Wednesday, December 13, 2017

But Last, Coffee

by Makenna Cannon
Programs Assistant


Last month, I moved to a new city, into a new apartment, and, most importantly, started a new job at the Elks National Foundation. From taking the wrong bus to work one morning to volunteering at my first Standdown for Chicago veterans, it has been a month punctuated by stand-out experiences. That said, most of my November was spent learning; the ins and outs of the Most Valuable Student scholarship contest, what it means to be a member of the #ElksFamily and, of course, the correct bus route to work.

I started a month before the end of the Most Valuable Student scholarship contest deadline, the largest of the ENF scholarship programs. These past weeks have been a whirlwind of important deadlines for applicants and volunteers alike. The MVS contest relies on a national group of passionate, dedicated volunteers that judge applications at their local Lodges. I am constantly struck by how the volunteers, whether from Missouri or Alaska or Vermont, have the same reason for stepping up to judge: they care strongly about the future of each applicant. It is amazing to hear their desire to help and to make a difference in the lives of students in their communities. As one volunteer told me; “I know these kids; I know the kind of impact that a scholarship like this could have on their lives. It could mean everything to them.” This seemingly simple statement has already become the one I hold closest, and not a day has yet gone by that I have not thought about it.

Speaking with the current scholars and learning about their ongoing projects, studies and experiences has been equally enlightening and awe-inspiring. Even in my interview with the ENF, I was told about the #ElksFamily, which is the idea that Elks scholars are connected, not only with each other, but also with the ENF and Elks Lodges across the country. Now, working in the scholarships office, I get to see this concept in real life through scholars requesting to hold meet-ups at their universities with their fellow Elks scholars and sending thank-you notes with stories of their last volunteer experience at their local Lodge. It’s amazing.

I am very grateful to be a member of the #ElksFamily and to be working for an organization that makes such a tangible impact in the lives of students. My first month was wonderful thanks not only to the great experiences and stories, but to the warm welcome from the entire ENF staff as well. I truly can’t wait to keep learning about all the ENF programs and the wonderful work of scholars and Elks across the country. Maybe, I’ll start with learning how to work the coffee maker first.  

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Going through the Chairs

by Billy Donnelly
Youth Programs Associate



The process of becoming an Exalted Ruler at a Lodge is simple. Before you can become a leader, you first need to follow. Working your way up the ladder, or going through the chairs, is a perfect way for you to get hands-on experience with every aspect of Lodge business, thus allowing you to make informed decisions when elected as Exalted Ruler. It makes sense.

My experience with the Hoop Shoot has been the exact opposite of that. When I started as the Youth Programs Associate at the Elks National Foundation, I had never even seen a Hoop Shoot contest in person. My first contest was my own Lodge’s—Chicago Northshore, Ill., No. 1316—and it was an eye-opening experience.

Two years ago, I went to the Goethe Elementary gymnasium in Chicago ready to take notes and observe my first Hoop Shoot from the sidelines. I should have known better. Without skipping a dribble, my Lodge Secretary Paul Ronzani called me off the bench and told me that I was going to be a rebounder that morning. I was excited to be involved and felt like a part of the team. I had a blast that first year chasing down balls. It was only my first contest, and I already had the best seat in the house, right by the basket! Except it wasn’t really a seat, and by the end of the day I felt like I needed to ice my legs!

Last year when I arrived at my Lodge contest, I was ready to rebound. I made sure I got plenty of sleep the night before, and stretched my legs, after helping set up the gym. But before I made it to the basket, Paul called me over. This year, they needed a scorer. It felt like deja-vu. While I enjoyed rebounding the previous year, I was happy to get off my feet and keep score. It felt like a totally different Hoop Shoot. Rebounding is a physical presence. It is a repetitive motion. Keeping score requires so much more mental presence and focus. It was just as exhausting, but in a different way. By the end of the day my eyes were sore, and my hand was cramping, but it was worth it!

This year, I didn’t know what to expect. I showed up at Goethe with sharpened pencils and comfortable shoes—ready to work! There was only one position left on the court that I had yet to cover, and it was the position I feared the most. Line judge. Rebounders work as a team. Scorers work separately, but still as a team, and they get to sit. The line judge has no safety net. They are the leaders on the court, and in the spotlight. They make the call to determine if the shot counts, and in the Hoop Shoot, one shot often determines the winner. I have never envied the line judges at any level of competition.

Lo and behold, after we set up the gym, Paul called me over. I’ll give you one guess as to what I was going to be doing that day, line judge. I have had the opportunity to watch some of the program’s best line judges over the years, but actually stepping up to the line was a different story. I was so nervous for the 8 to 9-year-old contest, but I knew it needed to be done.

