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!

Friday, February 2, 2018

My People

by Keegan O'Ravez
2017 Legacy Awards Recipient


Keegan spending time
with fellow Elks scholars.
My name is Keegan O’Ravez and I am a freshman at Sonoma State University. I am majoring in pre-nursing with a minor in Spanish. I am a 2017 Legacy scholar, and the winter trip to Santa Monica was my first time going on an Elks Scholar Service Trip.

When I heard about the service trip to Santa Monica, I was in a place where I needed more from my time. On a whim, I applied to the trip. I was intrigued, and nervous, but mostly excited to go on this unknown adventure. Back then, I never realized how big of an impact this trip was going to have on me. During the week, I learned three major lessons that changed my perspective on people experiencing homelessness, my understanding of the people who make these trips possible, and my connection to fellow Elks scholars.

I grew up in a beautiful town in northern California, surrounded by lakes and mountains. However, as years went by, violence, homelessness and drugs became the highlight of my town, rather than the scenery. I was always frustrated; people experiencing homelessness seemed to be taking over the town. After this trip, my frustration has been put to ease. I realized that the people I referred to as “taking over the town” are people just like you and me. They have feelings, wants and dreams, but they might not have the same privileges that some of us take for granted. Some are really trying to end this chapter of their lives and seek help, but some may not be aware of resources or think they deserve help. Because of the trip, I now understand I should give more time and respect to those experiencing homelessness.

Keegan serving alongside Elks scholars.
During the trip, I also gained more insight into the people behind the scenes—the people who make it possible for me to take part in service trips and to have been awarded a scholarship through the Elks National Foundation. We were treated like kings and queens when we visited three different Elks Lodges in the Santa Monica area.

For them, we are a reminder of why they do what they do. To us, they are a reminder that what we do is because they make it possible. R.A. Pickett was one of the Elks I had the pleasure of meeting over the week. You could see the love he had for other members and how much he cares for the Elks. Every pin he gave me had its own unique story. He even joined us at our last service site to help feed people at a homeless shelter. He and all the Elks are the reason I can go on these trips and make an impact.
Keegan holds a pin shared with her by
 R.A. Pickett, member of Santa Monica, Calif., Lodge No. 906.


The last realization I came to during my trip was that the fellow Elks scholars who came on the trip are “my people.” I was surrounded by young adults who are passionate about school, travel and volunteering. Just a few days into the trip, I felt at home. As the week went on, someone from the outside would have assumed we had known each other our whole lives, or that we were a version of a Cheaper by the Dozen family. We truly became #ElksFamily that week, and it is a bond that will be with us forever.

The people I met and the experiences I had on this trip will stay with me for a lifetime. I am already signed up to serve in San Antonio in celebration of the Elks’ 150th anniversary. I cannot wait to see familiar faces and expand my Elks family. The opportunities I have been extended through the Elks National Foundation are making my dreams come true.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Catching Up With Carter

by Jessica Carter
2015 MVS Scholarship Recipient and Elks Scholar Advisory Board Member



GreekBuil packing boxes
at Feed My Starving Children.
My name is Jessica Carter, and I am a junior at Northwestern University studying Political Science and Psychology. In 2015, I was a top 20 Elks Most Valuable Student Scholar and for the past three years I have served on the Elks Scholar Advisory Board.

I can’t believe I’m already halfway through my junior year of college—it feels like just yesterday I was applying for the Elks MVS scholarship in my senior year of high school! This past year, especially, has flown by; from taking on new leadership roles in the winter and spring, an exciting summer internship, and studying abroad in the fall, everything has been very fast, but very fun.

A year ago in January of 2017, I became the Vice President of Service for one of the service clubs at Northwestern. In charge of organizing all volunteering events, I planned trips to pack food for Feed My Starving Children, visit residents at a Winnetka retirement community, and tutor 3rd grade students at a local elementary school, and of course my favorite trip was to the Jesse Brown V.A. Memorial Hospital to play bocce ball with veterans! 
Senator Durbin’s interns meeting Mayor Emanuel 
before a town hall meeting.

It was exciting to take other Northwestern students where I had gone two years before during the MVS Leadership Weekend in Chicago. My time as the VP of Service came to a close at the end of spring quarter. It was a lot of work, but I’m so proud of all that the service committee was able to accomplish.

When school ended in June, I started a summer internship working in Senator Richard Durbin’s Chicago office. I was in the scheduling department so in addition to answering phones and sending out letters, I helped organize the Senator’s daily agenda. Every day was something new, and the intern coordinator worked hard to make sure we learned as much as possible. There were guest speakers every other week and we spent many days taking field trips to other government offices in the city.

A picnic in the park.
My internship ended on August 24, and I left to study abroad in Paris on August 25. In class, I was learning about the political and economic agenda of the European Union and how to speak French. As a part of the program, we visited the European Parliament in Strasbourg and the European Council and Commission in Brussels. I also traveled outside of the program a few times to Barcelona, Vienna, and London. It was a great four months of traveling, speaking French, eating cheese, and making new friends.

P.S. For any other Elks Scholar interested in studying abroad: in addition to the ENF, I was also able to go abroad with the help of the Gilman Scholarship Program. It is a nationwide program run by the Institute of International Education to help students study abroad who typically wouldn’t be able to for financial reasons. It was the only way I was able to go to Paris, and I would highly encourage my other #ElksFamily members to apply. Here’s the link to their website, and if you have questions please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.


