Monday, August 21, 2017

The Fellow’s Fourth and First: Year in Review


by Jenna Johnson
Elks Scholar Fellow 

Channeling my inner artist as I place tiles in a mosaic mural on the 2016 Chicago Trip.
With the close of the Summer Elks Scholar Service Trip in June came the close of my fourth trip and first year working at the Foundation. As I look back on everything the Foundation has done for me as a scholar and staff member, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. 

In the past year, I have been invested in, challenged and supported in ways I could never have anticipated. I have had the opportunity to grow in professional development, leadership and service. My definition of Elks family has widened and my passion for service has deepened. 

Before accepting the position, I had never been to Chicago, had never worked in a scholarship office and my exposure to the Elks had been limited due to being the only Elks scholar at my school. But the ENF quickly changed everything for me. Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of spending a week with 56 Elks scholars who have participated in Service Trips and I’ve traveled to eight states for service trips or scholar events. I’ve participated in Elks Scholar Service Days, Scholar Meet-Ups, Elks National Convention, Leadership Weekend and Hoop Shoot National Finals. Through all of it, my admiration for the Foundation has only grown. I have continually been impressed and humbled by the vision and action of the people I work with and the scholars we work to support. 

As the Elks Scholar Fellow, my primary role is to plan and lead three Elks Scholar Service Trips each year. I could not love my job more, and I want to take a moment to share one takeaway from each trip with you!

Chicago 2016: Our week centered on serving veterans experiencing or transitioning out of homelessness. This was my first exposure to the complexity of veteran homelessness. After participating in the Chicago Standdown, an event during which dozens of organizations come together to provide medical services, housing assistance, clothes and more to hundreds of homeless veterans, I realized partnership is essential to ending any issue. No one falls into homelessness alone and no one transitions out alone. 

Interacting with our neighbors during the Dallas Trip
Dallas 2017: We served with CitySquare, an organization that fights poverty through service by managing a thrift store, food pantry and housing assistance programs. They refer to all individuals they serve as “neighbors”. They explained that “we are all rich and poor, just in different ways”. The scholars and I had lots of conversations about how to approach people we serve as neighbors, and remember that we all have gifts to offer and struggles to overcome.

My brother, Joel, an MVS Scholar, attended the New Orleans Trip.
New Orleans 2017: We served with Camp Restore, an organization that was created in response to Hurricane Katrina. Everywhere we went we witnessed the lasting effects of loss. We served in a food pantry and many of the clients were dependent upon the service because they are still dealing with the financial effects of losing a home due to the hurricane. However, more importantly, we witnessed the resiliency of people focused on moving forward, rather than looking back.

Chicago 2017: In returning to Chicago, we served in a food pantry and homeless shelter—services you would expect to be essential. However, we also served with Humble Design, an organization that furnishes homes for veterans and civilians transitioning off the streets. They opened my eyes to the fact that a multifaceted issue requires a holistic solution. People need food and clothing, but they also need a sense of stability and ownership. By furnishing a home to reflect personal taste, you communicate that not only does physical health matter, but so does a person’s dignity.

On every service trip, I most look forward to getting to know the participants as people. I want to hear their stories and affirm that each person is an integral part of our week. I want them to feel valued. As a group, we then seek to do the same for the neighbors we serve. The Foundation does the same for more than 11,000 scholars and alumni daily. Every event, email and opportunity is designed to communicate that the Foundation believes in Elks scholars and will support them financially and as a family. I can’t imagine better people to work with or a better cause to work for than that. 

I’m excited for year two of learning, serving and connecting with my Elks family! 

Speaking of #ElksFamily, here's one of my favorite films from the Dallas Service Trip: 



If you’d like to learn more about Elks Scholar Service Trips, please click here.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Taking Care of the #ElksFamily

Kyle Bort has been an EEG recipient since 2014. He was appointed to serve on the 2017-18 Elks National Foundation Scholar Advisory Board. Below, Kyle shares a reflection regarding his connection to the Elks National Foundation and his time at the Elks National Convention in Reno, Nevada. If you know a student who could benefit from an Emergency Educational Grant, please email scholarship@elks.org to request a copy of the 2017-18 application.


I had a great time on the Winter Service Trip. 
In many ways, my experience with the Elks National Foundation has really come full circle. When my dad served in the Elks, I was never really aware of the ENF. After his passing in 2009, I was really unsure about my future. The loss of a parent is a very impactful experience. It changes you in so many ways. During this time, I started to lose the connection with my local Lodge.

When I transferred to Missouri State, I began to explore grant opportunities. After all, the cost of a four-year university was much more expensive than my local community college. This is where my journey with the ENF would begin. While exploring options, I heard about the Emergency Educational Grant program made possible by the ENF. This program offers grants of up to $4,000 to children of deceased or permanently disabled Elks members. In my first year, I was extremely lucky to receive this grant. My involvement with the ENF would continue to grow, through participation in Scholar Service Trips. And, I was recently appointed to serve on the Elks National Foundation Scholar Advisory Board.


