Thursday, February 16, 2017

Trip of a Lifetime


by Grace Roebuck
Most Valuable Student Scholar

My name is Grace Roebuck and I am a freshman at Vassar College. I’m undecided major wise, but enjoy using art as a medium for social advocacy in humanitarian crises. I’m currently in the process of bringing the “Red Sand Project” by Molly Gocham to Vassar, to raise awareness for human trafficking. My passion for social justice is what led me to apply for the Winter Elks Scholar Service Trip. 

Fourteen hours there, 14.5 hours back. Living in Rhode Island, my travel should have been about 12 hours total, but alas the weather had other plans. That being said, I would do it all over again or even drive to Dallas if I could relive the trip. This trip was one of the single most incredible experiences of my life. The connections I made with the people experiencing poverty and homelessness (our “neighbors”) and the other volunteers were invaluable. 

We are all rich and poor in different ways. Every person you meet has the ability to teach you something, and enriches your life if you allow them. Yet, we unfairly often categorize people by their socioeconomic status, and deem those of a lesser status as lazy, greedy, or undeserving. From this trip and the conversations I had, I can safely refute that grossly incorrect stereotype. When volunteering in the food pantry, I cannot recall one person who took food from every section. When I asked why they didn’t, I got answers like “Oh I have some of that left” or “Oh I don’t want to waste it, someone else can have it.” Not once did I see a glimmer of greed in someone’s eye, nor a hint of unintelligence in their rhetoric. 

At a dinner we hosted for our neighbors, I had the pleasure of meeting three little children who were AMAZING. Full of life, these children loved school and fun. They had big dreams and ambitions, and couldn’t find a school subject they didn’t enjoy. We ended up singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and dancing in the hallway. As we danced, their father came out to watch us. Looking a tad tired, the love in his eyes was clear as he watched his children dance around in pure happiness. Simultaneously, his eyes carried a look of sorrow, as though he knew their happiness was fleeting, existing for this moment, but not guaranteed for many future ones. 

As eye opening and incredible as it was to volunteer, the connections I made with the other scholars were equally priceless. Following our volunteer work, we unpacked each day, slowly delving deeper and deeper into privilege, poverty, and understanding our core self. Yet, these scheduled conversations only encouraged us to go deeper, even after they concluded. Late into the night we discussed theology, education and educational barriers, personal hardships, and passions (typically academic ones). Because of the conversations we had, and the service we did, we ended up forming an unbreakable connection, unique to the incredible group known as #Elksfamily. 

 To read more about the Dallas Elks Scholar Servcie Trip, click here.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Week with the Neighbors

  by Kyle Bort
An Emergency Educational Grant Scholarship Recipient

During the Winter Elks Scholar Service Trip, I had the opportunity to redefine my perspective regarding the social problems of poverty and homelessness. While serving alongside 20 other Elks Scholars in Dallas, I learned many things about what it means to spend a week serving my neighbors. 

This was my second service trip through the Elks National Foundation. As an Emergency Education Grant recipient, the Foundation has made education possible for me by offering
a grant to children of deceased or totally disabled Elks members. My farther, Bill Bort, always stressed the importance of service. I can remember many times when I served alongside him. He had the ability to bring joy and hope to the people around him.

John Quincy Adams once stated “If your actions inspire others, to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” This is a quote that I believe my father understood well. After his passing in 2009, the ENF made it possible for me to continue my education, while also allowing me to carry on his legacy of service. I cannot express the impact of Dallas without first stressing the importance of the Elks National Foundation. We really are #ElksFamily. 

 So what did I do in Dallas? Throughout the week, we served with CitySquare, an organization that seeks to fight the causes and effects of poverty through service, advocacy, and friendship. They accomplish this by providing neighbors with direct resources, such as housing, training, meals and education. They explained to us that this type of approach to poverty begins with redefining the terminology that we use. By referring to the individuals we serve as “neighbors”, we start to pull apart the labels and stereotypes of homelessness. They taught us that through connections and conversations with our neighbors, we begin to better understand and address poverty. 

Throughout the week, we engaged in various forms of direct service. One night, we served and ate dinner with our neighbors. It was during this dinner that I had the pleasure of meeting Robert and Winston. As I sat with them, I learned about their passions and interests. Robert was a big music fan and told me about past musicians and instruments. He also spoke Portuguese fluently; therefore, we spent a lot of time comparing my second language of Spanish with his second language of Portuguese. Winston told me about sports news in Chicago. He was so happy that we spent time speaking with him. In many ways, Winston was the perfect example of gratitude. His spirit and positive attitude are something we should all strive for.

