By Sean Barron
While on a nine-day, 1,500-mile bus trip from Fargo, N.D., to Washington, D.C., a group of students is leaving a trail of good deeds.
“It’s our way of showing gratitude to the city,” said Nick Gonderinger, a North Dakota State University senior and social-services major, referring to a service project he and his group performed Monday at OH WOW! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology, 11 W. Federal St.
Gonderinger and about 30 other NDSU students, all of whom are members of a nonprofit organization called Students Today Leaders Forever, spent part of Monday morning washing and disinfecting tables, chairs and several exhibits at the facility.
STLF is a nondenominational action organization that enhances participants’ leadership abilities via community-service efforts, philanthropy and forming bonds of trust with other like-minded students. To fulfill that mission, members take part in nine-day cross-country service trips called Pay it Forward Tours.
Monday’s visit to Youngstown was one of several community-service stops the students will have made by the time they reach the nation’s capital, where they are to meet with other STLF members to perform a joint service project.
After arriving in Youngstown on Sunday, the group stayed overnight at Zion Lutheran Church, 3300 Canfield Road. Several praised the Rev. Duane A. Jesse, pastor, for accommodating them.
Gonderinger, leader of the NDSU group, was sweeping floors and performing other cleaning projects at OH WOW! to prepare the center for the influx of youngsters and adults.
Another rewarding aspect of the experience was recruiting willing participants, he continued.
“One of the great things about being on a volunteer trip is when you ask for volunteers, everybody raises their hands,” Gonderinger said.
Also forgoing the traditional spring-break vacation of beaches and parties were NDSU sophomores Ashley Jacobson, Amanda Christianson, Brittani Hovland and Kimberly Branson, who spent time cleaning and disinfecting thin wooden building blocks.
Hovland, a broadcast-journalism major, said she appreciates Youngstown’s size and offerings after having grown up in Wimbledon, N.D., with a population of 200.
“I had a T-shirt that said, ‘I played [tennis] in Wimbledon,’” she joked.
All four were grateful for the opportunity to take part in the service project, adding that they appreciate the hospitality of those they have met in the Mahoning Valley.
They also were excited to experience unusually high temperatures on a day in which Fargo had a reading of 3 degrees.
“This is like Daytona Beach, [Fla.,] to us. It’s 50 degrees outside, and I am fine with this weather,” Hovland added.
Malorie Midtaune, an NDSU freshman who’s a public-relations and journalism major, enjoyed disinfecting a variety of small toys. She said the STLF experience has exceeded her expectations.
“A lot of us are a small family,” said Midtaune, who lives in Hendricks, Minn., near the South Dakota border. “It’s nice to see people from different states reach out to us.”
Also happy to be a recipient of their work was Suzanne Barbati, the center’s executive director, who anticipated 45,000 people will visit OH WOW! in its second year.
The volunteer effort goes a long way toward revealing the students’ character, said Kristen Gallagher, manager of partnerships with HandsOn Volunteer Network of the Valley, which connected the STLF group with the children’s center.
“Seeing the students give up their spring break to do something for others is incredible in itself,” Gallagher said. “They chose service over a party.”