Paying it Forward, or the story of how I survived a week on a bus with 41 other college students and 20 total hours of sleep.

“Remember, you can sleep when your DEAD”

A small note before we get to the good stuff:

To my Buscore: Each and every single one of you means more to me than you think. We've spend hundreds of hours planning this amazing experiences, and I could not think of ANY team that I would rather be spending it with. We've laughed together, cried together, stressed out about what now seems like silly little things together, lost sleep over said little things together, and touched the lives of 38 students together. You all are the Peanut Butter to my Jelly, and just because the tour is over does not mean you’re not a part of my life anymore. You four are some of the most kind, generous, flexible people I know, and I’m beyond happy to call you my family. I love you all to the moon and back, and even beyond that.

To my bus: Each and every single one of you has a place in my heart. I can’t think of a better bunch of people to hang out with over the last ten days. Each and every single second of every single day made all of the planning absolutely worth it. For every hour of us stressing about something, each second you were happy made up for it. Without you, there is no us, no tour, and no connections made. YOU are the reason I could wake up at 5:45 in the morning to make pancakes. YOU are the reason I have energy to be as positive as I could. YOU are the reason that every last moment of this trip was as amazing as it could be, and I could not think of anyone else that I would rather call my friends then all of you. If you ever want to talk, or even just see a friendly face, please do not hesitate to call.

To everyone that has supported me: I cannot begin to explain how much you mean to me. I haven’t been the best at telling people how important they are to me, but if I took away anything from this last tour, it’s how much the people in my life mean to me. I promise that I will do my best to tell each and every one of you how much you have helped me over the last 9 months. To my family, the sacrifices you have made for me are endless, and I thank you for each and every one of them. It took me a long time to realize that you do so much more then I take for granted for me, and you deserve nothing but boundless love from myself. For each dumb decision I have made in the last few years, you have backed me up with boundless support, and for that, I thank you. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be, and it’s all because of you.

To my friends at Nash: Without you, this wouldn't be a thing. You have my unending thanks, and I cant wait to work with you more in the future. A big Yeah Buddy to Danny for dealing with our sometimes unanswered emails (you da real mvp, buddy ;))

The Good Stuff

If you couldn't tell by our giggling, we’re STILL NOT HAVING FUN

For those of you who haven’t experienced a 5:45 AM alarm after going to bed at 3:30 AM, let me tell you, it’s almost as fun as getting punched in the gut. (or getting hit in the leg by a 2x4, in Sarah’s case) Everything is kind of a daze when you stand up, lights make you a little woozy, and forming sentences is, at best, a chore. I remember this morning in St. Albans, WV better than all the rest, because this was the day that made last 9 months of planning all worth it.

As I walked around with my guitar playing the same 4 chords (probably the only 4 chords I could play at that lovely hour), I greeted the 41 new friends with a very happy “Good Morning!” and a smile. They greeted me with looks of disbelief that they were up at this hour, mixed with a little “If you don’t shut up right now Ryan, I’m going to slap you.” Even though they maybe didn't want to see me at that hour, I defiantly wanted to see them. One-by-one everyone begrudgingly grabbed breakfast (Granola Bars, Mini-Bagels, Baked goodies provided by the church we were staying at, Oranges, and Juice) and loaded the bus.

At 7:30 AM on a Tuesday, 42 students (and one amazing bus driver) headed off to support the community of Charleston WV at the local Salvation Army chapter. What followed was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. First off, even after getting roughly 4 hours of sleep, a large handful of people were up and about, socializing, dancing, and singing. It’s hard enough to get college students up before 10:00, let alone after sleeping on a floor for only a short few hours.

It’s moments like this on a Pay It Forward tour that makes me excited about my future. For those of you who don’t know what a Pay It Forward tour is, allow me to indulge you.

Each dot on the map represents either a Service, or Housing site. Hoo man, thats a lot of sots.

The Quick and Dirty

Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF for short) is a non-profit organization based out of Minneapolis, MN, that focuses on developing leadership through action, relationships, and service. That’s a fancy way of saying they help students become better students by teaching them about leadership. STLF has chapters all across the midwest, and has donated thousands of hours of services to thousands of different places across the United States. Once a year, busses from the College chapters head off on a trip across united states, saying in churches, sleeping on floors, eating fast-food, and doing services projects. Combine one part exhausted college student, add a little leadership development, a few cups of not sleeping, and 40+ hours on a bus, and you’ve got yourself a PIF

As a buscore, it was our job to plan EVERYTHING from where we’re going to be sleeping, to were we’re going to be doing a service project, to finding food (because hell hath no fury like a hungry college student). Months were dedicated to planning, and after sacrificing time, money, and potential first dates (Sorry Mom, I know you want Grandkids one day!), we were ready.

It was 4:30 AM on a Friday the 13th…

If you’re anything like me, you don’t sleep the night before christmas. I can honest to god say that as a 21 year old adult, I’m still restless the night before christmas, and it’s not because of the presents that may or may not be under the tree, or the food that I’m about to consume, but it’s because of the excitement that the day is going to hold.

After a long night of finishing up planning, buying food, and doing some last minute touching up, the MSUM buscore departed for the last time before the trip. One last night of quiet before the storm. One last night of sleep before hopping on a bus and defiantly not sleeping.

The Buscore from left to right: Nik Newville, Shelby Blakeway, Rebecca Ryan, Grace Conway, and Myself.

I defiantly did not sleep the night before we left. My mind was racing a mile a minute, thinking of everything from what-ifs, to what I needed to grab in the morning, thoughts of who was about to meet, and thoughts of what the hell I was getting myself into. It was 4:30 AM on a Friday the 13th, and after a short two hours of sleep, the tour was upon us.

We met at Starbucks for one last taste of normality (It was probably the best damn cup of coffee I have ever had), and one last hug before we all went insane.

We could all feel the excitement building inside of us as we approached the bus stop, but little did we know exactly who we were going to get on the bus with. Sure, we knew names (after staring at a sheet with people’s contact information, cell phone numbers, Facebook creeping, we were starting to see peoples names in our sleep, Soooorry!) but we didn’t ACTUALLY know the people we were going to spend our spring break with. I was beyond excited to meet everyone, and I hoped they didn’t think I was too weird. (Sucks to be them)

Ooooohhh Cannniidddaaaa!

Hopping on a bus with 40 complete strangers is a rush. Bungie Jumping, and horse fights have nothing compared to explaining to a bus of college students that there are “no pooping on the bus”, or that we’re about to start a little game of Speed dating so that we can become friends a little faster

The looks of “What am I getting myself into” were abundant on the first day, but if you ask anyone on that trip if they would do it again, I believe that 95% would say absolutely (A proud moment for someone who’s dedicated basically

I don’t think there are enough words to describe how much each and every single person that got on the bus that morning in March mean to me, and I don’t think I had enough time to explain to explain why.

The inside jokes on the tour are endless, and I cant even begin to explain all of them.