Monday, February 28, 2011

Academics, activities and achievements. Oh my!

By Anne Shields, Programs Relationship Associate

Anne, hard at work entering the
2011 MVS National Finalists' information. 
“Do you have any boxes under your desk?”
“No–why?”
“A whole lot of MVS scholarship applications were just delivered and I need a place to put them.”

If you were to stop by my desk this week, you might have overheard this conversation several times. Programs Assistant Brianne Menges and I have been wading through boxes upon boxes of Most Valuable Student National Finalists applications that are pouring in from across the country.

The applications are pouring in!
Our adjoining office space looks more like a UPS warehouse than a workspace, but we don’t mind. See, we’re charged with receiving the 500 Most Valuable Student National Finalist applications and entering the students’ data into our system. All this has to be done in a short time frame as the state judging ended on February 16, and we must have the information entered by February 25—just in time to notify the anxious applicants.

I know that this might not sound like an ideal day at the office, but we’re loving it because each application amazes us more than the next! These students manage to get perfect SAT scores while volunteering hundreds of hours and working several days a week. They are Eagle Scouts and Gold Award recipients, National Merit Finalists, team captains, and National Honor Society presidents. They have taken part in countless activities, received numerous awards, and are headed to the best colleges in the country.

Brianne enters information from one
of 500 outstanding applications.
It’s truly amazing to see how hard these high school seniors have worked the past four years, and it’s even more exciting to think about where they will be in four more. While Brianne and I scramble to get the last few entered, we know all the work is well worth it when the ENF awards the class of 2011 MVS scholarships to these deserving students. 

Every time I enter a student’s name, I wonder if this will be one of the $60,000 top prize winners. I can’t wait to find out in April!

In 2010-11, the Elks National Foundation allocated $2.296 million to fund the Most Valuable Student Scholarships. For more information about the Most Valuable Student scholarship program, including eligibility and deadlines, please visit our website.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pantry Partners for Success

By Debbie Doles, Assistant Director

As Jim mentioned in his February 18 post, we’ve been trying to work in side visits to our Community Investments Program grant recipients whenever we’re out in the field. We had another opportunity to do so last week during a planned trip to the Region 7 Hoop Shoot contest in Las Vegas, Nev.

Our Programs Associate Mary Morgan and I left the cold confines of Chicago on Wednesday, February 16, and flew to a much warmer Las Vegas. We rented a car and drove two hours northeast to visit with one of our superstar Impact Grant Lodges—St. George ‘Dixie’ Lodge No. 1743 and its “Pantry Partners for Success” project.

Thanks to the ENF Impact Grant, this Millcreek
student can focus on school without
worrying about funding her next meal.
Mary arranged all the details with the Impact Grant “Pantry Partners for Success” project managers Wayne Preston and Betty Archambault. Before we headed to the high school to see the pantry in action, our first stop on Thursday morning was to the Elks Lodge for a quick tour.

We received a warm ‘Dixie’ Elks greeting outside the Lodge from Wayne and Bud Thomas. Inside, a whole posse of Pantry Partner supporters was waiting to show us around. We had a grand tour of the Lodge, which is perched above a beautiful public golf course and has vistas of all of St. George and the surrounding mountains. As we were loading into Bud’s car to caravan to the high school, we spotted Basic Joe Warren in the parking lot! After a quick catch-up with our old Hoop Shoot pal, we bid Basic Joe farewell and headed down the hill and across the valley to Millcreek High School.

Of course, Mary and I were already incredibly excited to see the St. George Elks in action; but, as if to underscore our enthusiasm, the whole car ride over, Bud told us how he’s been an Elk for 31 years and nothing has made him more proud to be a member than being a part of the “Pantry Partners for Success” project. He said, and I quote, “I get more out of being a part of this project than the kids do!” Nothing warms an ENF staffer’s heart like hearing those words.

Now, you may have heard us talk about the St. George Impact Grant project over the past year. After all, we’ve been quite taken with their story. See, the students at Millcreek are not your average teenagers. Students here often struggle with things like working full-time, living independently and raising children on their own, all while attending class four days and nights a week. They come to Millcreek because of trouble at traditional schools, health issues, and court referrals. But, what’s evident from the moment you walk into the school is that they are not alone in their struggle.

