Thursday, July 12, 2018

Elks National Convention: Take One

by Taylor Odisho
Communications Assistant

It’s taken an entire week to fully digest everything I experienced at my first Elks National Convention, and I think I can finally do justice in putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, in sharing them.

I started working as the Communications Assistant at the Elks National Foundation in October of last year. In just nine months, I’ve been exposed to stories, people and moments, and I’ve been working hard to convey these interactions in an honest, interesting light that resonates with our audience.

 However, it wasn’t until I shook hands with “Crazy Richard” Clayton and his wife; sat down with Nester Tan, a platinum donor with the ENF; or spoke with many of the Elks I’ve been writing about these past several months that everything finally clicked.

There’s a scientific way to say this, but I’m a writer, so I’ll use words. You can study a topic for hours and hours, but you’ll never be able to memorize what you’re reading until you can connect it to something else. Now, I’m going to apply that to how Convention has changed my perspective on my role in writing stories about the Elks.

I asked Clayton a series of questions I thought would adequately help me tell his story, his story being the reasons he donates at the Faith level each year. I was able to get his point across, but I didn’t know who Clayton was outside of the answers he gave to the questions I asked.

 Then, I was standing by the elevator of the ENF’s donor event and I met Clayton and his wife. Instead of an interview, we talked. They mentioned wanting additional copies of the Heartbeat issue they were featured in so they could give to their kids, and they were so glad to have the one copy I had in hand to take home from Convention. This interaction shed the why behind Clayton’s support for the ENF’s programs for kids like the Hoop Shoot and scholarships—the Claytons had kids of their own and supporting the ENF allows them to support other families just like theirs.

Another Elk epiphany came when I had the opportunity to speak with Tan. Tan has been an Elk for 36 years. As he’s grown older, he’s made it his personal mission to become a major donor to the ENF because he believes in what we do. Speaking with Tan about his life’s work, family and commitment to the Elks put a lump in my throat and brought him to tears more than once.

When I tell Tan’s story, it’s not just his answers that I’ll write about; it’s also the gratitude on Tan’s face as Elks thanked him for his contributions and as I told him we would publish his story on our website; and I’ll write about the pride beaming from Tan’s daughter, Heather, as he accepted his plaque at the major donor event with a standing ovation from the rest of the room. These are the moments you don’t get from a Q&A, but the ones that are crucial in writing a thoughtful narrative.

 In four days, I met some of the kindest, most upbeat and goodhearted people. Before, it seemed suffice to call them Elks, but not anymore. Now, I have an arsenal of adjectives and anecdotes to add to their stories, which I can't wait to start writing.

 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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Here's John!

by John Kavula
Elks Scholar Fellow

My name is John Kavula, and I am the new Elks Scholar Fellow. In May, I graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee with a degree in Applied Mathematical Economics and moved to Chicago. Although it has only been one week, the Elks National Foundation has already warmly welcomed me as a part of their amazing team and I know I have found a new home.

Starting in the first week of June, I could not have arrived at a busier and more exciting time. With less than a month until 150 for 150, everyone in the office is working very hard, so I hit the ground running. Luckily for me, the outgoing fellow, Jenna Johnson, left me everything I could possibly need, including a detailed manual and outlines to prep for the Elks National Convention. Even with everything going on, everyone has taken time out of their day to introduce themselves and to get to know me a little bit, and for that, I am very grateful.

As part of my orientation, I got a chance to meet with each department in the ENF to learn about what each does and how they all work together. I really enjoyed seeing the different aspects of the ENF because it will not only help me do my job better, but I can also better understand the breadth of everything the Foundation does.

On Thursday, I went to help set up for the Chicago Standdown with a few of my coworkers. At the bi-annual Standdown, over 800 veterans come and receive various goods and services, such as boots, toiletries, haircuts and vision checks-- all free of charge. On-site at the General Jones Armory, we did everything from unpack hundreds of pairs of boots to set up chairs and tables for the many different vendors. I enjoyed the day not only because I got to be part of such a fantastic event that helps so many people, but I also got to spend some time outside of the office with my new coworkers. On Friday, I went back for the actual event, and, again, had a great time. We spent most of the morning in the donated clothes area, where we helped the veterans pick out clothes. I really enjoyed Friday because it was more direct service since I was able to converse with some of the veterans and hear their stories.

As my first week at the ENF came, I am grateful the team has been so welcoming. Although my work will not always be easy, especially at first, I know my coworkers will be here to help with whatever I need and support me. I am so thrilled to begin my career with the ENF, and I’m excited to see what the next two years have in store for me. 



