Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Gratitude on the Mind

by Development Assistant
Valerie Moore

Thanksgiving is later this week, and like many of you I have gratitude on the mind. I am starting week number seven as the new Development Assistant for the Elks National Foundation. I feel grateful to have chosen to work in the nonprofit sector as this is one small way to improve my corner of the world. The ENF believes in building stronger communities which matches with my personal values so well.

The desire to work for a nonprofit took me to Chicago in 2005 to enroll in a master’s degree program geared towards making the performing arts end of the sector better. As luck would have it, my courses taught me how to make all ends better. It taught me how to create functional organizations that also happen to be values-driven.

I started working in development in 2007 with the intention to stay. The recession had other plans, and I spent some time in the special events end of fundraising, planning six galas, and creating other platforms for stewarding donors.

Life has a funny way of coming full circle. While temping for the Community Investments Program, I learned that there was an open position in development, and jumped at the opportunity to return to working with donors. Planning fundraising events may have led to being well fed, but left me feeling starved to get to know those people that fund what we do.

I feel grateful to have the opportunity to work with donors once again and especially for the Elks National Foundation. I have enjoyed hearing people’s stories and the pride that they take in their Lodge’s work.

Please continue to share your successes, challenges, changes of address, and any other donation questions.

How can I help? Please call 773/755-4762.

Or email

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Green Light Don't Mean Stop

by Jim O'Kelley, Director
Elks National Foundation

Wondering where you can buy a green light to show your support for veterans? My guess is you can find one at WalMart...which is the primary sponsor of the Green Light a Vet project.

Cue Soul Asylum.

"How on Earth did I get so jaded?"

I don't mean to sound cynical, especially at this time of year. There's always a lot of extra attention for vets around Veterans Day and the holidays. That's not a bad thing. And the folks at WalMart, well, they need to make a living, too, right? (Okay, that was snarky.)

But seriously, as a member and employee of an organization for which every day is Veterans Day, I welcome the extra attention. Frankly, we can use the help.

And if a green light makes a vet feel appreciated or helwips to ease the often difficult transition to civilian life, then those are good things. Plus, a lot of younger vets are uncomfortable with ostentatious displays of appreciation. By turning on a green light, you can show your gratitude without getting in their face.

But here's the thing: Just as when you're driving, a green light don't mean stop. In other words, let the green light be the beginning, not the end, of your support for veterans.

That's especially important now, because the Elks have entered into a major agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to stamp out homelessness among the veteran population. The Foundation has backed up the Elks' commitment with a pledge of $4 million over the next four years.

It's going to take more than money to beat this scourge, though. It's going to take a lot of hard work by us and other community partners, working with the Veterans Administration. Homelessness among veterans isn't a government problem. It's an American problem, and we have to work together to solve it.

You can learn more about our commitment at The Elks National Veterans Service Commission soon will announce program details and concrete ways that you can help.

So, turn on your green light. But then go.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Stand Down, For What?

Jocelyn Moya
ENF Programs Assistant
Stand down for veterans, that’s what! For those of you who are unfamiliar, a stand down is an event where community organizations come together for one or several days to provide supplies and services to homeless veterans. Stand downs vary from place to place but often include items such as clothing, food, basic necessities, and services or referrals to services such as medical treatment, housing, or job training. You can find a list of some of the stand downs happening across the country here, On Tuesday, I—alongside my Elks Family—was lucky enough to take part in one of these great events.
I had never participated in a stand down before so I had no idea what to expect. I was honestly imagining a much smaller event with about a 1/3 of the number of people. When we walked in at 11:00 a.m. the Humboldt Park Armory was packed full of veterans waiting to receive supplies and services. I spoke to several veterans who told me they had been waiting in line since 8:00 a.m. and didn’t reach the table that I was at until 12:30 p.m. Though they had to wait in line for an extended period of time, they were rewarded with bags full of much needed hygiene supplies, army grade duffel bags, sleeping bags, heating pads, and many more items necessary for enduring homelessness. The luckiest ones even received coats and boots. In a city where, according to the Volunteers of America Illinois, approximately 1,000 veterans are homeless on any night—nearly 700 homeless veterans received supplies and a warm meal.

