Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Nitty-Gritty on 
Father of the Man

by Jim O'Kelley, Director
Elks National Foundation

“The child is father of the man.”

I’m not sure where I first saw that written--whether on a t-shirt or a billboard or tagged on a wall--but it was recent and it caught my eye. “The child is father of the man.” Sounds like a riddle, and I love a good one.

"I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you," Christopher Abrams might have said to his father had they been in Lord of the Rings instead of the Hoop Shoot Finals.

After running across it a few more times, I finally turned to Google. Turns out the line comes from “The Rainbow,” a poem penned by William Wordsworth in 1802.

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

It means that our experiences as children--the lessons we learn and the habits we form--shape the adults we become.

“The child is father of the man.”

When I sat down to watch and arrange the footage from my interview with Phil and Christopher Abrams, the line kept popping through my head. I chose Father of the Man for the title because the film starts with Phil talking about his dad. Then the title appears, so we naturally assume that the story will be about Phil’s father.

But we quickly realize that it’s really about Phil and the person the Hoop Shoot helped him become.

You see, he’s a former participant. We learn that as a 9-year-old in his first year of competition, he made it all the way to Regionals before meeting his match. Phil describes his defeat there as an eye-opener.

“You’re good,” he says, “but there’s somebody out there who has worked harder and is better.”

When it comes to developing grit, losing is part of the process. Yet, too often in youth sports today--at least at the beginning levels--we protect our kids from defeat. Whether through participation awards ("Everyone's a winner!") or by not keeping score ("No one's a winner!"), we shelter them from failure. But as adults, one thing we know is that failure is everywhere. Gritty people know how to deal with it. And they learn to deal with it by dealing with it.

General Patton said, “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.”

He had grit. So does Phil Abrams.

He didn’t give up when he lost at Regionals as a first-time participant back in 1982. He kept trying and made it back four years later. But he lost again. Twenty-nine years later, his son Christopher finally carried him over the hump.

“You guys have provided a great vehicle for these kids to participate in something that teaches them a work ethic, a drive, success, failure, how to cope with both,” Phil says. “How you react to failure and success is very important in all things. It really teaches that.”

Can there be a better endorsement for our program and the lessons it teaches than a former participant who encourages his kids to compete?

“The child is father of the man.”

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s Father of the Man.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Nitty-Gritty on 
Ice Cream and the Rocky Road Back

by Jim O'Kelley, Director
Elks National Foundation

There simply wasn’t enough time to sit down with every family during the Hoop Shoot finals. We had to pick families who either filled a need--they could provide insight on one of the volunteers we were following in the feature film--or had an angle.

No stranger to the Hoop Shoot, Korrie Holcer knows that luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. Still, a lucky penny can't hurt any.

The Holcers were a natural choice for a sit-down because they had not one but two angles. First, you have Korrie following in big sister Kiera’s footsteps. Korrie was competing in her first finals--in the girls 8- to 9-year-old division--but two years earlier, she was in Springfield as a spectator. And watched Kiera win that same division.

Second, you have the opportunity to check in on the ice cream shop. The film starts with a clip of Kiera speaking to the delegates at the 2013 Elks National Convention in Reno. Kiera didn’t just win a championship that year. As the best overall female shooter, she also won the Getty Powell Award and an appearance at the Convention.

In the clip, she tells the story that inspired the name of the film. In a nutshell, her father promised to buy her an ice cream shop if she sank all 25 shots at the finals. She did. Here's Kiera’s full speech:

That story also leads us into the grit series. And I should say here that we didn’t set out to film a series of stories about grit. That happened organically. When contestants and families talk about the benefits of participation in the Hoop Shoot, the grit thing just happens (which lends credence to everything we’re saying).

Goal-setting is a key to developing grit. The idea is to get kids to set long-term goals and then work hard to achieve them.

Now, think about Sisyphus and the bolder he had to push up a hill for all eternity. That’s one approach. Not giving up when you know you’re doomed to fail certainly takes grit. But with kids, developing grit works so much better when they’re working hard at something they love.

That’s why the Hoop Shoot is so effective. Basketball is fun. Kids like it. And free throws, in particular, offer a level playing field. You don’t have to be the biggest, strongest or fastest athlete on the floor to excel. You just have to be willing to put in the time.

And now we weave Korrie back into the story. In the film, her mom describes her as a gym rat. She asks to go to the gym two or three times a day. She’s working hard at something she loves, and she wants to be there. Doing well in the contest is her goal, not her parents’ goal or anyone else’s. It’s hers, and that’s why she goes after it so hard.

In the film, their father tells us that he each time he raised the ice cream bar, Kiera would meet the challenge.

Yes, they’re doing something they love. Yes, they’re only 8 to 13 years old. But the lesson is not lost on them, and it translates off the court: Work hard and the rewards will come.

