Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Elks Scholar Alum of the Year: A Reflection

Kelly Ryan Murphy

Being the Elks Scholar Alum of the Year has been a wonderful experience. I was able to attend the Elks National Convention in New Orleans, meet incredible members of the Elks community, and expand a service project that is near and dear to my heart.

Meeting Mrs. Weigel was my favorite part
of Convention.
Although initially I was hesitant to apply, I am so glad that I ended up doing so. Out of all the many talented Elks scholars, I did not think that I could possibly be considered. But as an Elks scholar and a Gunther & Lee Weigel Medical School Scholarship recipient, my connection to Elks had been reaffirmed over the years and I knew I had made the ideals of the Elks National Foundation a part of my daily life. Once I applied, I was completely shocked that I had received the honor. I was also excited that I would finally get a chance to put a face to the names of the many people working behind the scenes of the Elks National Foundation. Most of all, I knew I would be able to meet Lee Weigel, the wife of Gunther Weigel, who were the benefactors of the medical school scholarship that I had received from Elks. Meeting Mrs. Weigel in New Orleans was my favorite part of the whole weekend, for we had exchanged cards and phone calls several times over the prior two years. She was glowing to meet one of the scholars who benefited from her and her husband’s generosity. She recently passed away so I am thankful this opportunity gave me the chance to meet such a genuinely caring woman. It will go down in history as my favorite memory with Elks.
                        
Members of the Elks Scholar
Advisory Board
exploring Convention.
Other than meeting Mrs. Weigel, I met Elks members in the convention hall and of course learned just what it means to become a pin collector. I went from table to table with some of the other Elks Scholar Advisory Board members to both meet the Elks representing their states and to pick up as many pins as possible! Receiving my home state of Arizona’s pin was especially significant, as was meeting members from Sun City, Ariz., Lodge No. 2559, who sponsored my Elks Most Valuable Student scholarship. They were equally excited to meet someone who had never been to an Elks Convention before because it indicated promise in Elks continuing for years into the future. While nobody in my family had ever been an Elk, I felt at home with the community and was proud to be connected in a unique way to the members.
Couldn't leave New Orleans
without some beignets!

We had lots of fun that weekend, including going on an official New Orleans “ghost tour” and eating as many beignets as one stomach can handle. The Board also worked hard to lay the groundwork for keeping scholars connected and promoting continued community involvement. It was a dynamic process of brainstorming and discussion—and possibly some debating—about ways the Board could reach out to the current and future generations of Elks scholars. I saw first-hand how much the ENF cares about their scholars and learned a lot about the functioning of ENF at a ground level.

Playing dress-up at the WWII Museum.
Being at the ENF event for supporters of the Foundation was incredibly special since it was held at the WWII Museum and many of the Elks members in the audience were veterans themselves. Several people received honors and were acknowledged that night, and I was honored to be among them in receiving my award as Alum of the Year. Having to speak in front of the crowd was intimidating because how was I supposed to thank a room of people who had not only supported me through college but also medical school? It was a humbling experience to say the least, and I was so thankful the Foundation
made the night so unique and entertaining.

The Alum of the Year Award included a donation to the nonprofit of my choice. I decided to donate it to an organization that I was involved with at school called Music and Memory. With this gift, we were able to expand the music therapy program for people with dementia living in assisted living centers around Durham, North Carolina. I appreciated that the award went towards a charity of my choice since it meant I could know exactly who it helps and how it benefits those in need.

The WWII Museum was such an
enjoyable setting!
Overall, I am so glad I applied for the Elks Scholar Alum of the Year. It has been an honor to be more involved with the Elks and I am proud to be connected to such an incredible organization. I have no doubt that the ENF will continue to make a difference in the lives of service-oriented students for many years to come. Thank you, Elks National Foundation. I am looking forward to finding out who will serve as the next Alum of the Year! If you are interested in being the next Elks Scholar Alum of the Year, click here to fill out the online application due March 31.