While it definitely felt rewarding to be a part of something that benefited so many people, the best part was seeing first-hand that these individuals were receiving the services and items they needed. But, the most impressive part was how they were able to carry all of the supplies out—most had two bags full of items! It must be all of that military training they received.

After my experiences today, I encourage you all to take this Veterans Remembrance Month to think about how you can benefit your local community of veterans not just on one day or one month but throughout the year. Honoring veterans is a good cause, but serving them can be even greater. Your Lodge’s community may not have 1,000 homeless veterans, but there are likely veterans in need dealing with issues such as unemployment, being a military family, physical and mental health concerns, or lack of educational support. Need ideas on how you can help local veterans or how you can use Lodge Grants to benefit veterans? Visit for more information!

Jocelyn Moya
ENF Programs Assistant

The Elks National Foundation allocated $9.77 million this year to fund the Community Investments Program. Lodges meet local needs in Elks communities through Beacon, Gratitude, Promise and Impact Grants. These grants offer Lodges opportunities to serve the community in ways that will raise the Lodge’s profile, energize the membership, encourage former members to return to the fold, and gain the notice of people who want to be part of an organization that’s doing great things. To learn more about the Community Investments Program, please visit  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Family from Coast to Coast

by Sarah Jiudice
2015 Top Most Valuable Student Scholarship winner
One thing about being an Elks scholar that I always emphasize is the tremendous family that I have obtained. I felt it when the New York State Scholarship Chair contacted me and matched my excitement in advancing to another round. I felt it when I met 19 other scholars who shared my values during the MVS Leadership Weekend last April in Chicago. I felt it when I looked at the audience at the Elks National Convention last July in Indianapolis. I felt it when I checked my inbox and saw that I still get messages from fellow scholars and representatives. Most recently, I felt it when I stepped into the Van Nuys-Reseda, Calif., Lodge No. 2790 in October, after moving across the country to attend UCLA.

My aunt and I walked into the Lodge and were immediately greeted with smiles. I was able to meet even more members of this giant family that I recently became a part of, each with their own stories and motives to be a part of the Elks. I heard about everything from how their kids were doing in school to how difficult it is sometimes to be a teacher. What may seem like small conversation actually meant so much more to me. These people that I had just encountered for the first time or met very briefly at the National Convention treated me like an old friend that they were catching up with. I thanked God that I am so lucky to have this family behind me.

After chatting for a while, I was given a tour of the Lodge, which ended up being so much larger than I had initially gathered. I learned some amazing tidbits like how the Lodge was the set of quite a few scenes from various movies and music videos and how it was supposedly haunted (which the Exalted Ruler, Mike Gaglio, swears upon). I was even lucky enough to be able to meet some of the Junior Elks, or “Antlers,” that were helping serve us that night.

Following a brief (but extremely delicious) meal, Michele Werbeck, the Scholarship Chair and Past Exalted Ruler, got up and spoke briefly about the origins of the Elks Lodge and the purpose of the Elks National Foundation. She then invited me up to share a little about my experience and explain to some of the high schoolers in attendance the process and stages of applying for the Most Valuable Student Scholarship. When I was finished, Michele presented me with a small gift that honestly meant the world to me. She said it was to express their gratitude for me coming out to their Lodge, but what she didn’t know is how extremely grateful I was to be invited and welcomed in such a hospitable manner.

My experience at the Van Nuys-Reseda Lodge was one that reinforces everything I have been saying about my Elks family since the Leadership Weekend this past April. This supportive community that I was blessed to become a part of is something I cherish every single day. I am so immensely appreciative and proud to be an Elks scholar and a member of the Elks family.

Sarah Jiudice
2015 Top Most Valuable Student Scholarship winner

In 2015-16, the Elks National Foundation appropriated $4.16 million to fund the ENF scholarship program, which provides college scholarships, ensuring a bright future for our nation’s youth. As important parts of the Elks family, Elks scholars have many social and service opportunities to connect with the Elks and each other. For more information about our scholarship programs, and for ways Lodges can get involved with Elks scholars, visit

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Elks Scholar Fellow October Countdown

by Maryann Slater
Elks Scholar Fellow

- 59 Scholars, 5 Meet-Ups, 4 States and 1 board of Inspirational Quotes

My Inspiration Board
I had the opportunity to connect with 59 Elks scholars, attend 5 Meet-Ups, and travel to 4 different states in October as the Elks Scholar Fellow. From a site visit to Oakland, California in preparation for the Winter 2016 Elks Scholar Service Trip to the National Scholarship Providers Association Conference (NSPA) in Charleston, South Carolina, my travels provided me with wonderful opportunities to learn so much that I will be able to implement on the Elks Scholar Service Trips.