Bribes can’t hurt. Once again, though, we caution you: When you help your kids set goals, they may achieve them.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s Ice Cream and the Rocky Road Back.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Meet the Staff: Wendi Dwyer—By Way of South Sudan

by Wendi Dwyer, Communications Manager
Elks National Foundation
I have always loved the Lincoln Park area of Chicago. As luck would have it, I was able to move here in June. I have four children. My youngest daughter is 15 years old. She was accepted into the Chicago Academy of the Arts in May. Her three older brothers were already out of the house—youngest in college, the middle one in grad school and the oldest is gainfully employed. With only two of us in a big house, it was time to downsize. We jumped at the opportunity to move to the city.

It has been a glorious summer exploring our new neighborhood. One evening while walking my dog, Franklin, we passed the impressive Elks Veterans Memorial. The magnificence of the building made me wonder about all of the people who worked together to create such a beautiful tribute to service. I had no idea I would one day be working there.

My previous role was as the executive director of Lost Boys Rebuilding South Sudan, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to raising the literacy rate in the least literate country in the world. Currently, only one out of the three men, and one out of 10 women can read and write in South Sudan.

In order to reach all of society in the least expensive and quickest way, I helped develop a program called Literacy at the Well. We trained South Sudanese teachers to teach women and girls how to read and write right at their local well. They come each day to get safe water for their families and participate in reading and writing whole group instruction. They bring the lessons they learn home to share with their families.

The Literacy at the Well program has proven to be very effective. In February, a colleague and I traveled to Paris and met with the education director for UNESCO/ South Sudan. We began the process of creating a partnership between our program and UNESCO.

As you have probably gathered, I traveled often to access help for our learners in South Sudan. Over the past few years, I have been to NYC four times, DC three times, San Diego and Paris twice, South Sudan, Kenya, Birmingham (the one in England), Toronto, and Hamburg.

I love the work I was doing, but not what the travel was doing to my family and me. When I began to look for a new job, my first priority was to continue to use my skills to improve lives. The second was to have a good work/life balance with a short commute.

You can imagine how surprised I was when I visited the Elks website to learn more about this great building and I saw the job posting for a communications manager. I applied right away. When I came in for the interview, I felt the team atmosphere and heard the happy tone of the work environment. I knew this would be a great place to invest my time and talents.

I have been in my new role as the ENF communications manager for three weeks and can confidently report that this was the right decision.

After meeting with the head of each ENF department over the past few weeks, I now know what we do and why we do it. I love that our role at ENF is to help equip Elks to do what they love to do, serve their communities.

It is a privilege to be a small part of all the collective good that makes a huge difference in the world through the service of the Elks. Thank you for making me a part of the ENF family!

by Wendi Dwyer, Communications Manager

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Caught up in the Moment 
or Grit Happens

by Jim O'Kelley, Director
Elks National Foundation

That moment when you realize that thing you've been doing is actually a thing.

A couple of weeks ago, I was telling Meghan about our latest Hoop Shoot video (watch for it on September 29 as the first installment in our #TrueGritTuesdays series!)--which features two sisters from Missouri and their parents and is about setting goals and working hard to achieve them--and she said:

"You guys ought to talk more about grit. It's a hot topic right now. Everyone wants to fund programs that help kids develop grit."

One of the things I've learned in four years of marriage is that Meghan has an uncanny knack for being right. Turns out while we were immersed in running the Hoop Shoot, its outcomes had become the Holy Grail of youth programming.

The grit movement in education started a few years ago when psychologist Angela Duckworth studied people in various challenging situations, including National Spelling Bee participants, rookie teachers in tough neighborhoods, and West Point cadets. Her research suggested that grit was a more accurate predictor of success than social intelligence, good looks, physical health, or IQ. Duckworth explains the premise in this short Ted Talk.

Grit is one of those words that sort of means what it means. It's the will to persevere in the face of long odds. Educators have turned it into an acronym: G for guts or growth, R for resilience, I for integrity, and T for tenacity. But to folks like you and me, GRIT is just grit.

The important thing is that this characteristic that researchers and experts have concluded is so important for our children, this buzzword that everyone is talking about, this grit--our Hoop Shoot program develops it and reinforces it.

Don't just take my word for it. Listen to the parents and contestants in this video.

They're talking about grit.

Remember the story from a couple of years ago about the boy with one arm who made it to the regional finals? Or the girl with leukemia who made it to state? They had grit.

Every year, participants in our program develop grit by setting goals, working hard to achieve them, failing and bouncing back to try again and work even harder the next year.

October is ENF Month, and this year, we'll be celebrating grit through our #TrueGritTuesdays series. Once per week for six straight weeks, we'll air a short new interview with a Hoop Shoot family that speaks to or around this concept of grit. The first is called Ice Cream and the Rocky Road Back. It will air on Facebook and our YouTube channel on September 29.

