Leadership, service and travel

When most students think of spring break, they think of lounging at home or going on vacation somewhere warm. But for 40 UNI students, spring break is a time to give back.

Students Today Leaders Forever
A few of the 40 UNI students at one of the stops during this year's Pay It Forward Tour.

These students are part of a new group on campus, Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF), which is a non-profit group that engages students in servant leadership to create positive life experiences. The group had its first-ever Pay It Forward Tour in March. The weeklong tour took students to six different cities, where they had the opportunity to participate in various volunteer projects.

UNI students traveled by bus to Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. Some of the volunteer projects included cleaning an apartment complex for homeless veterans, writing letters to troops overseas and helping at a tree farm. In Dallas, the last destination, the group met up with other STLF chapters and had a celebration in honor of all the hard work they accomplished.

For several of the students, this wasn't their first time participating in the Pay It Forward Tour. Last year, nine UNI students joined Illinois State University's group for spring break. They enjoyed it so much that they decided to start their own chapter.

"UNI is very geared toward volunteer opportunities, and UNI wants its students to serve," says Melissa Herak, junior general studies major and co-chair of the UNI STLF chapter. "We're trying to give students an alternative to going home and doing nothing, and an alternative away from your stereotypical party break, so students will have opportunities to give back while they're not in school."

"My favorite service project was at Spofford Home in Kansas City," says Erin Harms, sophomore early childhood and elementary education major. "Spofford is a residential treatment facility for children that have suffered mental, physical or sexual abuse. At Spofford, I had the opportunity to help children create an art project, while others in our group played kickball with the kiddos or cleaned out the dorms and made signs to decorate the children's living space."

The group is hoping to double the number of participants for next year. It's releasing applications this spring to fill positions for next year's STLF leaders.

"After going on this trip, I definitely plan on going back," says Harms. "I love everything that STLF stands for and I can't wait for next year's trip! I would recommend this experience to anyone!"

For more information on STLF, visit www.stlf.net/chapters/university-of-northern-iowa.