Sights set on service
East Ridge High School sophomore Dan Lee said he felt empowered to keep going after returning from a four-day service project trip last February.
“It changed my perspective on the world and how I see people and communities,” he said, “and after the tour, I had a drive to go change the world.”
Lee was instrumental in starting We Are Change, a community service club at East Ridge.
“It’s just a passion that I have,” he said.
Over the past year, We Are Change has participated in a number of projects including planting, outdoor cleanups, removal of evasive species, trick-or-treating for the local food shelf and bell ringing for the Salvation Army.
Currently, the club has between 40 or 50 members.
“Students were so revitalized and empowered and eager to make change when they got back,” said Sarah Lanners, East Ridge English teacher. “The club is about motivating each other to continue the spirit of service.”
Lee, along with many of the We Are Change members, will be hitting the road later this week to help others outside of Minnesota.
Two busloads of East Ridge students will be leaving Feb. 13, and returning Feb. 17, for the fourth-annual Pay It Forward Tour, coordinated by the Students Today, Leaders Forever organization.
The buses will traverse through Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.
Immediately after returning from last year’s trip, Lanners said she knew there was going to be a lot of interest for this year.
Last year’s bus was at capacity with 40 students.
“Students get to spend time away from home, which is exciting for them,” Lanners said. “Students get to truly impact people’s lives while experiencing the joy of service.”
Because of the anticipated interest, East Ridge decided to take two buses on this year’s tour.
Currently, East Ridge has one bus entirely full and its second bus halfway full.
Registration for the tour costs $310, which includes accommodations and meals.
During the tour, which is named for the 2000 film with Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt about a boy who makes it his mission to do good deeds for others, East Ridge students will travel to four cities where they will participate in a number of service projects.
The East Ridge “Lime” bus will be going to Wisconsin cities Eau Claire, Green Bay, Milwaukee and will end in Chicago.
The East Ridge “Lemon” bus will be going to Rochester, Minn., Portage, Wis., Marengo, Ill., and Chicago.
Lanners said it isn’t known what projects the students will be participating in, but last year’s projects included work at an animal shelter, senior centers, a citywide cleanup and a painting project.
“There’s a lot of variety of work,” Lanners said. “The kids are willing to step in and do whatever.”
Lanners said she has seen students take a lot away from their experiences with the Pay It Forward Tour, specifically leadership.
“The mission of the organization is to reveal leadership in students,” she said, “and every student truly is a leader.
Lee said he is excited to participate in this year’s tour.
“I had such a great time last year that I want to do it all over again,” he said. “It’s going to be more fun, more people, more lives being changed.
“I’m just excited about helping more people.”
Lanners said she hopes to be able to continue offering the Pay It Forward Tour to students every year.
“It really empowers them and makes them confident that they can make a difference just by being young,” she said. “It doesn’t always have to be a big project.”
More information on Students Today, Leaders Forever and the 2014 Pay It Forward Tour can be found at www.stlf.net.