Kelly Ryan Murphy
2009 Most Valuable Student Scholar, Gunther & Lee Weigel Medical School Scholarship Recipient, and 2014 Elks Scholar Alum of the Year
Sponsored by Sun City, Ariz., Lodge No. 2559

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 2015-16, the Elks National Foundation allocated $2.74 million to fund the Most Valuable Student scholarship program, which includes 500 four-year Most Valuable Student Scholarships. For more information about the Most Valuable Student scholarship program, including eligibility and deadlines, visit www.elks.org/enf/scholars.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Forget the Beaver State, Oregon is the Elk State: Part 2

 by Youth Programs Associate Colleen Muszynski

When your boss asks in the middle of yet another brutal Chicago winter if you’d be interested in traveling to Oregon, the only acceptable answer is YES, YES, A MILLION TIMES YES! It didn’t take much convincing to get me on a plane to Portland. I was ecstatic to be on my way to visit the Coos Bay Lodge No. 1160 Impact Grant project and the Northwest Region 1 Hoop Shoot contest. You’ve already heard from my co-worker Mary Morgan about the front end of our trip to the Northwest, so I’ll pick up where she left off. 
Elks (animals) looking good!

The Elks (people) in Coos Bay recommended we check out the elks (animals) in Reedsport on our drive back to Portland. Living in a city like Chicago, where the wildest animal I’ve ever seen is a stray cat, I was skeptical that we’d even get a chance to see any real live elks. Sure enough, not even a half-hour into our drive, Mary and I pulled off Highway 38 to see about a dozen huge elks just hanging out by the side of the road. Definitely the coolest animal sighting of the trip!

Four hours and one rush-hour traffic jam after our elks encounter, we made it to the Shiloh Inn to start our Hoop Shoot adventure. We just missed the party for the families and volunteers, but we were able to catch up with Regional Director Keith Mills and his stellar team of Hoop Shoot volunteers and supporters. 

Bright and early the next morning, Mary and I joined 24 anxious Hoop Shoot contestants and their families for breakfast before the big contest. With Keith and Amy Mills, we made our way to Clark College in Vancouver, Washington, only about five minutes away from the hotel.

Elks scholars make awesome volunteers!


The gym was already buzzing with activity. Though we made it to the contest well before the contestants and their families, local volunteers had already set up the gym and gotten everything ready. Soon after we arrived, Mary and I met up with two local Elks scholar volunteers, Nakaia Macomber-Millman and Hannes Zetzsche. Nakaia, a sophomore at Lewis and Clark University, and Hannes, a junior at the University of Portland, jumped right in with welcoming guests to the contest and handing out programs as soon as the first bus pulled up. They were fantastic!

The four of us climbed onto the bleachers a short time later to watch all of the action. Keith had us sit with the contestants and act as chaperones, which allowed us to take in the contest. With only four contestants in each division, and both girls and boys shooting at the same time, the contest ran at a fast clip. I’ve had the opportunity to watch quite a few Hoop Shoot contests in my tenure here at the Foundation, and I am always amazed at the level of focus and tenacity Hoop Shoot contestants possess on the court. The contest in Portland was no exception—the competition was fierce, the winners gracious, and the action non-stop until the last free throw.
Fans on the edges of their seat during the contest.

The most exciting part of being at a Regional contest for me is getting the chance to know six of our National Finalists and their families before we all arrive in Springfield. After the trophies were passed out at the hotel at lunch, I had the chance to talk with the families traveling to National Finals, which made coordinating trips once I got back to the office that much easier. 

Our time in Portland was capped off with a dinner at Vancouver, Wash., Lodge No. 832. Our table with Mills’ was by far the most vocal and most fun table in the room. It was a great culmination of a fantastic trip to the Northwest full of enthusiastic and generous Elks, talented Hoop Shoot contestants, beautiful scenery and perfect weather. I’m surprised I got myself on the plane back to Chicago. Soon enough, I’ll be getting myself on another plane—this one to Springfield for the National Finals, and another thrilling Hoop Shoot adventure!

Through the Elks National Hoop Shoot Free Throw Program, the Elks National Foundation offers youth the opportunity to engage in healthy competition, connect with their families and community, and succeed both on and off the court. In 2015-16, the ENF allocated $924,070 to fund this program, which includes the exciting addition of a Hoop Shoot app for contestants. For videos, news from the court, and more information about the Hoop Shoot, visit www.elks.org/hoopshoot.
 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Forget the Beaver State, Oregon is the Elk State: Part 1

 by Senior Programs Associate Mary Morgan

Elks National Foundation Programs Associate Colleen Muszynski and I recently had the chance to visit with some Elks on the West Coast. Here’s a recap of Part 1 of our trip.
Enjoying a sunny lunch in Portland!