… Okay. September isn't October. When you have six films, a clever name, and only four Tuesdays, you have to improvise.

And improvising takes grit.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Summer 2015 Trip Recap

by Maryann Slater
Elks Scholar Fellow
One of my favorite pictures of
the U.P scenery - it looks like a painting!

Learn. Serve. Connect.

We’ve returned from the Summer 2015 Elks Scholar Service Trip with many memories of the beautiful Upper Peninsula, new constructions skills, and bonds that will last long beyond the trip. For an inside look into the trip, check out this short film!
The Elks Scholar Service Trips initiative exists to allow Elks scholars the opportunity to learn about societal issues, serve those in need in the name of the Elks, and connect with their Elks family. I’d like to share how I saw these three pillars come to life on the trip.


As the Elks Scholar Fellow, it is my responsibility to ensure that Elks scholars learn about the societal issues that we will be serving on the trip so that they can understand the impact that their work has within society. I am passionate about equipping scholars with the ability to apply what they are doing on the trip to their lives back at home or on campus. I was prepared to help the scholars learn on the trip, but I wound up learning so much from them in the process. I know that our Elks scholars are accomplished, diverse, and inspiring students attending colleges and universities all across the country, but I got to experience what can happen when we get a group of them together for a whole week to do service. I learned that our scholars could accomplish more than our Habitat for Humanity Site Supervisor ever believed possible because of their dedication to serving wholeheartedly and employing some good, old-fashioned teamwork to get their tasks done.
I saw them learn that even though they were each from different universities, grew up in different states, and had different personalities, they were able to forge relationships and realize that they had more in common than they originally thought.
I also learned that Bratwursts are delicious when I tried my first one at our dinner at the Manistique Elks Lodge.


 Anne and I show off our #Ladypower on the work site.
For many of us on the trip, myself included, it was our first experience serving on a Habitat for Humanity site. When we arrived to the worksite, I looked at the house and all of the repairs that needed to happen and thought “How can I make a difference? The only construction knowledge that I have is how to use a power drill.” However, once we each took up a task and were able to become skilled at that one particular job, we started to see big improvements happen in the house as a result of each of our small efforts. I was reminded how easy it can be to look at a problem and become overwhelmed with how to “fix” it, or to become bogged down by how to “help” the most people that you can. But if you’re able to focus on serving the person or cause in front of you in this particular moment, you can have a huge impact in your own unique way. And when you’re seemingly small effort is combined with others’ small efforts, big changes start to happen.


After emailing with the scholars who would attend the trip and members of the Manistique and Escanaba Lodges about coordinating our visit for the past few months, it was so great to finally connect with everyone in person. It was a wonderful experience for me to see the scholars connect with each other, ENF staff and Elks members. It’s easy for us to welcome scholars into the Elks family and to tell them about it, but it’s a really special sight to see the Elks scholar network and the scholars’ Elks family become a tangible group of people who are here to support them for the rest of their lives.
Now that's what I call #ElksFamily.
Rohini Manickam, a 2013 MVS scholar from Maryland who was on the trip said “family is the perfect way to describe the Elks because everyone in this community is so supportive and loyal and if you’re called part of the Elks family, it’s honestly such an honor.”
I learned that when we get Elks scholars together, truly amazing things can happen. I’m so excited to see the impact that Elks scholars are able to make through the subsequent service trips. I can’t believe that this is only the beginning–that is the most exciting part, for me. With the Winter and Spring 2016 trips coming up, I can’t wait to learn from, serve alongside, and connect with more of my Elks family as we make an impact in the name of the Elks.

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

Friday, September 11, 2015

A Week in Manistique

Danny Evans
Elks Most Valuable Student Scholar
My name is Danny Evans, and I have received a scholarship through the Elks Most Valuable Student Program. I live in Holland, Michigan and am a sophomore at the University of Michigan, where I am studying Biophysics.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the first ever Elks Scholar Service Trip. I joined a group of ENF staff and other Elks scholars and headed to Manistique, Michigan to spend a week volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. We helped restore a house by installing insulation, siding, and subfloor, and even leveled an uneven floor. The trip was a very enjoyable and rewarding experience that I would recommend to all Elks scholars.

When I started the trip, I did not realize how enjoyable the trip would be. I had hoped that the trip would have some fun moments, but fun was not very high on the list of reasons I signed up. I wanted a chance to give back by serving with the ENF, which has given so much to me, and I was curious about what other Elks scholars are like. I also wanted an excuse to take a week off from my summer job of fighting an uncooperative cash register at a grocery store.

So, I was very pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable the trip turned out to be. Although we certainly spent a lot of time serving the community, we also found time for sightseeing trips to visit area landmarks. Additionally, we got to meet members of two Elks Lodges, and got a tour of one of the Lodges. These trips allowed us to relax after the day’s work, gave us a chance to appreciate the part of Michigan we were serving, and allowed us to get to know each other better.

