FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Zaeda Knudson, a senior at Homestead High School, is one of three finalists for the Pay it Forward Scholarship from the University of Saint Francis. The full-tuition and fees scholarship is worth about $135,000 and is awarded to one student who exemplifies what it means to serve others.

Knudson is a high school leader with AMPd, the middle school ministry at The Chapel. She spends every Wednesday night and most Sunday mornings with the group of 8th grade girls.

“Wednesday nights it’s more of a relational time, a whole bunch of middle schoolers show up,” she said. “We play games, like big group games, we play stage games like with powerpoints. And then we always do a short 15 to 20 minute lesson, bible story, and more of a devotional.”

After that, Knudson and a group of adult leaders sit down with the younger girls for more personal time.

“We just meet in this room and we just have a list of questions and we either just go through list of questions or talk about life, and just get to know the girls and help them with their relationship with Christ,” she said.

Knudson credits some of her own involvement with AMPd to high school leaders she had when she was in middle school. Those leaders became mentors and friends, people Knudson could turn to with anything.

“I really loved being able to talk to them differently than I can to my older leaders, and so being able to have that relationship with them helped me make the decision of going into the middle school ministry.”

Now, as a high school leader herself, she wants to continue paying it forward to have a similar, meaningful impact on the middle schools girls she works with now.

“I feel like there’s a better connection, it’s easier for them to talk to me and people closer to their age,” she said.”

Not long ago, Knudson wasn’t sure she’d be able to give her time to AMPd because she was also part of her school’s show choir.

“That was my big like, this is what I’m gonna do through high school.”

But rehearsals, practices, and performances took up most of her free time and the practices were also on the nights AMPd met. Before her 4th year with show choir, she had a choice to make.

“I prayed about it and I took the time and I decided that the following year I wasn’t going to audition. I actually ended up not going for tryouts and I decided I wanted to volunteer with AMPd instead.”

It was a hard decision for the high school senior, but she has no regrets because she’s learned that she gets more joy doing for others, than doing for herself.

Being involved with AMPd has also given her the opportunity to serve outside the church as well. She’s volunteered with Community Harvest Food Bank, the Ten Point Coalition, and other local organizations.

“I love people. Every time I volunteer I do it for the people. I love having conversations with new people. I’ve always done it, I’m not giving up my  time to do it, I’m doing it because I like it.”

And she has a number of mission trips under her belt. She’s traveled to places like Alabama, and the Dominican Republic where she’s helped improve schools, and worked along side doctors running medical clinics.

“That was a really eye-opening experience for me,” she said.

Winning the full tuition scholarship would not only ease a financial burden, it would allow her the opportunity to continue serving, specifically with AMPd.

“I’d really like to stay with my group of girls, that’s my main focus. I want to stay with them through high school.”

WANE 15 is proud to partner with the University of Francis once again for the Pay it Forward Scholarship. A winner will be announced the week of December 6. One student will be awarded the full tuition scholarship and two students will be awarded half tuition scholarships.