As Colleen and I flew out of Chicago early on a Thursday morning, I dreamed of fresh mountain air, sunshine and temperatures above 15 degrees. I was not disappointed, as we lucked into a warm and sunny Oregon weekend. Locals kept insisting that the weather was like this all the time, but something about the way they said it left me suspicious of their claim. 

We landed in Portland, and immediately shook off our winter coats. We picked up a rental car at the airport and cruised into the city for lunch. We enjoyed sandwiches on the patio, stopped in Powell’s Books for some reading material and wandered in the sunshine for a bit. Then, with sustenance for our bodies and minds, we began our journey to Coos Bay, Oregon.
Sharon Kolkhorst with the Share Bear himself!

We were headed there to check out the Coos Bay Elks’ long-running ENF Impact Grant project, Weekend Share Bear Snack Packs. For the past seven years, the Lodge has assembled 750 snack packs each week for local students in need. Thanks to the Impact Grant and their own ongoing fundraising, Elks buy the supplies for 73 of these packs each week, and deliver them to the students at Madison Elementary School in Coos Bay.

The four-hour drive from Portland was a beautiful one—sunny, green and idyllic, with animals grazing alongside the road and snow-topped mountains in the distance. We arrived in Coos Bay just as night fell and the full moon over the water led us right into town. We checked into our rooms and prepared for our big day of filming on Friday.
Sharon and Lou unload groceries for the snack packs.

Bright and early on Friday morning, we met the Lodge’s fearless project manager Sharon Kolkhorst and her partner in crime service Lou Kolkhorst at the local school. We also met up with cameraman extraordinaire Billy, other project volunteers, and a photographer from the Elks partner organization Oregon Coast Community Action (ORCCA). (More on Joe the photographer later). Together, we headed into Madison Elementary School to meet with Principal Jan Schock, who shared with us how much the project was helping hungry students at her school. School was out for the day, so we sat in the library and discussed the importance of the Elks’ work, surrounded by children’s books and in the company of Madison Elementary School’s pet turtle, frog and tarantula. (The tarantula was 14 years old!)

After we caught Jan on film talking about the program, we headed to the ORCCA headquarters to film the Elks in action. Only half of the usual crew was there, but they were a sight to behold. Ten Elks surrounded a table covered with boxes and speedily filled a few hundred bags of supplies in just a few minutes, showing off their fine-tuned snack-packing prowess. It was a sight Henry Ford would have been proud of. Billy caught it all on film, deftly moving around the room to catch different angles with hardly a minute of preparation. They say he’s the fastest cameraman in the West. After the action, some the volunteers were kind enough to share their thoughts about the project on film. Included in this fine group of volunteers were four high school students, who stopped by on their day off to meet us and tell us about their work.

Through a service program at the local school, these four high school seniors and their friends raise thousands of dollars for the Snack Pack project each year. They also take over the packing duties each November and December, offering the Elks a well-deserved break.

After the filming wrapped up, the whole group of us decamped to the Coos Bay Elks Lodge for lunch. There, Colleen and I met more volunteers and Lodge members, and ate our fill. We also talked with Joe, the ORCCA photographer and cameraman, who’d spent the last three years working as a cameraman for the TV show Portlandia. He offered some insider information about our upcoming trip to the city.

After lunch, it was back to the open roads for us, as we were Portland-bound. We were sad to go, but Sharon and Lou ensured that we didn’t go hungry—we were sent off with some delicious cookies from a local bakery.

We don’t get to visit our grant projects nearly as often as we’d like, but when we do it is always wonderful to see the good that ENF-funded projects do in Elks communities. In that regard, the trip was a big success and I returned to Chicago refreshed and reenergized, ready to close out the 2014-15 CIP year and prepare for the next.

How was the drive to Portland? What happened on the next two days of our trip? Check out Part 2.

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. The ENF helps Lodges serve their communities in significant and ongoing ways by awarding Impact Grants of up to $10,000. Any Lodge can apply for these competitive grants. To find out more about Impact Grants and the Community Investments Program, visit www.elks.org/enf/community.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Elks Hoop Shoot

By Most Valuable Student Scholar Eric Kim
I finally got the chance to volunteer at the Alabama Elks State Hoop Shoot Contest. Full of tests and deadlines, the week leading up to it had been demanding, but the Hoop Shoot had been marked in my calendar for more than a month, and I was excited to attend. Representing various Lodges from across the state, hopeful participants and their families traveled hours to gather at Birmingham Southern College for the contest. It was nice to see how the Hoop Shoot brought the community together to support the hard work and persistence of the contestants.

