Students ‘Pay It Forward’ on spring break service tour

Participants traveled thousands of miles and spent days working on service projects.

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Mark Vancleave

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Andrea Schug

Six buses filled with University of Minnesota students traveled to different destination cities over spring break to serve people across the country. The Pay It Forward Tour was the seventh annual trip sponsored by the UniversityâÄôs chapter of Students Today Leaders Forever. STLF has chapters at 23 colleges and universities, mostly in the Midwest. Each bus stopped at five cities along the way to one of three destination cities. Participants performed service projects, which ranged from yard work to making food at a homeless shelter, in each city. The three destination cities this year were New Orleans, Dallas and Washington, D.C. The selection of the five in-between cities is done by committees for each destination. Becca Picha, public relations and sports management junior, has been a tour participant the past three years and was on a committee last year. She said cities are chosen based on anything from family connections to places in need to a desire to visit a given city. âÄúWe donâÄôt pick cities based off their economic situation,âÄù Picha said. âÄúWe pick cities that need the help.âÄù On the two University buses traveling to New Orleans sat Jessica Mino, elementary education senior, and Amy Palmer, management sophomore. Mino was a first-time participant and Palmer was a second-time participant and a leader of one bus. Burlington, Wis. The first stop of the New Orleans-bound tour was Burlington, Wis., six hours from the University. There, the students stayed overnight and worked at the CATHE (Community, Art, Theater, Health and Education) Community Center. âÄúThe people in Burlington needed us the most,âÄù Mino said. âÄúIt wasnâÄôt because they were poor but because they didnâÄôt have a lot of resources to do the projects that we did.âÄù At the community center, the students painted the gym and various classrooms around the center. Mino said it had taken the CATHE staff several weeks to complete the painting for one room because of time and staff constraints. âÄúThe one thing my bus was told was that a place may not be in need of extreme visible help but need people power,âÄù Mino said. âÄúCATHE needed the people power.âÄù Kokomo, Ind. In Kokomo, the tour participants spent their morning at a nursing home where they helped the director put on a carnival for the residents. Mino said the director told them she had wanted to put on a special event for the residents for years but never had the time or resources to do so. After the carnival, the students spent time with the residents, most of whom had been at the nursing home for many years. âÄúA lot of them wished they could see their families more,âÄù Mino said. âÄúTheir loneliness was sad.âÄù Brandenburg, Ky. Brandenburg, a city of less than 2,200 residents, is home to YMCA Camp Piomingo, where the participants stayed overnight and cleaned cabins the following day. Picha said the camp had more than 45 cabins that needed to be cleaned and prepared for overnight and summer campers. âÄúThey only had the resources for a part-time staff, so the work we did that morning would have taken them two weeks,âÄù Picha said. âÄúThey just didnâÄôt have the bodies to get it done.âÄù The work that the students completed at the YMCA allowed the camp director to focus on activities and programs that could make camp better for the summer campers, Mino said. Nashville, Tenn. Another YMCA camp was waiting for help from the Pay It Forward Tour in Nashville. Mino said Nashville had just experienced a major storm. The participants helped clean up the landscape around the camp to make it polished before the arrival of summer campers. âÄúThey needed our help to make it safe,âÄù Mino said. Montgomery, Ala. In Montgomery, the students visited a homeless shelter where they were served breakfast and then helped make lunch and dinner for visitors that day. âÄúIt seemed like an abandoned industrial community,âÄù Mino said. âÄúThere wasnâÄôt much going on or any people movement. It was kind of dead.âÄù Mino spent most of her day speaking with a 51-year-old homeless woman who was currently taking her first college class to become a human resources professional. âÄúIt was so eye-opening, because you hear about all this unemployment and you donâÄôt notice it [in Minnesota] as much,âÄù Mino said. âÄúBut I could feel it there. It seemed like everything was put on hold.âÄù New Orleans When the tour arrived in New Orleans, the two University buses met up to spend their time at Audubon Zoo. While the students were driving to the zoo, they saw houses still unrepaired after Hurricane Katrina. âÄúThe houses were covered in graffiti, vandalized and boarded up,âÄù Mino said. âÄúIt made me realize all the help that people need.âÄù The work that needed to be done at the zoo involved cleaning up the landscape areas. Students raked the yard, cleaned up branches and picked up scrap metal. Following the service project, a celebration ceremony was held in New Orleans to mark the end of the trip. More than 300 students gathered from the University, North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota. The participants returned to the University after nine days of service. Each bus traveled more than 3,000 miles and projects were completed in more than 25 cities. As STLF members returned to the University, they were eager to start a volunteer program in the Twin Cities, Palmer said. âÄúIf you look at mileage, we pretty much crossed the country coast to coast,âÄù Palmer said. âÄúYou really get a perspective of the whole country, and thatâÄôs something that many people arenâÄôt aware of.âÄù