The Elks National Foundation offers three Elks Scholar Service Trips. 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, click here.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Fired up for Fidelity Club!

by Ashley Hart
Development Assistant


This February, the Elks National Foundation welcomed me to their team as a Development Assistant. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to start my nonprofit career with the Elks family—a community known for their volunteerism, generosity and charitable work throughout the United States. As a DePaul graduate student studying nonprofit management, my decision to join the ENF stemmed from my passion for volunteer work, fundraising and nonprofit development. After my first week, I was delighted to discover the humility and devotion displayed by the ENF staff and volunteers. Never before have I worked for an organization as friendly and accommodating as the ENF. Their hard work and positive organizational culture mimics the passion and care demonstrated by the Elks.  


It seems I joined the ENF at a prime time. After a week of pleasantries, we entered the month of March full speed ahead. As a new hire, I quickly understood the stress that accompanies the last month of the ENF’s fiscal year. On the front lines, the donor services team processed the year’s final donations, and properly credited donors and their Lodge’s per-member-giving total. Meanwhile, our Youth Programs Associate Billy Donnelly dived into planning a successful 2018 Hoop Shoot National Finals here in Chicago. The CIPsters were busy approving record amounts of Anniversary and Beacon Grant applications while the scholarships department focused on Most Valuable Student judging and hosting the Elks Scholars Spring Service Trip in Asheville, NC. It was all hands on deck at the ENF.

Witnessing the ENF at its peak operations helped put my position into perspective. Along with serving our volunteers and donors, my responsibilities include coordinating the outreach efforts for the Fidelity Club—the ENF’s recurring gift program. As I became familiar with the meticulous and time-consuming nature of processing mailed donations, the need for expanding our Fidelity Club membership became clear: recurring support throughout the year would allow us to spend more time and resources on our charitable mission and less on administrative duties, like donation processing.   

Did you know the ENF offers a secure, convenient and economically feasible way to donate? By joining the Fidelity Club, you can budget your monthly gift to fit your financial capabilities rather than donating a lump sum to the ENF once a year. Donating on a recurring basis is the best way to directly support ENF programs year-round. Rather than waiting for the ENF to process donations sent through your Lodge Chair, your gift can have an immediate impact by taking just five minutes to set up an automatic, recurring donation on our website (enf.elks.org/recurring) through your debit or credit card. These donations can be made monthly ($5 minimum) or quarterly ($15 minimum) and designated to your favorite ENF program. Fidelity Club members receive special benefits and recognition items—such as a Fidelity Club sticker and pin set—as they continue to give month after month. To learn more about the Fidelity Club, click here or contact me at AshleyH@elks.org or 773/755-4858.

As I continue to grow with the Elks family and in my position at the ENF, my hope is to shape a donor-centric giving program based on the needs and interests of our most loyal supporters. Each day, I’m astounded by the Elks’ generosity and collaboration through their charitable support and volunteer projects. Thank you to everyone who contributes to the ENF, for you are why I’m excited to come to work every day and help Elks build stronger communities.  

Monday, April 30, 2018

Serving by the Blue Ridge Mountains

 by Gabriella Haire
2015 Most Valuable Student Scholar

My name is Gabriella Haire and I am a junior studying biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota. Beyond dreaming up medical innovations, I enjoy volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House, training for cross country ski races, and exploring new cities one ice cream shop at a time.


Following a typical track practice in March 2015, I received an atypical email. It was an invitation to the Elks Most Valuable Student Leadership Weekend and the promise of an Elks National Foundation scholarship. I was elated as I celebrated in the locker room, but I didn’t fully realize how that email and the Leadership Weekend were just the beginning of my relationship with the Elks.

After a physics lecture in November 2015, I received an email confirming my acceptance to the Winter Elks Scholar Service Trip in Oakland, California. I was eager to connect with Elks scholars for a whole week, rather than just a weekend. As it turned out, a week was nowhere near enough time.

Following a long day of exams this past January, I received an email inviting me to pack my bags for Asheville, North Carolina to spend a week serving and exploring alongside 12 Elks scholars. Again, I was eager to have the opportunity to meet even more scholars, but I was apprehensive that I would spend the week comparing new friendships and experiences to old ones. With that considered, I hopped on a plane with an open mind and John Denver on repeat. I should have known that I’d be wrong; by the end of the first night I was already staying up late talking with newfound friends.

On the first day of service, we bonded over our shared experience in the cold drizzle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We settled into our home for the week and learned more about each other’s stories. As the week progressed, we learned each other’s passions, developed inside jokes, and embarked on many hikes on the YMCA trail system. Many laughs were shared as we spent the week sacrificing sleep to make the most of our time.

