Three years ago, a John Carroll student from Students Today, Leaders Forever found a unique way to offer community service across the country. One day, as senior Bill Breon was searching the Internet for ways to do service, he came across the Pay It Forward Tour, which originated at the University of Minnesota. Since then, this immersion experience has become an annual installation for the STLF organization at Carroll.
STLF has been a student group at JCU since 2007. According to the STLF Web site, “STLF’s mission is to reveal leadership through service, relationships and action. Our vision is to energize generations of servant leaders.” The Pay It Forward Tour accomplishes this goal well, giving over 40 JCU students an exciting way to perform community service.
Junior Tom Weinandy is one of the JCU chapter leaders and is in charge of this year’s tour. “What we hope to do is bring a group of people together on the bus. We travel across the country learning about each other and ourselves. We do that through service, but most of it is just being on the bus and being together.”
Every tour consists of a nine day bus trip that visits five different cities for service work and culminates in what they call a “celebration city.” Weinandy said, “We spend a day in each of the communities, but we spend two days here [in the celebration city]. We have a very impactful reflection session where people are able to reflect on how this trip has changed them and what they can do to take this experience and impact the world.”
An added benefit of this experience is that it is one of JCU’s least expensive spring break services. For only $400, participants receive two shirts, two meals each day, coach bus transportation between cities, and lodging. The other aspects of the trip, such as the relationship building and the opportunity to learn about other communities, are priceless, according to the STLF Web site.
Each tour visits different cities and follows its own itinerary. This year, the JCU chapter will be visiting Indianapolis, Ind., St. Louis, Mo., Paris, Tenn., Birmingham, Ala., Atlanta, Ga. and Savannah, Ga., where they will enjoy their celebration.
Along the road, they do what Weinandy calls “urban camping.” Rather than staying in costly hotels, the participants sleep in gyms, community centers and churches. Once they reach their destination city, they stay in a hotel for two nights.
A standard day for the tour includes service work, bus travel, meals and tourism when time permits. At the end of each day, the students participate in evening activities and a reflection period.
Since the program first started six years ago, 163 tours have taken place and over 6,300 students have participated nationally. Twenty universities across the Midwest have started their own STLF chapter and the number is growing by the year.
Weinandy confirms that next year there will definitely be a Pay It Forward Tour. “Because we’re a leadership organization, next year I’m allowing other students to have the same [leadership] opportunity.”