UMD Students "Pay It Forward" on a Cross Country Service Trip
"We will never forget this spring break," said Maranda Rollins, one of the UMD student trip leaders on the “Pay It Forward" trip. She knows. This is the fourth time she has given up her spring break to build bike paths, clean cemeteries, paint community centers, and more.
All of the 44 UMD students who went on the trip belong to a campus group called STLF, Students Today Leaders Forever. This year, they went to Washington D.C. on the “Pay It Forward” tour, a trip Maranda called, "A life-changing experience."
Leaving from Duluth, they traveled to Milton, Wis., Fort Wayne, Ind., Frankfort Ky., Charleston, W.Va., Winchester, Va,. and finally to Washington, D.C.
Every day they slept on the floor, worked for 5–7 hours and drove to the next site. They cleared brush from trail paths, cleaned a banquet hall, visited residents and did odd jobs at an assisted living facility, mulched and prepped art projects for the Arboretum in Kentucky's State Botanical Garden, cleaned and painted a community center, and worked with a youth group. They also cleaned up the Anacostia River near the Potomac River. After all that, they arrived in Washington D.C where they were able to sleep in beds.
The strenuous effort was similar to past years. The STLF organization has assisted staff in nursing homes, helped clean up a community devastated by a tornado, and assessed the the tree coverage in a natural park. Many days were spent doing back-breaking tasks such as digging fence post holes and hauling rocks.
Ashley Rollins and Morgan Swartz, who graduated in December 2013, joined Maranda as project leaders. Morgan said the impact on the people they help was the most important part of the trip. “When we’re done with our projects, we get to see the reactions of the people we’ve helped. We realize how grateful they are,” said Morgan. “So often, they end up in tears, thanking us for how much work we did, and saying how they couldn’t have done it with out us.” People underestimate what STLF can do. At almost every stop the local leaders are astounded as they watch 44 hard-working young people apply themselves to a single task.
“This year was a mystery bus tour so only a few people knew where the bus would stop or the types of service projects coming up,” said Ashley. "It made it really fun!"
STLF stays in places like churches, youth centers, and YMCA’s until they get to their “celebration city — this year it is Washington D.C. During the down time, in the evenings, the group gets to know each other better through reflection activities. STLF has 11 chapters in Minnesota, 32 chapters in all, and is in its 10th year. Two of the chapters joined UMD at the Anacostia River clean up site.
The group doesn't have trouble filling a motor coach. “We change the face of volunteering,” said Maranda. “We make it exciting.”
Written by Irene Hanson, March 2014.