Throughout all my experiences, I have found that Elks scholars are unwaveringly genuine. This authenticity gives way to meaningful connections that last far beyond the time spent together. I have found in these scholars a network of driven individuals with wide-reaching passions. Their dedication challenges me to pursue the best and most authentic version of myself. Without a doubt, I am better because of these people.

As I write this, my computer background is a photo from the steps of the Elks Memorial Building where I am surrounded by the 2015 Top 20 MVS scholars. I am at my desk with a newly framed picture from the Blue Ridge Mountains, and my phone has a handful of messages from various Elks scholars. These items are testaments to the value of Elks scholar relationships, and I eagerly await reuniting with many of them in San Antonio in June at the 150 for 150 Service Trip.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Way It's Meant to Be


by Marc Rademaker

2017 Most Valuable Student Scholar


My name is Marc Rademaker and I am a first-year at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. I’m majoring in Biology on the pre-medicine track with a minor in Chemistry.  Traveling to Asheville with my fellow Elks scholars marked my second service trip with the Elks after Santa Monica this past winter.

Entering the Asheville Service Trip, I had very high expectations for the week. My experience in Santa Monica had been so incredible that I couldn’t wait for another great week with the Elks. I was not disappointed. Arriving at YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly, I immediately began to form connections with my fellow Elks scholars. Because it was a smaller trip, we were able to grow close almost immediately while sharing our stories and ambitions with one another. These new friends came from Alaska, Puerto Rico, and everywhere in between to serve together. 

As I witnessed the sunrise on the first day of service, I knew that this week was meant to be something great for all of us. Amidst the days of cleaning up rivers, installing flooring, and cleaning homes, we gained valuable energy and determination from one another. We began to realize our common desire to better ourselves, those around us, and the world as we know it.  Through late-night talks and exploring the beauty and mystery of the mountains, we formed deeper connections.

While it was easy to form connections with Elks scholars, much of the week constituted indirect service. As a result, it was sometimes difficult to see our impact on the people we were serving. However, one powerful way I did see our impact was at the Veterans Restoration Quarters. The organization transformed an old Super-8 Motel into a living space for veterans transitioning out of homelessness. I was able to install flooring with a few of the other scholars in a resident’s room. In a group of perfectionists, the job was destined for greatness. We enjoyed each other’s company through the service we performed, but I was still curious about what I was achieving by simply installing flooring. 

It was not until later in the day that we discovered the story behind the room we were preparing. One of the volunteers at the VRQ, who was a veteran himself, had been living out of his car unbeknownst to the organization. Upon finding out, the staff did not hesitate to clear out a storage room and make it into a home for him. I was awestruck at learning this; that a man who himself was homeless could still find joy in serving those who have served our country. 

It is people like this who drive me to become a better version of myself. I realized, then, that our work that day took the burden off the organization, allowing them to complete other important work. The indirect jobs allow direct, personalized service to happen. Although I never met him, I will remember the selflessness of the man moving into the new room who humbly served others in the same difficult circumstance.

Others, like that veteran and the Elks scholars I met, had a profound impact on me. During thoughtful reflection at the end of each day, we analyzed what we could have done better and how we can apply what we learned to our daily lives. We gained a drive to achieve more in our academics and service at home by seeing that drive reflected in our peers. I saw myself, and who I strive to be, in every person that week: someone who has zest for life, knows the importance of serving others, and is persistent in achieving goals. I saw who I strive to be in the future in those I met at Elks Lodges. I saw the best of humanity in the humility of individuals willing to serve.

Isn’t that the way it’s meant to be?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Show Me the Heat

by Billy Donnelly
Youth Programs Associate

A contestant shoots a free throw during the competition.
While low temperatures afflict most of the United States in January and February, things are really starting to heat up for the Hoop Shoot. In gyms all across the country, Hoop Shoot contestants have been competing in state contests--another stop on the road to Chicago.

This year I had the privilege of attending the Missouri State Hoop Shoot contest, just outside of St. Louis. Randy Eaton has been the Show-Me State’s Director for more than 30 years, but after all that time, you can tell he has not lost his fire and passion for the program.

I left a looming snow storm in Chicago, happily heading south to help out with Randy’s event. It didn’t take long after my arrival before we could start to get to work. The hotel was practically ready to go—a Holiday Inn with an arcade and a large indoor pool meant that the 48 best free-throw shooters in Missouri weren’t going to have to go far to have some fun.

