Student group heads south, makes difference in world

Six hundred students will travel throughout the country, making stops to do service.

Justin Horwath

It was around 3 a.m. one September morning in 2003 when finance and entrepreneurship senior Nick Lindberg and three of his friends decided they wanted to change the world.

So they registered Students Today, Leaders Forever as an official student organization. The group embarks on a nine-day service-learning journey each spring break across the nation with students from other colleges and universities to help others in need. They call it the Pay It Forward Tour.

This year Lindberg said around 600 students from nine colleges and universities across the Midwest will make the trek – doubling the number of participants from last year and more than tripling the number from three years ago.

Today, 15 buses will depart from various locations across the Midwest for the trip, four of them from Minneapolis. Eight are headed to Washington D.C. and seven are going to San Antonio, Texas. The buses will make service stops along the way, each one taking a different route.

Students will take part in working with the elderly, environmental cleanup and construction projects, among other good deeds.

“It’s kind of like a dream,” Lindberg said about the large number of students involved.

Around 130 of the participants are University students, according to finance and nonprofit management junior and Students Today, Leaders Forever member Eric Larson.

Author Catherine Ryan Hyde – a muse to the student group – wrote Pay it Forward, a best-selling book about the benefits of helping others.

She said the tour is one of the better examples she has seen of paying it forward.

“What I love is that they keep finding more students to keep going,” she said. “I think that it really changes people’s opinions about the next generation.”

Agricultural education sophomore Chelsey Tulgren said before she went on last year’s trip she was “naïve to social issues.”

“There are people way less fortunate,” she said. “They need help. Why not help them?”

This is the fourth year on the trip for Kari Olson.

“I haven’t thought about anything else for spring break,” the child psychology senior said.

Although she is graduating this semester, Olson plans on starting a Students Today, Leaders Forever chapter in Onalaska, Wis., where she will be living next year.

“(The trips) have really changed my life,” she said. “It made me more connected to the University and I made more friends.”

A growing organization

All four founding members of Students Today, Leaders Forever will be active in the organization next year. Three of them said they will work with the group full-time as it continues to grow.

Marketing senior Irene Fernando said she and the other two founders will keep busy with the expansion of the group along with increasing high school student participation in leadership camps the group holds throughout the year.

“Students will be coming and going, but we’ll be there as a constant to make it fluid,” she said.

Finance and nonprofit management senior Brian Peterson said the group registered as a nonprofit organization two years ago.

“With (the growth) and the extensive high school programming we’ve done, it’s become a lot more than just a spring break trip,” he said. “We’re trying to move ahead.”

Greg Tehven, who graduated in December with an entrepreneurship degree, said he was the “big dreamer of the group.”

“The future is really bright,” he said. “I’m guessing within the next two, three years that we’ll double again.”