I loved connecting with my #ElksFamily in Reno.
When I went to the 2017 Elks National Convention, I was unsure of what to expect. While the weekend was amazing, there was one person missing. The same person that originally made my grant possible. The one that cheered at all my baseball games, even though I was never really that good (true statement). The same one that taught me our ability to positively impact the people around us is really what matters. The one that was looking down on the Convention with a smile––my dad.

As we ended the board meets board dinner, a dinner where the Scholar Advisory Board meets with the Elks National Foundation Board of Trustees, we all shared a little bit about our experience. In this moment, I did not just see the Board. It really dawned on me, in that moment, just how much the Foundation was family to me. This same organization that had helped me when I was unsure about what my plans were. When I did not even know what the ENF was, they took a chance on me. 


In 2017-18, the Elks National Foundation allocated $323,890 to fund the Emergency Educational Grant program for children of deceased or totally disabled Elks. If you know any Elks children who may be eligible to receive an Emergency Educational Grant, encourage them to visit enf.elks.org/eeg for information, including eligibility and deadlines

Monday, July 31, 2017

What is Communication?

by Christine Robinson
Senior Associate, Communications

Rehearsal for Opening Ceremonies at Convention.
I work in the Communications Department at the Elks National Foundation, and I get this question a lot—“so what exactly do you do—what is communication?”

Well to me, communication is story telling. We’re sharing the stories of real events. It’s inspirational. The facts, the names, the impact, the awards, the hard work, the volunteerism, the efforts—everything is real. It’s inspiration!

And the story we’re sharing? How you—a powerful network of Elks—are building stronger communities with our funds.

How are we sharing the story?

Through our website, news articles, brochures, letters, social media, infographics, Heartbeat, Midday, and my favorite—films.

You, a powerful network of volunteers, bring the stories to life.

And this year, the films that we created, are so moving and so powerful, that I have to grab tissues every time I watch them. 

This year, we shared a total of nine films during the 2017 Elks National Convention in Reno. Nine films that tell the story of the impact that you are making in your communities.


You can watch the films here: 




A 501(c)(3) public charity, the Elks National Foundation helps Elks build stronger communities through programs that support youth, serve veterans and meet needs in areas where Elks live and work. For more information on the ENF, visit elks.org/enf.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

At Home in the Biggest Little City

by Branden Pearson
Most Valuable Student Scholar
At-Large Scholar Advisory Board Representative

Horseback riding with my #ElksFamily.
After attending the Leadership Weekend in April and visiting my local Lodge––shortly afterwards, I decided to apply for the Elks Scholar Advisory Board. I was fortunate to be selected as an At-Large Representative. One of my first responsibilities was to attend the Elks National Convention in Reno.

Jumping for joy with my fellow SAB members.
When I arrived in Reno, I had the opportunity to reconnect with my friends from the Leadership Weekend and meet the other members of the Scholar Advisory Board. After everyone arrived and we were finished with introductions, we headed to Lake Tahoe to go horseback riding. It was my first time horseback riding, and I had an absolute blast! We ended our horseback ride with a good old-fashioned BBQ and s’mores around the campfire. By the end of the night, I was already so close with all the other scholars and was so excited for the next few days.

We started the next morning with our Elks Scholar Advisory Board meeting. We spent some time discussing our plans for the coming year and the Elks 150th Anniversary in San Antonio next year. We had a very productive meeting, and I know some excellent ideas will be coming from the SAB this year! Meet other members of the SAB here

It was an honor to meet the Patterson family.
After we finished our meeting, we headed over to the ENF booth at the Convention center to meet Elks from across the nation. Personally, I had the honor of meeting the Patterson family, who selected me as the recipient of the Jeffrey E. Patterson Memorial Scholarship. It was humbling when Jody, Jeffrey’s wife, put her Lodge pin on my lanyard. It reminded me that Elks are a family.

I also had the opportunity to visit the various booths including the Hoop Shoot booth and the Florida Elks State Association booth. It was great connecting with the Elks members and learning about all the activities Elks support across the nation.
Gator chomping with the Smiths.

In the evening, the Elks scholars attended the ENF Donor Event “Fly Me to the Lex.” The donor event was Frank Sinatra themed, which I absolutely loved. One of my favorite moments of the night was meeting Past National President Mike Smith and his wife Sandra from Plant City, Fla. The Smiths are proud members of the Gator Nation. Of course, as a Gator myself, we had to get a classic Gator Chomp picture.


The next day we picked back up with the SAB meeting to finish our discussions. In the afternoon, all the scholars had an opportunity to watch a live recording of Midday with the ENF hosted by Jim O'Kelley. Several scholars, including myself, even had the opportunity to go on-air to discuss how we got involved with the Elks! You can listen here.