I have an inspiration board at my desk (it’s actually a sheet of paper that I add post-its to), but I like to write down quotes that help me to remember the person I’m trying to become and why I’m doing what I’m doing each day. Many of them come from Simon Sinek’s daily “Notes to Inspire” emails that you can sign up for here. Sinek is a speaker and author famous for his TedTalk and book both titled “Start With Why.” Check out some of my favorite Sinek quotes below, and what they meant to me this past month.

“Following a plan is good for progress, but opportunity exists off the plan.”
If you know me, you know that I love to make lists and plan every detail that I can. But from accidentally biking part of a marathon in San Francisco on my quest to see the Golden Gate Bridge, to attending a session at the NSPA conference about Critical Race Theory that changed my perspective on the college student experience and how we can better serve our scholars, I’ve learned time and time again that some of the best moments and opportunities happen when you find comfort in ambiguity, take a leap of faith, and “seize the day” as my favorite Newsies song suggests.

A Collage of photos from the 5 Elks Scholar Meet-Ups I attended in October Top L: UC Berkeley, Top R: Stanford, Bottom L: University of Chicago, Middle Bottom: Northwestern, Bottom R: Notre Dame

“Great leaders don’t try to be perfect. Great leaders try to be themselves. And that’s what makes them great.”
I was able to attend Elks Scholar Meet-Ups at Berkeley, Stanford, Northwestern, the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame in October. My favorite thing about connecting with our scholars is that I get to hear about their goals, studies, and campus involvement. From Olivia at Notre Dame who wants to bring clean water to people all over the world, to Samuel at Berkeley who’s teaching a class this semester on Fantasy Football, our Elks scholars are leading others on their campuses by following their passions and just “being themselves.” It’s great to see that with the support of their Elks Family, they can focus less on paying for school and more on turning their passion into action.

ENF Staff at the 2015 NSPA Conference
“Don’t work on something, work towards something.” There are so many ways that I’m reminded of why we’re doing what we’re doing at the Elks National Foundation. From our ENF Film Fest highlighting the work and experiences of those who put our programs into action all across the country, to our Midday Podcast that highlights the latest happenings at the ENF, I get to hear about what our office is doing from all angles on a regular basis. And the best part is – you can, too!

Right now, I’m working towards the Winter 2016 and Spring 2016 Elks Scholar Service Trips. I’m so excited to serve alongside our scholars as they gain new perspectives about many issues prevalent within American society. While I may work on many tasks to plan the trips on a daily basis, I am so glad that I get to work towards equipping the next generation of Elks scholars to learn how to best serve those experiencing food insecurity and homelessness so that they can go back to their campuses and impact their communities all over the United States.

Maryann Slater
Elks Scholar Fellow

In 2015-16, the Elks National Foundation appropriated $4.16 million to fund the ENF scholarship program, which provides college scholarships, ensuring a bright future for our nation’s youth. As important parts of the Elks family, Elks scholars have many social and service opportunities to connect with the Elks and each other. For more information about our scholarship programs, and for ways Lodges can get involved with Elks scholars, visit

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Nitty-Gritty on 
My Sister's Footsteps

by Jim O'Kelley, Director
Elks National Foundation

And with the final episode of the six-part #TrueGritTuesdays series, we come full circle. Sort of. We started with the younger sibling of a former champion, and we end the same way, although with a different pair of siblings.

Alex Robertson is walking in his sister's footsteps, and her shoes are huge. Taylor won it all not once but twice--in 2012 and 2013. In those two years, her final two years of eligibility, she hit 49 out of 50 regulation shots and all 10 of her shoot-off attempts. She was perfect in 2012 and won the Getty Powell Award that year as the best-shooting girl overall. (The other featured sibling champion, Kiera Holcer, edged her out for Getty Powell honors in 2013 with an infamous perfect score of her own.)