Randy took me to go help set up for the Awards Banquet at Eureka-Pacific, Mo., Lodge No. 2644. Exalted Ruler Ron Kurtz warmly greeted us when we arrived. He was so excited to be hosting all of the Hoop Shoot contestants the next day, along with the Missouri State Association President. The Lodge banquet hall had already been set up to seat more than 200 people. Before long, we were joined by a few other Missouri volunteers, including Jason Eaton. Jason is not only Randy’s son, but a 1981 National Finalist—he has been helping stoke the fire in his dad ever since.

We ate dinner at the Lodge—a pork steak, which is not only a classic St. Louis BBQ dish, but just so happened to be the size of a basketball! With full stomachs, we put together trophies, pumped up basketballs, and made sure everything was ready for the next day.

The gym was cold as we arranged chairs and taped the 8-9-year-old line the following morning. The contestants, however, were not. During warm-ups, shot after shot went through the net. As I helped rebound, I knew we were going to be in for a good contest. Finally, it was time. The gym temperature had risen with the packed rows of bleachers filled with family and friends. Everyone was excited to see some sparks. The contestants did not disappoint.
Participants gather excitedly before the contest begins.

Swish after swish, shoot-off after shoot-off, the contest was full of excitement. It was such a rush. Getting out of the office and seeing a contest in action always helps reignite the fire inside me and is a great reminder for why we do what we do. Before I knew it, the contest was over. Six champions were all that remained of the initial 48. It was a great show.

Luckily, I get to see those six Missouri State Champions compete at least one more time, because on March 9, I head to Paris, TN for the Region 9 contest. Make sure to follow me on Twitter at @ElksBilly for live updates on Saturday, March 10. I’m excited to see how these six Missouri champs will fare against contestants from Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee. But if there is anything that I learned from my experience, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of Missouri!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Making an Impact with My #ElksFamily

by Raphael Banuelos
2017 Most Valuable Student Scholar


My name is Raphael Banuelos and I am studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. I am a 2017 MVS scholar from Pinetop, Arizona and I can confidently say that spending a week volunteering alongside Elks scholars was the highlight of my winter break.
This was my first service trip and I had little idea of what to expect. I initially thought time spent on service trips could be better spent volunteering in our hometowns. How could we make a lasting difference working in a new city for five days?

However, the first night of the trip, our leader shared something a scholar had said on a past service trip, “service without reflection is just work.” Throughout the week, our reflection discussions every night offered lots of insight. I heard various scholars’ perspectives that made each activity and day more meaningful. Our discussions opened my eyes to the difference we could make in Santa Monica.  
For example, I never expected something as small as playing bingo with veterans could make such a difference. On two different days we volunteered at Veteran Affair Hospitals and played more bingo than I had ever played in my life. I’ve never seen bingo get so intense and it was one of the highlights of the week for me! Conversing with the veterans and being so appreciated for visiting them gave me a warm feeling and solidified my reasoning for going on the trip. One man told me he was very glad he braved the rain to come to the V.A. that day because our presence had such a positive impact on him.
Our main focus of the week was serving our neighbors experiencing homelessness. In Los Angeles, over 60,000 people experience homelessness at any given time. That’s 12 times greater than the population of my hometown in Arizona! I learned that homelessness is one of the greatest issues our generation must do something about. It is easy to stereotype people living on the streets; my experience as we prepared meals for shelters, cleaned a home for pregnant homeless women, and spent time with homeless youth our age told a different story than my preconceived stereotypes. The people we served simply needed care and aid from people currently more fortunate. I learned a great deal from this experience.

An Elks Scholars Service Trip wouldn’t be complete without the Elks members who support us. During the trip the Elks Lodges provided food, fun, and fraternity. One night, a Lodge made us great Italian food; the next night, a Lodge brought us sub sandwiches; a third night, a Lodge treated us to In-N-Out; and to top it all off, a Lodge made us tacos at the end of the week. Spending time with Elks members put a face to the support we receive and sparked greater appreciation on both sides. The theme of #ElksFamily proved true everywhere we went.
To anyone considering participating in a service trip, I highly recommend it. After a week of service and reflection, I am motivated to be much more proactive in my community. Service with the #ElksFamily is fun, and these trips offer a friendly environment to connect with people from across the nation. Playing games every night, tie-dying snazzy socks, listening to pump up music with the boys, and competing for who has the best fidget spinning skills are some examples of quality downtime with the friends you make on an Elks Scholar Service Trip.

Sometimes you have to travel far to learn about yourself. I had the opportunity to do so and serve with some of the greatest people, and the experience was worth every moment of our time.

Thank you, Elks National Foundation!