Pay It Forward

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Pay It Forward

Two years ago, I made the decision to use my freshman year spring break to go on a Pay it Forward Tour through an organization called Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF). I didn’t know exactly what the tour was (and had absolutely no idea what STLF was), but I knew that it was community service oriented and that my sister Samantha was going to try it out with me.

Volunteering was something I took an interest in but that had become much less a priority while I took in all my newfound independence had to offer. This Pay it Forward Tour idea seemed a great way to reintroduce service as a healthy part of my life. Add that to a little trust in my sister and I was in. Let’s ride this bus.

My decision may be unusual, but I believe my (un)familiarity with the organization and the Pay it Forward Tour is shared with many around UND.

One of the first three STLF chapters in the nation, UND has been sending students on Pay it Forward Tours since 2005, the second year of STLF’s existence. Many people have heard of the Pay it Forward Tour, and many of those people can tell you that it centers on volunteering. It does. And it’s a great thing.

Now a participant of two college Pay it Forward Tours, I have been fortunate to be a part of 12 service projects and nearly 3400 hours of combined student labor. This labor has benefited all kinds of civically engaged organizations working toward betterment of their communities – Boys and Girls Clubs, rescue missions, museums, women’s shelters, Habitat for Humanity, nature preserves, therapeutic horseback riding centers, hospices, nursing homes. You name it, STLF has helped it.

The work we do isn’t always glamorous. On a Pay it Forward Tour, you can expect to do whatever these organizations need done, be it painting walls, mopping floors, or announcing bingo. You soon find, though, that these are the most rewarding jobs you could do.

The people in these organizations are beyond grateful for the work done, because these tasks are what make possible the invaluable services they provide. They realize the commitment made by participants and the sacrifices taken. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of being fully embraced by a community that you have no connection to.

To be welcomed and escorted and thanked and fed and praised, simply because you organized a filing cabinet or swept a cafeteria, is a truly remarkable feeling. To see your simple acts of service reflected in the eyes of the community, and to know that those acts will be paid forward in turn is more rewarding than anything I could hope to find on the slopes of Red Lodge or the beaches of Cancun. Being able to impact your nation through service is an empowering feeling.

And yet, it’s not even the best thing about the Tour, namely, that it helps you grow, it makes you better. The Tour has this strangely unidentifiable ability to create an atmosphere that not only encourages self-growth, but fosters it, facilitates it, and in a sense even forces it upon you.

Through relationships with like-minded, civically engaged peers, through intense self-reflection, and through a commitment to finding the best in everyone, the Pay it Forward Tour is designed to show you who you can be. In the end, six days of service and nine days on the bus end up impacting your life far more than the communities you leave behind.

And that’s pretty cool if you ask me.

If any of this sounds appealing to you, or if you’d like more information, send us an email, or check out our Facebook page.

Austin Dhuyvetter

President, Students Today Leaders Forever

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