It takes a family to raise a free throw shooter. Here, Alex gets pointers from his mother, Terri, during a practice session at the Springfield Boys and Girls Club.

The entire series has been about grit and how the Hoop Shoot program develops it. As a participant who recently aged out of the program, Taylor is uniquely qualified--at least among the people we interviewed; compare with Phil Abrams, who aged out during the Reagan presidency--to reflect on the lessons of the Hoop Shoot. So, what did she learn?

"I've learned that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to go every day to practice so you can succeed," Taylor says, "or at least have a good chance to do well in the competition."

That last part there is so important. Practice and hard work won't guarantee success, but they sure will give you a better shot. Understanding that distinction can be the difference between a person with grit and a person who quits.

In her very next sentence, Taylor takes the lesson she learned and applies it to everything else. Literally.

"It helps you in school," she says, "where you have to work hard to get good grades, and, pretty much, in all of life."

And there you have it, from no less an authority than a two-time national champion.

Her parents also had a lot to say. This year's trip was their fourth to Nationals--Taylor finished second in 2010, foretelling those two championships--so they're more than qualified to weigh in.

"You learn so much from the Elks contest," says mom Terri. "You learn how to set goals and work hard."

"He learns what dedication and hard work can do for you when he sees himself improving and doing things he didn't know he could do," says dad Dave of Alex.

When they see themselves getting better, explains Terri, they connect their improvement to their hard work and that makes it all worth it. "That transfers to everything that the kids try to do."

I don't want to spoil the ending, but Taylor is still playing basketball. As a freshman last year, she cracked the starting lineup for the varsity squad. But I want be clear here: Participation in the Hoop Shoot may help kids become better basketball players, or at least better free throw shooters, but that isn't the point.

Recently I was talking with an Elk who volunteers with another one of our programs about the importance of outcomes, and he asked how many Hoop Shooters have gone on to the NBA. That's not the point. That's not what we're doing here.

Take the point from Terri Robertson.

"We appreciate everything the Elks have done for us," she says. "They have given our kids some wonderful memories and helped them develop into better, better people."

We're not developing better basketball players. We're developing strong, mentally tough kids who can face life's challenges head on and win.

We're developing better people.

In case you haven't seen it yet, here's My Sister's Footsteps.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Nitty-Gritty on 
All in the Elks Family

by Jim O'Kelley, Director
Elks National Foundation

At the outset of this series, I mentioned that we didn't have time to talk with all 72 families during the busy finals weekend. Instead, we chose families that either had an interesting angle, such as the Holcers or the Abramses, or could provide insight on one of the volunteers we were following for the feature film.

The latter was the case with McKinley Fitzgerald and her mom, Jennifer. McKinley provided us with a good sound bite about Lynn Rutherford-Snow, Virginia's state director, that we used in the film.

McKinley (center) takes aim during the party at the Hall of Fame.

But we repurposed their interviews for the #TrueGritTuesdays series, because they both spoke to the role we as Elks play in developing grit (beyond the obvious contribution of the Hoop Shoot as a means).

Grit is the courage and resolve to keep going in the face of hardship. You can't force that. You can't force people to be tenacious. You can't force them to persevere. That comes from within.

We don't teach grit, they develop it.

The participants have to learn our program's lessons for themselves. But as volunteers working with kids through the Hoop Shoot program, there are things we can do to help them become grittier.

  1. We can help them set goals.
  2. We can make the experience fun.
  3. We can be supportive.
  4. We can provide encouragement.
Do those four things, and the rest will take care of itself.

In her first year in the program, McKinley reached the Virginia state contest. It was quite a run, but defeat there crushed her spirit. She was ready to quit. Lynn Rutherford-Snow wouldn't let her. The state director who had treated her like family, who had made her feel special, urged her to keep trying.

And she did.

She kept setting goals. She kept working hard. She kept having fun. Because she knew that Lynn and all the Virginia Elks were behind her, the way families are.

And all the while, without even really knowing it, McKinley was becoming grittier.

In case you haven't seen it yet, here's All in the Elks Family.