Later in the week, we also volunteered at the food pantry and walked alongside our neighbors as they shopped. The neighbors were greeted by a volunteer and then guided around the pantry where they had the option to pick from a wide variety of items—including steaks from Trader Joe’s. In this situation, I was able to provide a personalized experience and I was also able to brush up on my Spanish skills as many of the neighbors were fluent in Spanish. 

Over the course of the week, I learned that a large amount of empathy is required to confront poverty. In turn, this requires stepping out of our own shoes and into the shoes of our neighbors. This step allows us to break down the labels and stereotypes that are often associated with our neighbors. It allows us to see them for the people that they are. They are people that are full of dreams, talents, skills, hope, and solutions. We must realize that many times our answers to poverty are not necessarily true. In many ways, it is our neighbors who have the answers. Finally, our neighbors are similar to us in many ways. They are not the labels and stereotypes that our society gives them. As a society, it is our duty to reach out to them. I would highly suggest serving our neighbors so that you too can see this perspective.

  At the beginning of the week, we were asked to write our personal definition of service. To end, I would like to share mine. 

“Service is stepping outside of yourself to address the needs and challenges of our neighbors. This is accomplished through a perspective of love, grace, compassion, and empathy. It is realizing just how blessed you are and realizing that you want to show the same towards everyone around you"

To read more about the Dallas Elks Scholar Servcie Trip, click here.  

Monday, February 6, 2017

My Journey to the ENF!


 by Blaire Shaffer
Communications Assistant


After graduating from Luther College with a major in Communication Studies, I found myself in Chicago, and like many other graduates, I embarked on a massive job hunt. A PR and social media internship with a Humane Society created my desire to pursue a career in the  non-profit sector. So, I was thrilled by the prospect of working as the Elks National Foundation’s Communications Assistant.  I feel very lucky and honored to be given the opportunity to share news about the ENF as well as service work done by Elks through writing and social media!

I have only been working at the ENF for a little over two months now, yet each day has been filled with fascinating lessons and challenges. It has been wonderful to work in a place with extremely kind and funny co-workers, who have all been incredibly welcoming from my very first day. I am looking forward to April, because I am excited to experience the Hoop Shoot National Finals and MVS Leadership Weekend for the first time! Although it is only February, the Communications Department has started preparing for the Hoop Shoot National Finals, which has only encouraged my anticipation.

My duties as a Communications Assistant deal with assisting in social media management. This means creating posts and responding to comments or mentions.  I also oversee the blog. I aid in the creation of content for the ENF, which includes writing Speaking points, News to Use, and any stories or letters that I am assigned, or helping design save-the-dates or announcements. I help keep the ENF website up to date with fresh content for visitors to enjoy. I also assist in organizing Frontline, which is an email newsletter for registered ENF Fundraising Chairs. 


When I’m not at the ENF, I am usually found hanging out with my dog Bruno (a Border Collie and German Shepherd mix) or my friends, running, reading, exploring Chicago, watching movies or TV, and cooking/baking.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Sharing Life Through Service

 by Jenna Johnson
Elks Scholar Fellow, Scholarships

The Winter Elks Scholar Service Trip was a success, and it was a privilege to start off the new year serving with my Elks family. While in Dallas, I was reminded of how fortunate I am to spend a week learning from Elks scholars from around the U.S. My job is a joy and I know I will walk away from every trip challenged and encouraged in new ways. I was also reminded of what a unique connection we share as Elks scholars. Despite our differences, we share similarity in having received a scholarship from the Elks National Foundation that provides an abundance of opportunities for further connection. And, I got to witness 19 people seize an opportunity by attending an Elks Scholar Service Trip and go from sharing a scholarship to sharing life together through service. 

Over the course of our week, I watched the scholars invest in one another while they invested in the people they were serving. Whether sorting vegetables at the food pantry, pricing clothes at the thrift store or serving a meal to neighbors in need, they engaged one another through conversation and collaboration. Every night we gathered for group activities and processed through our day of service. We also discussed aspects of our identity that influence the way we relate to one another, such as privilege and how we form perceptions. During these talks, the scholars were honest with one another in what they shared, they respected each other with dignity and they listened to learn. It became even more apparent to me that service acts as an equalizer and creates space to be more genuine and vulnerable. 
 
One reason I found the service to be especially impactful, was that CitySquare took the time to educate us about issues and stigmas associated with homelessness so that we could become informed advocates. Staff members encouraged us to redefine the language we use when addressing homelessness. For example, they asked us to refer to anyone we were serving as a “neighbor”. They reminded us that the men and women we served were just like us, and deserved to be treated the same way we would want to be treated. Something else they said that stuck with me was, “We’re all rich and poor, just in different ways.” I found that to be incredibly true of the men and women we served. Their needs needed to be addressed, but their richness deserved to be recognized too.
 