Despite the build-up, and years of fearing this responsibility, the scorers, rebounders, and I were able to form a rhythm almost immediately. It did not take long for me to realize that the line judge isn’t out there alone—they do have a safety net. The entire team of volunteers is there to support each other and work together. Once I understood that, I was able to really enjoy myself the rest of the day. Yes, I still went home tired, but that was because I had spent the morning doing something good.
I have enjoyed volunteering at every position during my first three Lodge contests. Each year I have learned something new, and gained a further appreciation for the Hoop Shoot volunteers. All across the country, volunteers work tirelessly, both physically and mentally, in order to give an opportunity to the youth in their community. It takes a lot of work, but their efforts benefit tens of thousands of kids every year. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how tired or sore they are. What matters is the difference they made.

Going through the chairs on the court has really opened my eyes to the sacrifices that Hoop Shoot volunteers make, and I will never take their hard work lightly. I plan on continuing to volunteer at my Lodge, so that I can continue to benefit and grow from my experiences. However, when it comes to the big leagues, the National Finals, I think I’ll let the Regional Directors handle the court. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Elks Stand Up to End Veteran Homelessness

by Taylor Odisho
Communications Assistant

Elks headquarters staff smile while distributing thermal clothing.
Hundreds of volunteers and sponsors bustled around the Illinois National Guard Northwest Armory in Chicago, preparing for the rush of homeless veterans. The line for the winter Standdown went well past the front doors, and since it was the middle of November, everyone rushed to get people through the doors and out of the cold.

A group of Elks Headquarter staff and Elks scholars lined up to help veterans collect winter boots, thermal clothing, toiletries, shelf-stable food and more.

Before veterans headed down the line, they were given a small, white envelope—thank-you notes written by local students. When some veterans opened their cards, they quickly disguised their misty eyes with a smile, and gently placed the letter in a place for safekeeping.

A veteran named Mike who helped organize the event shared his gratitude for the volunteers. “You’re going to change a lot of lives today and make people really happy,” he promised.

Sometimes, the veterans had us
guess their clothing size.
People like Marine veteran Simon H. Garcia, who served in the Vietnam War, who thanked every volunteer with a smile and well wishes for the holidays. He’d occasionally lean in to ask for an extra shirt or pair of socks, noting how much his wife needed it as well.

Events like the Standdown not only help veterans in need, but also their families. The people who miss the veterans while they’re away and work to help support them when they return. Garcia also grabbed a small, pink shirt. “My niece would like this.”

At the end of the line, it was time to pick out a new coat. Earlier, Garcia had shared his disdain for the Cubs when he saw a volunteer wearing a World Series shirt, so the White Sox jacket in the middle of one rack was like a magnet.

Garcia took the jacket right off the hanger, held it up and grinned. “This is the one!”

Many veterans shared stories
while collecting their items.
After veterans gathered their supplies, picked out new coats and even got free haircuts provided by a local barbershop, it was time for a hot lunch.

“I started attending them four years ago when I found out about it through the V.A.,” Garcia shared. “At the time, I wasn’t homeless, but if my brother hadn’t accepted me into his home, I would’ve been.”

Garcia choked up.

“I never got this kind of help before, and when I think about it, it makes me break down.”

At the end of the day, Mike, the organizer, was right. With gratitude in the eyes, hundreds of veterans thanked the volunteers for taking a few hours out of their day to help them prepare for winter. These volunteers were quick to point out that it was the least they could do to thank the vets for their service.


The Elks National Foundation ensures our veterans are never forgotten. In 2017-18, the ENF granted $1.5 million to serve veterans through the Elks National Veterans Service Commission, and pledged $1 million to help the commission end veteran homelessness. For more information about the Veterans Service Commission, visit elks.org/vets.  

Friday, October 13, 2017

Servant-Hearted Scholars


by Jenna Johnson
Elks Scholar Fellow

The CIP office and I hit the road in September for a week-long excursion through the Carolinas affectionately titled #ScholarCIPMegaTrip! From visiting college campuses that look like castles to eating biscuits the size of our faces at a local cafe, the Carolinas did not disappoint. From witnessing Elks members facilitate incredible Impact Grant Projects, to meeting Elks scholars actively serving their surrounding communities, the people we met made the trip beyond worthwhile.  

During the week, we had the opportunity to visit four Impact Grant Projects and four college campuses for Elks Scholar Meet-Ups. We also toured four service sites and the camp we are partnering with for the Spring Elks Scholar Service Trip to Asheville. 

Jocelyn, Sarah Jiudice, me and Chelsea.
Elks Scholar Meet-Ups are always a favorite opportunity of mine because we get to meet scholars in person. I’ve been to a few in the past, but this trip presented the unique opportunity to attend four meet-ups in four days. We enjoyed coffee with UNC scholars and talked over dinner with Duke scholars. We enjoyed a campus tour from the 2015 top Female MVS Winner at High Point University, Sarah Jiudice, and 2017 Legacy scholar, Barbara Behr from Clemson University joined us for a potluck at the Pendleton Elks Lodge 

What I enjoyed most about the meet-ups was that service continued to be a prevalent theme when scholars talked about their interests. Some are counselors at a camp for kids in need, while some participate in international aid trips or some are officers in service clubs. One scholar from Duke is applying for a Fulbright position to teach English overseas, and another spent his whole summer mentoring first generation college students. All of these Elks scholars are clearly using their education and passions for the good of others. 

