March 3, 2008
UI students to 'Pay It Forward' on spring break service trip
Instead of basking on a beach over spring break, a group of University of Iowa students will perform community service projects across the United States as part of the Pay It Forward Tour March 13 to March 21.
Students on the nine-day trip, organized by the UI chapter of Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF), will travel by bus to volunteer projects in Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. The projects include working in gardens at a school and a nursing home, renovating an historical building and helping in a therapeutic recreation facility. At a final celebration stop in Washington, D.C., the UI group will join 10 buses from six college chapters from across the country to help clean a polluted river.
The UI group's bus is one of 21 from colleges participating in the Pay It Forward Tour over a four-week spring break season; approximately 730 participants will perform 14,700 hours of service, which is about equal to the work a single person could perform over seven years. Each bus takes a different route from its respective college to one of four celebration cities, with each group conducting service projects along the way.
Susan Suwalski, a senior from South Elgin, Ill., is leading the UI trip, which has 38 student participants to date. Suwalski decided to help organize the first UI chapter of STLF after she and a friend, Elizabeth Dilling, a UI junior from Des Moines, went on the Pay It Forward Tour last year with an Illinois State group. The tour visited six cities in the southern United States, where the volunteers worked on projects ranging from restoring oyster beds in Charleston, S.C. to cleaning up a street in Birmingham, Ala.
By helping communities in new settings, Suwalski said students gain a greater understanding of pressing social issues -- and how to address them -- and can apply what they've learned back home in their own communities. During the 2007 trip, for instance, she learned more about environmental and poverty and met ex-convicts working to improve their lives by starting businesses.
"Students come on the tour because they want to make a difference and change the world but later realize they are the one who have changed," Suwalski said. She added that the tour also promotes leadership, team-building and networking among students, even beyond graduation.
The trip is part of a new trend called "voluntourism," which combines volunteering and tourism. "Pay it forward" is a concept - inspired by and explored in a book and movie of the same name -- that one good deed can lead to another.
STLF and the Pay It Forward Tour were founded by four college freshmen in 2003. Since then the organization has expanded programming to high school and middle school Pay It Forward Tours, summer camps and college chapters across the upper Midwest. Its headquarters are in Minneapolis. To date, more than 1,500 students have collectively performed more than 25,000 hours of community service in more than 100 cities across the country.
A limited number of spots are available on the UI Pay It Forward Tour, which costs $450 per person. The registration deadline is March 7. For more information, contact Suwalski at email@example.com or UIowa@stlf.net. Or visit http://www.stlf.net/UIA.html.
SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.