During a late-night dorm room conversation in 2003, four University freshmen were discussing society and how it was in need of young leaders committed to action and innovative solutions for social change. From this small beginning and through a lot of youthful energy and optimism, Students Today, Leaders Forever (STLF) was born.
"Our communities, our nation, and our world are in dire need of a generation of social activists, passionate about positive change and willing to take action for the common good," says STLF co-founder Irene Fernando, BSB '07.
STLF's vision is to energize generations of servant leaders and it has been accomplishing this through its main program called the Pay it Forward Tour. This initiative is a dynamic, multi-day, multi-city program focused on service, education, and reflection. On the tour, students travel by coach bus, volunteer in a new city each day, learn about social issues, build positive relationships, and take part in reflection and leadership activities each night. Each day's service project focuses on a different social issue, and each night's reflection and leadership activities are facilitated by student leaders.
As the success of these tours grew, so did the profile of STLF. The group was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2005 and chapters opened on multiple college campuses across the Midwest. Today, STLF has a presence in 12 states and now incorporates groups of high school and middle school students. High school students now make up 52 percent of those involved in STLF. Both high school and middle school students have their own Pay it Forward Tours as well. To date, STLF has sent our 240 tours, which equates to 9,500 people serving 115,000 hours of service to the community.
Since 2006, STLF has offered a six-day High School Leadership Camp. These camps take place on college campuses and provide high school students with skills in leadership, organizing, and teamwork. A Gap Camp, now coming up on its third year, is for recent high school graduates and is designed to prepare them for STLF leadership opportunities at the college level.
"STLF's greatest impact is through the lives of each person that is part of our program and each student that takes on a core leadership role," Fernando says. "These young people are energetic, civically responsible, and socially aware. They have been so changed that they live differently, and are yearning to contribute meaningfully to the world."