking to residents at a nursing home in Iowa and helping at the Gillis House in Missouri, a home for young boys under special circumstances who need a place to stay. I also worked outside in Tulsa, hauling mulch, loading rocks, and creating a trail for a campground that needed work. In Dallas, we contributed to a day of games and activities for special needs children and adults at their community center, and in Little Rock, we removed brush and vines that was harmful to the forestry of an area. It was heartwarming to see how much everyone appreciated us being there. 

Finally, in Memphis, our combined group of about 300 students volunteered to clean the streets of the city. The feeling of truly making a difference to so many people in each of these cities is amazing, and I encourage you to experience it for yourself!

The picture below shows my busmates and I at one of our project sites. We had so much fun together! For more information on Students Today, Leaders Forever, or to sign up for a tour yourself, click here.

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