I landed back in Chicago on December 9 and I am looking forward to the year ahead, which I’m sure will pass just as quickly. I’ll be living in an apartment off campus with a few friends, studying for the LSAT, and getting ready for the 150 for 150 Service and Celebration Weekend in San Antonio with my fellow scholars! 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

But Last, Coffee

by Makenna Cannon
Programs Assistant


Last month, I moved to a new city, into a new apartment, and, most importantly, started a new job at the Elks National Foundation. From taking the wrong bus to work one morning to volunteering at my first Standdown for Chicago veterans, it has been a month punctuated by stand-out experiences. That said, most of my November was spent learning; the ins and outs of the Most Valuable Student scholarship contest, what it means to be a member of the #ElksFamily and, of course, the correct bus route to work.

I started a month before the end of the Most Valuable Student scholarship contest deadline, the largest of the ENF scholarship programs. These past weeks have been a whirlwind of important deadlines for applicants and volunteers alike. The MVS contest relies on a national group of passionate, dedicated volunteers that judge applications at their local Lodges. I am constantly struck by how the volunteers, whether from Missouri or Alaska or Vermont, have the same reason for stepping up to judge: they care strongly about the future of each applicant. It is amazing to hear their desire to help and to make a difference in the lives of students in their communities. As one volunteer told me; “I know these kids; I know the kind of impact that a scholarship like this could have on their lives. It could mean everything to them.” This seemingly simple statement has already become the one I hold closest, and not a day has yet gone by that I have not thought about it.

Speaking with the current scholars and learning about their ongoing projects, studies and experiences has been equally enlightening and awe-inspiring. Even in my interview with the ENF, I was told about the #ElksFamily, which is the idea that Elks scholars are connected, not only with each other, but also with the ENF and Elks Lodges across the country. Now, working in the scholarships office, I get to see this concept in real life through scholars requesting to hold meet-ups at their universities with their fellow Elks scholars and sending thank-you notes with stories of their last volunteer experience at their local Lodge. It’s amazing.

I am very grateful to be a member of the #ElksFamily and to be working for an organization that makes such a tangible impact in the lives of students. My first month was wonderful thanks not only to the great experiences and stories, but to the warm welcome from the entire ENF staff as well. I truly can’t wait to keep learning about all the ENF programs and the wonderful work of scholars and Elks across the country. Maybe, I’ll start with learning how to work the coffee maker first.  

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Going through the Chairs

by Billy Donnelly
Youth Programs Associate



The process of becoming an Exalted Ruler at a Lodge is simple. Before you can become a leader, you first need to follow. Working your way up the ladder, or going through the chairs, is a perfect way for you to get hands-on experience with every aspect of Lodge business, thus allowing you to make informed decisions when elected as Exalted Ruler. It makes sense.

My experience with the Hoop Shoot has been the exact opposite of that. When I started as the Youth Programs Associate at the Elks National Foundation, I had never even seen a Hoop Shoot contest in person. My first contest was my own Lodge’s—Chicago Northshore, Ill., No. 1316—and it was an eye-opening experience.

Two years ago, I went to the Goethe Elementary gymnasium in Chicago ready to take notes and observe my first Hoop Shoot from the sidelines. I should have known better. Without skipping a dribble, my Lodge Secretary Paul Ronzani called me off the bench and told me that I was going to be a rebounder that morning. I was excited to be involved and felt like a part of the team. I had a blast that first year chasing down balls. It was only my first contest, and I already had the best seat in the house, right by the basket! Except it wasn’t really a seat, and by the end of the day I felt like I needed to ice my legs!

Last year when I arrived at my Lodge contest, I was ready to rebound. I made sure I got plenty of sleep the night before, and stretched my legs, after helping set up the gym. But before I made it to the basket, Paul called me over. This year, they needed a scorer. It felt like deja-vu. While I enjoyed rebounding the previous year, I was happy to get off my feet and keep score. It felt like a totally different Hoop Shoot. Rebounding is a physical presence. It is a repetitive motion. Keeping score requires so much more mental presence and focus. It was just as exhausting, but in a different way. By the end of the day my eyes were sore, and my hand was cramping, but it was worth it!

This year, I didn’t know what to expect. I showed up at Goethe with sharpened pencils and comfortable shoes—ready to work! There was only one position left on the court that I had yet to cover, and it was the position I feared the most. Line judge. Rebounders work as a team. Scorers work separately, but still as a team, and they get to sit. The line judge has no safety net. They are the leaders on the court, and in the spotlight. They make the call to determine if the shot counts, and in the Hoop Shoot, one shot often determines the winner. I have never envied the line judges at any level of competition.

Lo and behold, after we set up the gym, Paul called me over. I’ll give you one guess as to what I was going to be doing that day, line judge. I have had the opportunity to watch some of the program’s best line judges over the years, but actually stepping up to the line was a different story. I was so nervous for the 8 to 9-year-old contest, but I knew it needed to be done.

Despite the build-up, and years of fearing this responsibility, the scorers, rebounders, and I were able to form a rhythm almost immediately. It did not take long for me to realize that the line judge isn’t out there alone—they do have a safety net. The entire team of volunteers is there to support each other and work together. Once I understood that, I was able to really enjoy myself the rest of the day. Yes, I still went home tired, but that was because I had spent the morning doing something good.
I have enjoyed volunteering at every position during my first three Lodge contests. Each year I have learned something new, and gained a further appreciation for the Hoop Shoot volunteers. All across the country, volunteers work tirelessly, both physically and mentally, in order to give an opportunity to the youth in their community. It takes a lot of work, but their efforts benefit tens of thousands of kids every year. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how tired or sore they are. What matters is the difference they made.

Going through the chairs on the court has really opened my eyes to the sacrifices that Hoop Shoot volunteers make, and I will never take their hard work lightly. I plan on continuing to volunteer at my Lodge, so that I can continue to benefit and grow from my experiences. However, when it comes to the big leagues, the National Finals, I think I’ll let the Regional Directors handle the court.