Guest blog written by Sara Straskowski, a current student in the Carlson School of Management
Today, Leaders Forever (STLF) is a student group that was started by four freshmen students
at the University of Minnesota in 2003. With the mission to "reveal
leadership through service, relationships, and action," STLF engages students
from all over the country through its Pay It Forward Tours. A Pay It
Forward Tour is a community service road trip that travels from city to city
doing various service projects. For college students, "the Tour" is scheduled each year during spring
break; there are also tours available for
high school students at various times throughout the year.
This spring break, I participated in my third college Pay It Forward Tour. The experience never ceases to amaze me!
My freshman year, I travelled to Memphis; my sophomore year I went to Dallas;
this year, the destination city was Atlanta, Georgia. For the last two years, I
was a participant on the Tour, but this year I took a leadership position in
STLF, and planned the Tour along with four other students who soon became my
We left from the University
of Minnesota-Twin Cities on March 15. Our first stop was Kansas City, Missouri,
and our first service project was landscaping for the Gillis Center, a home for
boys in the area that helps at-risk children and families. We even got to play
a game of dodge ball with the boys who lived there! Next, we stopped in St.
Louis, Missouri, where we were able to do some tourism at The Gateway Arch and the
City Museum. We helped the St. Louis community by cleaning up the streets
around the city and writing letters to soldiers overseas. The third city on our
adventure was Bowling Green, Kentucky, where we volunteered at Community Action
of Southern Kentucky (a nonprofit agency that provides a wide range of human
services to the residents of the area). We made event decorations for them as
well as cleaned up the office space they use every day. After Bowling Green, we
stopped for tourism in Nashville, Tennessee. It has been my dream to visit the
Music City forever, and I can't believe I was finally able to be there! Our
next stop was in Merryville, Tennessee, where we painted and did gardening work
at the Boys & Girls Club of Blount County, a
non-profit organization dedicated to the development of boys and girls in a
safe and caring environment. On our way
to our last stop, we toured the city of Gatlinberg in the Smoky Mountains. The
area was absolutely beautiful! Last but not least, we stopped in Charlotte,
North Carolina to serve at Samaritan's Feet; we readied the shoes that will
soon be sent across the U.S. and the world to those who can't afford to buy
their own. After our service project, we went to the U.S. National Whitewater
Center to go zip-lining and rock climbing--one of the most memorable highlights
of our trip!
finally made our way to Atlanta, where we met four other buses of students that
had each had an amazing Tour as well. We did one final service project
together; the 140 students served at the Mary Scott Nature Park doing a variety
of jobs such as creating a children's "forest play" area and removing invasive
species throughout the park. After the service project, we were able to do some
tourism in Atlanta and see the city. I was sad that the trip was nearly over,
but I had a fantastic time exploring Atlanta with my new friends!
The memories I made on this trip are unforgettable, and the 43 friends I made throughout the nine-day experience will be held close to my heart for years to come. Every single one of the participants on my bus amazed me more each day; they are the most compassionate people I know! I encourage you all to check out the great opportunities that are offered to you every day, such as the STLF Pay It Forward Tour. It changed my life forever, and I will always be proud of my decision to get involved at the U of M with Student's Today, Leaders Forever.