Walking into the gymnasium, I spotted familiar faces from my sponsoring Lodge, Bessemer, Ala., Lodge No. 721, and several others I had met at the Elks National Convention in New Orleans over the summer. With wide smiles and open arms, they approached me and asked me about my family, my first year in college, and so on. As registration came to a close, everyone squeezed together in the bleachers, waiting for the much-anticipated Hoop Shoot. Before it began, I was unexpectedly introduced to the crowd to say a few words. I briefly told them how I remember watching a number of Hoop Shoot videos during the MVS Leadership Weekend and thinking, “This is something I want to be a part of.” I wished everyone the best of luck and took a seat near the half-court line so that I could watch both the boys and girls compete.

As the 8- and 9-year-olds began to line up, a silence fell across the gym, and everyone was still. The only sound came from basketballs hitting the ground, rim, and most times, nothing but net. I believe the pressure of a loud crowd of fans pales in comparison to that of dead silence, and I completely underestimated how well the contestants would handle it. I did not expect many to sink more than 20 baskets, but one 8-year-old quickly proved me wrong, confidently making 23 shots out of 25. I was beyond impressed. Shooting free throws seemed like second nature to them. Whatever pressure filled the gym was put aside and replaced by complete focus. As each contestant walked to the free throw line, I could see the sheer determination in their eyes and the hours of practice evident in their polished forms. I did not want anyone to lose, so I held my breath in anticipation for each shot, hoping for the lucky bounce that would tip the ball in.


The great thing about the Hoop Shoot is that everyone is on a level playing field. Being fast or tall does not give any one person an advantage. Instead, the only thing that matters is how much time one spends perfecting one’s free throw shot. Not only is the Hoop Shoot fair, it teaches kids important values, such as self-discipline, goal setting, sportsmanship, and so on. Indeed, it is hard to think of another program that offers such a wide range of merits. The Hoop Shoot was everything I expected and more.

In college, I have found that it is easy to get stuck in a routine and become absorbed by your studies and extracurricular activities. Oftentimes, you forget to take a step back and examine everything around you. The Hoop Shoot not only gave me a much-needed break from school but also reassured me of my place within the Elks family and the support I can draw from it. I am incredibly lucky and grateful to have this profound connection and invaluable resource.

Elks scholars like me want to get involved with your Lodge activities! If you are interested in inviting Elks scholars to volunteer at your Lodge, email scholarship@elks.org for more information. 

Eric Kim
2014 Most Valuable Student Scholar
Sponsored by Bessemer, Ala., Lodge No. 721 

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 www.elks.org/enf/scholars. For more information about the Hoop Shoot, including videos and news from the court, visit www.elks.org/hoopshoot.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Meet the Class of 2014 Elks Scholars

Nicolette Brannan
2014 Most Valuable Student Scholar
Stanford University—Biology Major

Sponsored by San Diego, Calif., Lodge No. 168


Just like their Elks family, Elks scholars share the values of education, community service, and having a positive impact on their communities. Nicolette Brannan is a perfect example.

She was active in high school, serving as president of the Science Olympiad and Academic League at her school, while also founding and leading a Spanish Literature Club after the AP Spanish Program was cancelled.

“I wanted to continue my studies and to allow others to continue theirs despite the elimination of the program,” says Nicolette.

Her desire to help students and promote education translated well into her community service. Each summer, Nicolette served as the volunteer ambassador for her local library’s summer reading program. She also tutored fellow students and became the tutoring coordinator for her school’s chapter of the California Scholarship Federation.

Nicolette was also active beyond the classroom, working full-time in the summer at the Law Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies where she conducted research on molecular plant biology.

With the help of her Elks family, Nicolette is attending her dream school and pursuing her interests in biology. She plans to obtain her Ph.D. and become a research professor, making contributions through research and teaching a new generation of students.

She has also been able to continue giving back despite her busy college schedule. She tutors two elementary students through Stanford’s Tutoring for Community group, where she is glad to continue the Elks’ legacy of giving back to one’s community.

