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Luke Leadbetter and Lisa Roble sit on a coach bus.

Juniors Luke Leadbetter and Lisa Roble wait for their bus to leave on the Pay it Forward Tour. It's the first Pay It Forward trip for both students.

Goodwill gone wild

U students join Pay it Forward Tour during spring break

March 9, 2007

Four buses departed from the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus on Friday, March 9, as part of the Pay it Forward spring break tour. The 140 U students loaded a suitcase, pillow and sleeping bag and boarded the buses to start on separate nine-day journeys.

Now in its fourth year, the Pay it Forward Tour is a spring break community service trip--planned and led by students--that has grown exponentially since it was conceived by four U freshmen during a late-night brainstorming session.

This year, 15 buses with 600 student volunteers will collectively serve 77 communities. After traveling across the country, eight buses will meet in Washington, D.C. and seven buses will meet in San Antonio. In addition to the unforgettable service opportunities for students, the trip helps to break down stereotypes, and participants often forge lifelong friendships.

Kari Olson, one of the students involved with the first Pay It Forward Tour, says that 2004 journey "just made such an impact on my life" that she's been a regular participant ever since.

"It's the people involved that kept me coming back," says Olson. "[And] obviously, the service is cool, too."

Olson says the groups typically travel from city to city in the afternoon, grab dinner on the road and stay overnight at places like churches and YMCAs. They typically perform their service projects in the morning for a few hours before hitting the road again for the next stop.

During spring break 2004, the tour started with one busload of 43 students from the University of Minnesota that stopped in five cities on its way to Washington, D.C., performing at least one service project in each city. The 2005 tour saw 150 students on four buses--three from the University of Minnesota and one from University of North Dakota--each traveling a different route on their way to Washington.

Last spring, eight buses with 320 students from more than a dozen Midwestern universities continued the tradition, serving more than 50 communities en route to D.C., where they cleaned up a riverfront. To date, more than 700 students have gone on a Pay it Forward Tour.

As a three-year veteran and one of the coordinators of the tours, Olson says one of her favorite parts of the trip is watching the group dynamics evolve over the course of the journey. On the first day, everyone is quiet and reserved, but by the time they return home, "you can't get them to shut up," she says. "Watching that progress is one of my favorite parts of the [trips]."

The annual tour is the crowning accomplishment of Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF), a student organization that was founded in September 2003 by four University of Minnesota freshmen. In May 2005, STLF became an official non-profit organization, and it has since grown to 11 chapters in the Midwest. Members work on projects at their respective universities throughout the year.

For more information about the tour or the organization, visit the STLF Web site.