Duke Meet Up!
Meeting inspiring scholars who are already prioritizing service in their daily lives made it even more exciting to visit the service sites and camp we will be working with for the Spring Service Trip. I am continually reminded that Elks Scholar Service Trips embody what Elks members and scholars are all about: giving back.  

For the Spring Service Trip, we are partnering with an organization committed to serving the people of Asheville in sustainable ways. We toured a community center, a restoration site for veterans, a safe house for women escaping domestic violence and a food bank that are all implementing powerful programming to solve systemic social issues. I am so excited to return to Asheville with 20 Elks scholars ready to learn, serve and connect in partnership with these organizations. 

Community service is a critical component of the Elks National Foundation scholarship applications. One hundred percent of Elks scholars engage in giving back to others while in high school. That’s an impressive statistic on paper, but it’s even more impressive to see in action. Our Carolina Elks family reminded us that service is a point of connection and inspiration for Elks members and scholars alike and we could not have enjoyed our time with them more! 

Overlooking the site of the Spring Scholar Service Trip.
Stay tuned for more information about the Spring Service Trip to Asheville March 11-17, 2018. The application will open November 1, 2017. If you want to follow along on our trip in March, you can find Elks scholars on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. 

If you’d like to learn more about Elks Scholar Service Trips, please click here. 
Read more about the #ScholarCIPMegaTrip in Colleen, Jocelyn, and Chelsea's blog posts. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Album Review: Road Tripping through the Carolinas ft. Jenna & the CIPsters


by Chelsea Dennis
Programs Assistant 


Clean air, towering mountains, and as Jocelyn nicely put, “great foliage” characterizes my experience road tripping with Jenna and the CIPsters (Do you like our band name? We should totally create an album cover). Although our prized possession is Lake Michigan, we Chicago folks don’t often get the chance to experience nature in our concrete universe. It was quite a joy to experience beautiful scenery on our #ScholarCIPMegaTrip through the Carolinas. In addition to experiencing breathtaking views from the back seat (I’ll admit I like to take too many naps to ever be the co-pilot), Elks scholars Madison and Brandon, so graciously volunteered to give us tours of UNC and Duke’s gorgeous arboretums. I won’t say which one I thought was best (I don’t want to start a war) but both were beautiful in their own right.

Jocelyn and Colleen listen to the Campus Whistler.
When we first arrived at UNC, we couldn’t pinpoint this mysterious whistling sound that seemed to follow us around campus. The mystery was soon solved when we encountered the campus whistler, a man who had come to the United States eight years ago and whistles while enjoying his daily walk through the garden. Madison, a senior Elks scholar, shared with us that the campus whistler rarely speaks to people so we were honored he took the time to share his story (our Elks shirts probably made it obvious we were out-of-towners).

In addition to visiting beautiful campuses, we got a chance to meet local Elks and hear about their CIP grant projects. At Hickory, N.C. Lodge No. 1654, we learned how involved the Lodge is in veteran initiatives. Actually, as Jenna will tell you in our final installment to this series, we learned during our visit to Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry (ABCCM), our partner for the upcoming Elks Scholar Service Trip, that the Lodge frequently partners with ABCCM! It was great to hear directly from the community about the positive impact Hickory is having, especially when it comes to best meeting the needs of today’s veterans.

Grant Coordinator Nora helping a student pick out boots.
Our next stop was Morganton, N.C., Lodge No. 1852, where we were greeted by an enthusiastic packing team. We jumped into the assembly line and helped pack weekend meals for children experiencing food insecurity. We even sat in on a Lodge meeting (a first for me) and chowed down on delicious baked spaghetti. 

On Wednesday, we hopped back in the car and traveled to Asheville, N.C., Lodge No. 608 where we assisted students in finding school clothing. Here’s a picture below that captures Grant Coordinator Nora and a student selecting the perfect pair of cowboy boots. 

Dreams do come true!
Before heading back to the airport, we rounded out our trip with a visit to Pendleton, S.C., Lodge No. 2861. While we conversed over a great potluck spread, we listened to members and parents discuss the merits of On a Mission, the Lodge’s summer camp for middle school students funded with an Impact Grant. One parent, who now serves as a volunteer for the program, illustrated how CIP grant projects can spring others into action. At the end of our gathering, I got to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine—riding (well sitting, but close enough) in a fire truck!  

Overall the trip was fantastic. Hearing first-hand about the impact Lodges make in the community is richer in detail than any Final Report Form can provide. I was so appreciative of how each Lodge welcomed us with open arms and really exemplified the phrase #ElksFamily. 

I hope you enjoyed this album review. Remember this series comes in fours so make sure to stay tuned to read more from lead singer Jenna, of the band Jenna and the CIPsters! In case you missed it, check out Colleen and Jocelyn's blog posts. 

P.S.—Here's a video of the Impact Grant in action at the Morganton, N.C. Lodge No. 1852.