I was on Midday
After Midday with the ENF, we headed over to the Convention Opening Ceremonies. During Opening Ceremonies, myself and four of the other Top MVS scholars who attended the Leadership Weekend spoke about our experience. Then, we had the distinct pleasure of being on stage as the Top Female and Male MVS scholars, Zoi Urban and Colin Norick, addressed thousands of Elks. I was truly inspired by their stories, and I am so glad to be able to call them both friends.

To top off the weekend, the Scholar Advisory Board had an opportunity to dine with the Elks National Foundation Board of Trustees. During dinner, we had some excellent discussions about the Elks history and what the future holds. However, like every good story, this dinner brought with it the end of our time in Reno.
 

Alongside my fellow Elks scholars and the thousands of Elks members, I truly felt at home in the Biggest Little City in the World. I am proud to be a member of the #ElksFamily! I am already looking forward to #Elks150 in San Antonio!


Speaking at the ENF Board of Trustees dinner.
For 2017-18, the Elks National Foundation allocated $2.89 million to fund the Most Valuable Student scholarship program, which includes 500 four-year ranging from $4,000 to $50,000. For more information about the Most Valuable Student scholarship program, including eligibility and deadlines, visit enf.elks.org/MVS.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Same City, New Perspective


by Jyotsna Bitra
Most Valuable Student Scholar


My name is Jyotsna Bitra and I attend the University of Illinois at Chicago. I am studying Economics on the pre-medicine track. I love to play tennis, bake, write, teach, and listen to other’s stories. Growing up in Illinois and attending college in Chicago, I did not think participating in service in Chicago would be anything special. I’m used to the city and I was familiar with the area. But I was so glad to be mistaken.
 
Serving with my fellow scholars.
The first day of the Elks Scholar Service Trip, we served at a shelter known as Breakthrough Urban Ministries. We prepared and shared a meal with those experiencing homelessness. I knew there were many individuals in this situation throughout Chicago, and I often pass many of them on the way to the grocery store or mall. But I’ve never stopped to talk to them, other than muttering a hello. At Breakthrough, I heard some of their stories and witnessed their interactions. They seemed like a family, an unorthodox one perhaps, but a family nonetheless. They care for each other and when one client stopped coming because he found an apartment, the others felt a mixture of hope and loss.

The next day we visited the Jesse Brown V.A., which is right across the street from the building I conduct research in during the school year. Yet, I never knew it existed. In fact, I didn’t know what a V.A. was until this trip. But the pop-up food pantry we set up and served in was one of my favorite opportunities during this trip. Seeing the massive amounts of food and knowing it was all going to lessen stress for families and individuals put me in awe. I served near the end of the line and I realized the veterans thanked me more than I was able to thank them. And yet, my work of emptying boxes and organizing food didn’t begin to compare to the service they have provided our country. I learned that even though we each have our own place in society, we have to help each other in order to keep moving forward. Even though my volunteer work seems minor, the veterans experiencing homelessness have great appreciation and gratitude, and it is truly rewarding to witness.

The next day we visited Humble Design, which was by far one of my favorite organizations because turning a “house into a home” seems simple, but does wonders for families. We learned that coming home to a place of complete comfort and knowing it is yours can completely change a person’s perspective on life. A home is not simply a symbol of hope, but longevity. I am so thankful to the Elks for introducing me to the Humble Design warehouse in Chicago.

Finally, the last two days we helped with the Chicago Standdown. We sorted and folded more clothes than I ever have in my life. But all of this was put to good use when we helped veterans pick out clothing to take home. I saw their faces light up when they found a coat that fit them perfectly. The experience was a mixture of satisfaction, tiredness, smiles and endless thank-yous. When we left on Friday, I knew I wanted to return and serve at the Winter Standdown in November.
We had a great time exploring Chicago! 

The Service Trip was incredibly moving and impactful, but the other scholars I served with were equally important and touching. I met some amazing people from all around the country. I know we will all go our own way, but I am very happy to have met them and come together to learn in valuable ways.

I could go on and on about how much I love and miss the scholars I came to know on the trip, but I hope my fellow scholars will experience the connections themselves. Elks Scholar Service Trips are about more than meeting scholars or serving in a city; they’re about a combination of those two experiences that sparks new ideas and feelings to help us create a better home for all.

We know Elks scholars are dedicated to service. Now, they have the opportunity to come together in service with their Elks scholar peers. The Elks National Foundation offers three Elks Scholar Service Trips per year for up to 20 Elks scholars each. These trips provide scholars the opportunity to learn about societal issues, serve those in need in the name of the Elks, and connect with their Elks family from across the country. For more information about the trips, visit enf.elks.org/scholarservicetrips.