NEW ULM - When Jaclyn Britz was a freshman at New Ulm High School, an announcement came over the intercome asking for students to do a service project in Chicago and the cost would be $100.
"I was like Chicago? For $100? Yes," Britz said. "I enjoy service projects to begin with. I thought I would just ask my friend [Olivia Blake] because she wants to live in Chicago. I thought, 'perfect, I will ask her.'"
What happened next was a life-changing.
Members of the Students Today Leaders Forever Pay It Forward Tour work at a pond along the freeway in St.?Louis as part of one of their service projects.
Ethan Hildebrandt, Paul Tuura, Isiah Butler, Estaban Zeyala and Jessica Busch in the background pull weeds at a pond on the side of a freeway in St. Louis.
The STLF group stopped at Inner City Misson, a domestic abuse shelter and made supper for them. From left John Surber, Oliva Blake, Jessica Busch, Laura Birle.
"You know you have experiences that are eye-openers, but a few days back into your life, you forget about it and the lessons you learned," Britz said. "But I never forgot about anything from any of the trips. It sounds cliche to say 'it's a life-changer' but it is. I don't know how I would be if I hadn't gone on the trip."
Britz and Blake enjoyed that trip to Chicago so much that first year, they have gone on service trips the next two years, including St. Louis earlier this summer.
The trips are apart of a Pay It Forward Tour through Students Today Leaders Forever and the area students have a portion of their trip sponsored through Cottonwood River Integration Collaborative.
According to the STLF web site, its mission is to reveal leadership through service relationships and action. The main program STLF uses to carry out its mission is the Pay It Forward Tour, which it describes as a multi-city, multi-day community service road trip.
Along with Britz and Blake, five students from Sleepy Eye and another 10 from St. James took the PIF Tour to St. Louis. A separate group of students from Madelia met up with them in St. Louis.
That first year, Britz, Blake and about eight other kids from New Ulm High School took the service trip to Chicago. Joining them were a few students from Sleepy Eye and nearly two dozen from St. James.
"The trip kind of forces you to make friends," Britz said. "We didn't even really know the people from our school. Obviously we didn't know the people from the other towns. You just go for it making friends. No one is shy. That's another reason I wanted to go. I wasn't necessarily a shy kid but I kind of kept to myself. Why would I do this on this trip? It's only five days, so I just put myself out there."
The last two years that Britz and Blake have gone on the trip, they have been the only students from NUHS and they are a little disappointed by that.
"We tell people about it and encourage them to come," Britz said. "Its an awesome experience and we recommend it for everybody."
This year's trip left Sleepy Eye June 16 and the group made its way to Onalaska, Wis., where they did their first service project as they cleaned up outside and cleaned and fixed up some plastic playhouses.
They next hit Bloomington, Ill. where they had a service project at the Boys and Girls Club.
"That was everybody's favorite," Britz said. "They were all really fun. We got to play with them outside, we played tag and we ate lunch with them. It was just a lot of fun."
They went on a tour of Illinois State before they headed to Springfield, Ill., where they made a trip to a domestic violence shelter, the same shelter they went to the year before.
Last year when they went to the shelter, they cleaned up outside, cleaned out the garage and rearranged the pantry.
"That took like five girls," she said of cleaning the pantry. "There were food bags and cans everywhere. There were bugs on the floor, spider webs, nothing was organized. When they were done they had everything stacked up nice, there were no spider webs. When we came back this year, it was exactly as we had left it. All we had to do was sort out some extra food."
She enjoyed going back to see how the things they did the year before were still in use.
"They ask for everybody's name so that they can send a thank-you letter back," Britz said.
They gave Britz a cross pendant necklace and asked that, 'every time you wear this, think of us and pray for us.'
"We were only there for a few hours," she said. "We didn't think they would remember us, but we sure remember them."
They ended their trip in St. Louis. They had a service project where they pulled weeds by a pond along a highway.
When they finished their service project, they met up with a group from Madelia. They ate lunch with them and played some games and took a tour of the city.
Later that evening, they met up with the other PIF Tour groups and discussed the projects that they did and reflected on their trip. The leaders selected representatives from each bus to explain to the rest of the groups what they did on their tour and discuss their experience.
"It's always cool hearing what other people did," Britz said. "You think of how you react when you do your own, then you hear other peoples stories about what they did and think, 'man I wish I could have done that one.'"
She has thoroughly enjoyed each STLF trip she has gone on and is looking forward to her fourth and final trip next year. She has even convinced her younger sister, Jenna, to go on the trip next year.
"I just want to recommend for anybody that would slightly consider it," Britz said. "It changed how I thought socially. Help whoever you can in the smallest ways because they appreciate it way more than you think."
She is still trying to convince others to join her on the trip next summer too.
"Going to places like that opens your eyes to the bad side of the world you know exists but you think is a fantasy out there and you don't know it's real," she said. "It makes you see that it's not just happening in obscure corners of the world but everywhere, even in the midwest."
Britz is going to be a senior at New Ulm High School this fall. She is undecided about what she is going to study after high school, but she knows one this for certain.
"Where ever I go, I want them to have an STLF chapter. If they don't don't have one, I want to start one. That's a sure thing. I would like to chaperone one too."