“Being an Elks scholar means that I not only value education and community service but will continue to value it through my life,” says Nicolette. “I see how committed the Elks are to making a positive impact and I wish to be a part of that.”

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 2014-15, the Elks National Foundation allocated $2.44 million to fund the Most Valuable Student scholarship program, which includes 500 four-year Most Valuable Student Scholarships. For more information about the Most Valuable Student scholarship program, including eligibility and deadlines, visit www.elks.org/enf/scholars.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Kentucky Hoop Shoot

By Emergency Educational Grant Recipient Reed Tabor


When I was first asked by Terry McMichael to come to the Kentucky State Hoop Shoot Contest my first thought was—what is the Elks Hoop Shoot contest? I had no idea what I was getting into but I agreed to come anyway. As soon as I entered the gym I knew this was something serious. You could see the nervousness on the contestants with every shot they took. It was unlike any competition I had seen before, and to these kids it meant everything. That’s when I found out about how the Hoop Shoot works and that these kids weren’t just trying to be the best in the state of Kentucky—they were trying to become the best in the country. 

It was amazing to see the contestants, some of which were half my age, stand at the free throw line and knock down 95 percent of the shots they took. It was a great experience for me to be able to a part of such a great Elks program. It was nice to meet all the Elks volunteers that give so much of their time to make sure the contestants have a wonderful time at the State Hoop Shoot Contest. The Elks are the nicest most caring people I have ever met and truly care about each and every contestant whole-heartedly. I am thankful not only to the Elks for the scholarship I receive, but also for opportunities to be a part of what they do, like the Hoop Shoot contest.

Elks scholars like me want to get involved with your Lodge activities! If you are interested in inviting Elks scholars to volunteer at your Lodge, email scholarship@elks.org for more information. 


Reed Tabor
2014 Emergency Educational Grant Recipient
Sponsored by Madisonville, Ky., Lodge No. 738


In 2015-16, the Elks National Foundation allocated $300,000 to fund the Emergency Educational Grant program for children of deceased or totally disabled Elks. If you know any Elks children who may be eligible to receive an Emergency Educational Grant, encourage them to visit www.elks.org/enf/scholars for information, including eligibility and deadlines.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

THON

By 2014 Legacy Awards Recipient and Elks Scholar Advisory Board Member Anji Radakrishnan

Anji Radakrishnan, 2014 Legacy scholar and freshmen representative on the Elks Scholar Advisory Board, is giving us a glimpse into life as a college freshmen. Join her each month as she blogs about her exciting new challenges and experiences at Penn State. 


I had heard for months from the upperclassmen that THON weekend would be the most life-changing experience that I would have at Penn State. Even though my expectations were set so incredibly high, THON bypassed all of them. THON is a 46 hour no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon that raises money for the treatment of pediatric cancer. All of the funds go to the Four Diamonds Fund at Hershey Children’s Hospital. Each organization sponsors a THON child from a Four Diamonds family who has defeated or is battling cancer.

Months of preparation go into this celebratory weekend. During the year, there are three canning trips, during which all the members of each organization that participates travel to a nearby location. The canning trip that I went on was to Bridgewater, N.J., and over the course of the weekend, I became closer to my canning partners and the rest of my organization—South Asian Student Association. We stood outside storefronts and went door-to-door informing people about THON and our mission to conquer pediatric cancer.  Additionally, there were tables at the HUB, a central location on our campus, that sold jewelry and trinkets to raise funds. What started back in 1977 as a way to raise awareness has now flourished into the largest student-run philanthropy in the entire
world.

Four Diamonds families and children come to THON every year in order to celebrate the beauty of life and have a chance to enjoy a normal weekend. We play with the kids, dance to music, and have water gun fights. Although students generally stay with their THON orgs during the weekend, we all share the same compassion and love for our children, especially those that are enduring the hardest struggles of their lives. During the final four hours before 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, the survivors and children came to the stage to tell their stories. They expressed immense gratitude for how Four Diamonds has changed their lives. I am incredibly blessed to be able to share in the pride that every Penn State student has—we raised $13,026,653.23 for the kids!

What causes are you passionate about on your campus? Comment below!

Anjithaa Radakrishnan
Elks Scholar Advisory Board Freshman Representative
Pennsylvania State University