U student group hit the road to perform spring break public service

Hayley Odom

University student Greg Tehven found $40 on a Philadelphia street during spring break. Instead of pocketing the money for himself, Tehven decided to pay it forward and bought meals for strangers.

While many University students opted to spend spring break with friends in warmer destinations, members of a University student group spent their break attempting to change the world.

Students Today, Leaders Forever, a student group whose vision is to change lives and the world, spent the break carrying out Operation: Pay it Forward by completing service projects in several cities across the nation.

Service projects included helping at soup kitchens and meeting with congressmen and congresswomen in Washington, D.C.

“We’re trying to show people that you can be a freshman or 80 or 5 and make a difference in someone’s life,” said Irene Fernando, a first-year student and one of the organization’s founders.

Forty-six people went on the tour. Although most were University students, students from North Dakota universities and secondary schools also attended. A Microsoft executive, University YMCA workers and two mothers went along as well.

Although some scholarships were available, most students paid approximately $400 to go on the trip. The group stayed in high school gymnasiums, hostels, YMCAs and hotels.

Other students and people from around the nation joined the group’s activities in different cities.

The group, touring by bus, started its work in Chicago at a YMCA and participated in a business expo in a low-income area.

Next they traveled to Canton, Ohio, where the group helped with an inner-city cleanup and became the kickoff event for the city’s pay it forward movement.

“Canton really fired up the group. We saw their excitement and that made the rest of the trip become real,” Tehven said.

From Canton, the group moved on to Greensburg, Pa., where members assembled boxes at a food bank for 600 elderly people.

The group stopped in Harrisburg, Pa., on its way to Philadelphia, where members met the governor, who commended their work.

“Two days later he called (group member) Deb’s cell just to see how we were doing. What governor does that?” Fernando said.

In Philadelphia, the group worked with the resource center National Student Partnership to educate people on important issues including affordable housing and employment rates.

In Washington, the group met with congressmen and congresswomen to discuss community service opportunities and also served at two soup kitchens.

Although this marked the end of service projects for the week, the group continued to pay it forward through random acts of kindness on its way home.

Ryan Morgan, a first-year student who went on the trip, said he didn’t want to come back from the trip. But now that he’s home, he said he wants to volunteer on a regular basis.

The group also experienced a change in perspective, Fernando said. At the beginning members were focused on themselves but by the end they were focused on other people, she said.

“The best part of the story is that it’s just begun,” Fernando said. “It’s not about the past eight days; it’s about the rest of our lives.”