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.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Forever Family

by Samantha Johnson
Most Valuable Student Scholar


My name is Samantha and I am from Annawan, Illinois. I was a 2017 Top 20 Most Valuable Student Finalist and I will be starting school at Loyola University Chicago in the fall. I plan to major in Biology on a pre-health track.

Sam Politano (Left) and I (Right).
Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Chicago with 15 of my fellow Elks scholars. When I first arrived, I was a little nervous. I had never met any of these people and I wasn't sure what it was going to be like to live with strangers for the next week. 

However, they weren't strangers for long. By the time we were ready for bed that night, we had become friends who had more in common than we could've imagined. We all fit together wonderfully, and throughout the week the relationships continued to build off of the foundations that were established right away. We learned from each other's experiences and we shared our thoughts and feelings. We had meaningful conversations and we also joked around and had sing-a-longs on the bus. We shared and we listened. We laughed and we cried. We didn't hesitate to hug or hold hands or high five. We supported each other and encouraged each other. In a matter of about 538,000 seconds, we became a family.

Equally as rewarding as the meaningful conversations and meeting my new family was the service I got to participate in alongside my fellow scholars. We served at various Chicago organizations and my eyes were opened to a side of Chicago I had been fairly blind to. 


I've been to Chicago on multiple occasions, but I've never taken the time to put myself in parts of the city that are not as privileged. Being able to serve people who are struggling was both humbling and eye opening. It erased the prejudices I had formed in my mind regarding people experiencing homelessness and I became acutely aware of just how big of a problem homelessness is.

Perhaps one of the most powerful experiences for me was eating lunch with one of the women I met at Breakthrough Ministries. She was very open and warm. She shared stories about her life and talked of the struggles she experienced due to a disability. It was a very humbling experience, and it made me even more aware of the individuality of people experiencing homelessness.
Serving with my #ElksFamily.

From the new friendships formed to the service performed, my heart was full and I was changed. I became even more inspired to stay involved with the Elks National Foundation and to meet more members of my Elks family. I came home with new friends and a reinvigorated desire to serve the people around me. 

It's amazing what can happen in 538,000 seconds, and it's hard to imagine without partaking in the experience. I would highly recommend participating in an Elks Scholar Service Trip and connecting with your fellow Elks scholars. I know I will definitely be participating in another Service Trip and I look forward to meeting more Elks scholars on my campus and in the surrounding community. There truly is no bond like that shared by members of the #ElksFamily.


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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Ready for Reno

by Olivia Tuck
Development Assistant
While the Elks National Foundation is hoping to reunite with many of you in Reno, the upcoming Elks National Convention is my very first and I’ll be meeting most of you for the first time. I am thrilled and honored to have been asked to attend the Convention and cannot wait to head to Reno next month. I found out that I will be going to Convention in January and have been counting down the days since then! The very day after we finished up the Hoop Shoot National Finals in late April, Kate and I switched gears in the Development office to focus on our Convention-related projects.
A majority of our time has been devoted to planning the ENF Events just before the Convention actually kicks off—the Scholar Advisory Board outing and the ENF donor event.
Here I am holding ENF ribbons.

One of my most entertaining tasks at the ENF has been looking for a performer for the ENF event. Although I don’t want to give away too many secrets, I can tell you that my hunt for performer led to a few Frank Sinatra impersonators demonstrating their talents by singing to me over the phone. I know the hard work going into this event will lead to a fantastic evening to honor our major donors.

One of the best parts about the Hoop Shoot was finally being able to speak with volunteers and donors face-to-face. Through these interactions, I learned so much more about the Elks and what is important to our incredible supporters than I had just by speaking with them over the phone or via email. I am excited to experience the same sort of interactions at the ENF booth, but on an even larger scale and specifically with volunteers that I speak to all the time. I’m particularly looking forward to being able to personally thank volunteers and donors for all their hard work and dedication to the Foundation. Not only will I be able to thank our donors and volunteers with a handshake and a smile, I will get to recognize them on the spot by handing out the ENF ribbons to those who qualify! The ribbons, which highlight program involvement and giving levels, are a great way to show fellow Elks at Convention that they are a proud supporter of the ENF, and a small token of our appreciation.
 
Here are my co-workers handing out ENF ribbons.
The ENF presentations at Convention will also be helpful as a venue through which we can receive feedback from our volunteers. Kate and I are particularly eager for the ENF Fundraising Chairs: Annual Giving presentation. Kate will discuss our revamped Foundation Fellowship and how Chairs at all levels can encourage donors to get involved with this updated giving program.
If you’ll be at Convention, make sure to stop by the ENF booth to say hi to me, and reunite with the rest of our staff! Be sure to check out the full schedule of the ENF’s happenings in Reno 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, June 1, 2017

My First Spring with the ENF


by Katlyn Geldert
Donor Services Assistant


Happy June from Donor Services! I cannot believe that it is already June. Spring seemed to zoom by, and what a few months it was. With the close of the fiscal year, the MVS Leadership Weekend, and the Hoop Shoot National Finals all happening within weeks of one another, the excitement was infectious among the Elks National Foundation staff. We all pulled together when it was needed. It created a fantastic sense of comradery. I loved getting a glimpse into what the other departments in the ENF have been working on.

With the fiscal year ending March 31, everyone in the Donor Services Department was extremely busy. At the beginning of April, we finished up processing the generous donations from Elks across the country to officially close the 2016-17 Fiscal Year. During the last few weeks of March we had a significant surge in the number of online remittances being sent in, my fellow Donor Services Assistant, Hannah, and I were hard at work to keep up with processing those.

Not only were Elks sending in their donations in the mail, they were calling to make credit card donations over the phone. Some of the best parts of my day are getting to chat with Elks on the phone. I love getting to hear all about their Lodges and the amazing work they are doing in their communities. The whole of Elkdom should be very proud as we closed the fiscal year with a record breaking per-member-giving total of $8.151!


While I loved taking part in my first close, it was the Hoop Shoot National Finals that was my absolute favorite part of Spring!


I got to greet families at O’Hare International Airport as they arrived in Chicago for the big weekend. Everyone’s energy level was high even after hours of traveling. The faces of those competing lit up when they saw the sign welcoming them as finalists. All their hard work and grit had paid off. They were finally in Chicago!


The families and friends of the finalists were beaming with pride as many sported some very colorful and elaborate Elk Hoop Shoot jackets. The Hoop Shoot National Finals is a perfect example of the support across generations and the sense of community that the Elks cultivates. It makes me feel so lucky to be working at the ENF!


My first Spring at the Elks National Foundation was such a blast and a bit of a blur if I am honest. I can’t wait for next year!


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.