Similarly, as I watched our group grow over the week, we came to discover that our own stories reflected gain and loss, and that we were not so different from the individuals we were serving. It became more evident that the biggest thing separating us from our neighbors was circumstance. The biggest thing connecting us to them was service

On our first night in Dallas, we all participated in an activity called “Connections”. The idea is that one person stands up and starts listing things about his or her life, such as “I have three sisters”, or “I have studied abroad in Spain” and as soon as one scholar hears a phrase that is also true of him, he will say “Connection!” and run up and link arms with the first person. He will then start listing things about his life and so on and so forth until eventually everyone is connected. I’ve participated in this activity four times and never seen it fail. No matter how diverse the group, there is always a thread of connection. 


I’m passionate about Elks Scholar Service Trips because I see the same sense of connection develop between the scholars and the people they serve. By taking time to meet a need or hear a story, they are extending an arm and linking with a neighbor. Connection makes us feel richer, regardless of our socioeconomic status. 

So, as I finalize plans for the Spring Elks Scholar Service Trip to New Orleans in March, I am grateful to know that in the case of every Elks Scholar Service Trip, a scholarship brought us together and service will only strengthen our bond. I could not have asked for a better week of learning, serving and connecting with my neighbors and Elks family

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Meet Olivia Tuck!

by: Olivia Tuck
Development Assistant

Everyone keeps saying that 2016 was a terrible year. For me, it was the best year yet! 

My desire to pursue a career in nonprofit development brought me to Chicago in August 2016, following my graduation from the University of Notre Dame (Go Irish!). The apartment I found happened to be about four blocks away from the Elks National Memorial and Headquarters, and the first time that my parents and I drove by the gorgeous building my mom half-jokingly said, “Hey, that building is incredible—you should work there!” My mom’s suggestion became a reality, for which I am extraordinarily grateful. A little over two months ago, I began working as the Development Assistant at the Elks National Foundation.

Each day over the past two months has been incredibly exciting, as I continue to learn about the ENF’s role in communities across the country and the many facets my position includes. If you’re wondering just what the ENF Development Assistant does, stay tuned! 

Two of my primary responsibilities are managing the general and Fundraising Department’s phone lines and emails. If you’ve emailed the ENF or ENF Fundraising over the past two months, there is a good chance that I was the one you were communicating with. This is my favorite aspect of the position. I love being able to share with our volunteers how best to promote the mission of the ENF and learn about how different Lodges around the country demonstrate this mission. 

My second favorite part of my position was being a part of Jim’s choral ensemble on Elksmas, the most wonderful day of the year. You can catch a glimpse of the holiday magic on this episode of Midday with the ENF. 

Olivia spreading Elksmas Spirit!
I am also responsible for sending out birthday cards to our volunteers, fulfilling supply orders from the ENF website, and sending out Fidelity Club recognition each month. It’s been great that the process to pull all the new members of the Fidelity Club and prepare their recognition pieces took longer this month—that means more people are joining! Click here to learn more about recurring gifts and the Fidelity Club so you can join too! 

Since it is only January, I haven’t seen half of what my position will hold, as the coming months are the busiest time of the year for the ENF with the fiscal year end, MVS Leadership Weekend, Elks National Hoop Shoot National Finals, and Elks National Convention preparation. I love being busy and having multiple, challenging tasks to accomplish, so I truly can’t wait for the spring! 

Before the ENF, I interned back home in Detroit at the Michigan Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and then at VOCEL: Viewing our Children as Emerging Leaders and Facets Multimedia here in Chicago. Despite all three internships also being in development, they were quite different from what I’ve experienced here at the ENF. 


With the help of my amazing manager, Kate Keating Edsey, I’ve been able to pick most things up quickly. She and the rest of the ENF team have been unbelievably welcoming and supportive, and I still can’t believe that I am lucky enough to work here. Although I did not know too much about the Elks and the mission of the ENF prior to preparing for my interview, I have come to learn that the ENF staff clearly exemplify the values treasured by the Elks daily. 
  
When I’m not at the ENF, I can usually be found exploring Chicago or hiding from the cold by watching TV, painting, and reading my Irish books. I studied Irish language and literature at Notre Dame, and loved every second of it, so I still try to keep up with it as best I can.

As you can see, 2016 was a pretty good year for me as it held graduation with a degree in a language that I love, a big move to the Windy City and landing my dream job. I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store!