Even the time spent remodeling the house was enjoyable, as it was spent with a great group of people. The remodeling process was also enjoyable because of the opportunity to witness the amount of change we were able to make in just a week. When we arrived, it was difficult to picture the house ever being safe to live in. (In fact, even being in the house to work on it was a little spooky.) By the end of the week, it seemed very reasonable that a family would someday live in and enjoy the house. Daylight no longer shows through cracks in the walls, which are now covered in sheets of blue Styrofoam insulation. The entryway floor is no longer sloped. The siding looks much better than it did when we arrived. The house is certainly not ready to be lived in, but we left it much closer to move-in day than we found it.

In conclusion, the trip gave me a new appreciation for the impactful and fulfilling experience of service, helped me understand who the Elks and Elks scholars are by introducing me to members of these groups, and allowed me to get to know a part of my home state I had never visited and knew very little about. The opportunity to go on this type of trip is one of the many perks of being an Elks scholar, and I encourage all of my fellow Elks scholars to consider attending a service trip.

Danny Evans
Elks Most Valuable Student Scholar

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

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Recipe for an Elks Scholar Service Trip

By 2015 Most Valuable Student Scholarship Recipient and Elks Scholar Advisory Board Member Jessica Carter

Jessica Carter, 2015 Most Valuable Student scholar and freshmen representative on the Elks Scholar Advisory Board, is giving us a glimpse into life as a college freshman. Join her each month as she blogs about her exciting new challenges and experiences at Northwestern University. 

Something new and exciting was just created exclusively for Elks scholars across America— Elks Scholar Service Trips! From August 9 through the 15 we tried making it for the first time and, surprisingly, got it just right. It’s only fair that I share the recipe with all of you in hopes that you’ll try it out for yourself one day.
Yield: 1 experience of a lifetime
Total Time: 6 days of service and adventure
  • One eager group of Elks scholars and ENF staff
  • A theme song—“Everything is Awesome” was ours
  • One work site in a welcoming town—we used Manistique, Michigan
  • A dash of fun
  • A pinch of nightly reflections
  • And Maryann Slater (to hold everything together)
Side note: A common misconception is that a background in construction is needed—but I assure you the recipe works better without it.
Preparation: 1. Mix six Elks scholars and five ENF staff together (subject to variation)

This is what it should look
like when step one is complete.
a. We all came from different parts of the country—Maryland, Utah, Wisconsin, literally everywhere—so prior to Sunday, I didn’t know what to expect. Connections were made almost immediately and after the six-hour car ride up to Manistique, we were perfectly mixed and ready to start working.

2. Next, take this fantastic, new team, put them on the worksite, and let them rise to the occasion.
a. On the worksite, our main job was finishing the siding and insulation. It was amazing to see the difference that was made in just five short days. Piece by piece, we were leaving our mark both on the house and on the town.
b. We couldn’t have picked a better destination than Manistique—the outpouring of support was truly unparalleled. From the wonderful staff at Habitat for Humanity to the daily lunches prepared by the local Elks members, we felt so welcomed. It’s not every day that you get the chance to make a difference in such an amicable community.

3. Don’t forget to sprinkle in a few local attractions!

Pictured Rocks was picture perfect.
a. I went into the service trip thinking that it would be all work, all the time. I can’t stress enough that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Don’t get me wrong, we were extremely diligent and productive on the worksite, but it was balanced out with so much fun and adventure that it really didn’t seem like we were on a service trip—more of an Elks Scholar Retreat, if you will.
b. The Pictured Rocks boat tour was arguably one of the best parts of the week. I probably used up half of the storage on my phone from taking so many pictures (the name is fitting for the place), but it was one of the several things about the trip that I won’t soon forget.
c. We also ventured to the Manistique Boardwalk, the Seul Choix Point Lighthouse, and Kitchitikipi—needless to say, there was no shortage of excitement.
4. Finally, at all costs, don’t forget to add in Nightly Reflections–the recipe won’t be the same without them.

The final product: Elks scholars who
built a strong house,
but even stronger connections.
a. Along the way someone said, “I thought the reflections were going to be us all sitting in a circle and sharing our feelings.” I promise that’s not what we did. It was so easy to get caught up in our daily tasks, especially on the worksite, that we almost forgot to think about what were doing and why were doing it. Reflection was a time to realize not only the change we were making in the community but the change the community was making in us.
There you have it! I’ve given you all of my secrets to the perfect service trip! Like most recipes, it’s going to be different every time you make it, but always just as sweet. Try it out for yourself, I promise you won't regret it.

Jessica Carter
Elks Scholar Advisory Board Freshman Representative
Northwestern University 

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