(Moderator note: This post was written by guest contribor, Sarah Crissinger, Graduate Student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Graduate School of Library and Information Science.)
In the Fall of 2003, four college freshmen stayed up late one night to discuss the challenges of their lives—the stereotypes they faced and the social issues that surrounded them. They dreamed that young people could make a difference while touring the country. They decided that civic engagement was the answer and that spring break was the opportune time.
On March 12, 2004 those students embarked on the first Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF) tour from the Minnesotan Twin Cities. In ten years, the organization has become a national non-profit organization that has led tours and camps for middle school, high school, and college students. Today they have had more than 20,000 participants serve more than 300,000 hours across the country (Students Today Leaders Forever).
STLF’s mission is to reveal leadership through service, relationships, and action. Reveal is a key word because STLF isn’t in the business of making leaders; the organization firmly believes that the students that decide to go on a tour are already leaders. STLF instead attempts to facilitate the students’ discovery of their leadership strengths.
STLF’s largest initiative to carry out this mission is Pay It Forward (PIF) tours. Hundreds of PIF tours leave each Spring Break for a nine-day journey of service and reflection. Throughout the week, college students travel through five or more cities, providing service at an organization in each city. The tour culminates in a “celebration city” where multiple tour groups meet up to do one huge service project.
This spring break I participated in The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s PIF tour. We traveled from Champaign, Illinois to San Antonio, Texas with stops in Memphis, Jackson, New Orleans, Lafayette, and Houston. One might wonder how the tour covers over 2,000 miles and still finds time to fit in service. The answer is that the days are long, the nights are short, but every moment is rewarding.