Instead of working on their tans or vegging on the couch playing video games, 28 teens from Blaine High School spent the first half of their spring break playing cards with nursing home residents, picking up garbage and learning firsthand the benefits of giving.

The Blaine students, along with a group from White Bear Lake, participated in a high school version of the Pay It Forward tour, organized by Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF), a Minneapolis service-learning group that has put together tours for college students for the past six years and for high school students for the past three.

The students, who left Friday and were to return home Tuesday, had planned to make service stops in the randomly chosen cities of Plattville, Wis., Richland, Iowa, and Greenfield, Ill. Their itinerary included meeting up with the White Bear Lake group in suburban St. Louis and visit a group called Ride On St. Louis, which uses equine therapy to help disabled youth.

Blaine senior Lucas Wax heard about the program from his older brother and sister, who had participated in the college tour through the University of Minnesota.

Last fall, Lucas approached Greg Tehven, STLF co-executive director, to say he wanted a tour from his high school.

Tehven told him the steps he needed to take and the deadlines he must meet, and left the meeting thinking he'd heard the last of it.

Lucas created a core organizing team with three of his buddies, marketed the trip, personally invited students to attend, reassured parents, badgered participants to pay up, secured a $2,000 grant from the student council and convinced Emily Widen, the school's National Honor Society adviser, to scrap her spring break plans to come with them.

"Lucas is the most organized high school student I've ever met," Tehven said, laughing. "He did every step of that process."

For his part, Lucas said he wants the tour to become part of the Blaine High School experience.

"I'm hoping this becomes kind of a Blaine High School tradition that continues year after year," he said. "And I'm hoping the effects are a lot broader than the tour itself. It's a lot more than doing a service project, it's about having people experience that type of service with others, getting that community atmosphere going. The whole concept of pay it forward is random acts of kindness, helping people you don't really know just for the purpose of helping them. That feeling you get out of it from being generous to others is that's all you really need."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409