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East Ridge students to 'Pay it Forward'

Monday, which is President's Day, will be a vacation day for all District 833 students, but for roughly 25 East Ridge High School students, the holiday will be the culmination of a five-day service trip.

The group will be embarking on a four-night service trip, Feb. 16 to Feb. 20, as part of the "Students Today Leaders Forever Pay it Forward Tour."

The "Pay it Forward Tour," which was started by a group of college students at the University of Minnesota, will see students travel to four cities where they will: carry out a service project in each of those communities visited; work with a variety of organizations; and visit one or two college campuses.

English teacher and trip adviser Sarah Lanners said the group isn't entirely sure what projects they will be performing, but they will most likely involve working at assisted living homes, working outdoors and possibly even at schools.

"There's a variety, which is good," she said. "It gets them to see the joy in just giving without really getting a monetary reward."

Students must pay a $300 fee to participate in the tour.

According to the "Students Today Leaders Forever" website, "through evening activities and reflection, the tour is an opportunity to build meaningful relationships and learn about issues affecting communities across the country and your own."

East Ridge will travel to Iowa City, Iowa, Sweet Springs, Mo., Kansas City, Mo., and St. Louis, Mo.

Student driven

This will mark the second "Pay it Forward Tour" that East Ridge has participated in.

The school participated in a tour last summer after senior Caitlin Cotton approached the school about offering the program.

Cotton's sister had participated in several "Pay It Forward" tours and had nothing but positive things to say about the experience.

"I've always been interested with it," she said. "I thought it would bring a lot of kids out of their shells and also be humbling for them."

Last year's trip - which saw students visit an assisted living facility, remove invasive species from a nature park and clean up a demolished school site - was such a great success that East Ridge decided to offer it again, Lanners said.

"It's a fun thing for them to do," she said, "and It's amazing how much students like to do volunteer work."

Cotton said it was actually the students who prompted another trip to be offered.

"Everyone got a lot out of the experience," she said. "It was a really good bonding experience for everyone, so they all wanted to sign up for another trip."

Lanners said if there is continued interest in the trips, East Ridge will look at making the "Pay it Forward Tour" an annual program at the school.

Cotton said she isn't the least bit disappointed about giving up her President's Day Holiday.

"I'd rather do this than go on a vacation," she said. "It feels a lot better to give back."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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