Wait. Before I tell you about meeting a few of the amazing students that are succeeding against all odds and benefiting from the Elks involvement in their lives, let me give a bit more background. Mary and I heard about how the Lodge already had a relationship with Millcreek before receiving the 2010 Impact Grant through other community service activities (this Lodge really does some amazing things!) But, the story of how the “Pantry Partners for Success” project came to be epitomizes what we were hoping for when we established the grants in 2007. It’s so perfect I couldn’t make it up if I tried.

Betty Archambault told us that when she first heard about the ENF Impact Grants, she knew that she had to get one for St. George. She and a fellow Elk first approached the school district for ideas. But, none came. Around the same time, Betty was at Millcreek meeting with Heidi Tasso, guidance counselor extraordinaire, when there was a gentle knock on the door. Heidi excused herself to see what the student needed. Well, it turned out that the student needed food. He had a night class and had nothing to eat and no money. Well, my friends, the rest is history. Betty now knew exactly what the Lodge had to do.

Okay, back to Millcreek… of course, we got to see the actual location of the pantry, which is right off the main school entrance in the teacher’s lounge—shelves and shelves stocked floor to ceiling with food and other household items. Impressive.

But, do you want to know what the most impressive part of the entire trip was? It was hearing from student after student, in their own words, what it means to be able to depend on the pantry, and the kindness of the Elks, to make it through the day. One young mother was so choked up that at first she couldn’t get the words out. Believe me, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. When she was able to, she told us that she had thought about dropping out to get a job to feed her baby, but the pantry allows her to stay in school. Later, we saw the same student in the nursery rocking her baby. Her smile and nod said it all: thank you.
We heard from other students with similar stories. All incredibly moving. All gracious. All because of the dedication and kindness of the Elks.

Heidi told us that the pantry is already working. Since the pantry started providing night-time snacks and meals, attendance at night school has improved. She also thinks that without the project, up to six students might have already dropped out. The Lodge has even gained two new members because of the project—including Heidi and the school principal’s spouse!


Wayne (left) and Bud (middle) help sort
through fresh produce for the pantry.
 The St. George ‘Dixie’ Elks have even expanded the project by partnering with the local food bank to provide fresh fruit and other snacks, estimated at about $81,500 for the year. This has allowed them to significantly expand the project, providing more child care supplies, bus vouchers for transportation, and school supplies.

I am always proud of the work we do at the Elks National Foundation. Especially of what the Community Investments Program is enabling Lodges across the country to do to make a difference. But, seeing the St. George ‘Dixie’ Elks “Pantry Partners for Success” project in action makes me proud to be an Elk, too. Mary’s email signature includes a quote from Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." How very true.

Next week, Mary will tell you about our visit with Wayne Leroy of the North Las Vegas, Nev., Lodge No. 2353, and their work with homeless veterans.

The ENF awards Impact Grants to help Lodges significantly address unmet needs in Elks communities. Impact Grants are competitive grants worth up to $10,000 and are open to all Lodges.  Click here for more details on the Community Investments Program.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Elks Community Builder of the Week

El Cajon, Calif., Lodge No. 1812

El Cajon, Calif., Lodge No. 1812 uses its Impact Grant to provide free music education to local youth. Elks work with the East County Youth Symphony to ensure that every child who wants to learn has an instrument. They also fundraise for the orchestra, and organize, publicize, and host all the symphony’s concerts. That’s the sound of a beautiful partnership!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Digging DIG

Trustee Frank Garland and Director Jim O'Kelley
check out the new greenhouse.
By ENF Director Jim O'Kelley

We’ve been trying to work in side visits to our Community Investments Program grant recipients whenever we’re out in the field. So, last week, during my brief (late Tuesday afternoon to Thursday morning) trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for a budget meeting with our Board of Trustees, I shoehorned a visit to Murrell’s Inlet Lodge No. 2797’s Impact Grant project.

The Lodge received a $10,000 Impact Grant in October 2010 to partner with the Georgetown Disabilities Board on a gardening program for adults with severe disabilities. The centerpiece of the program is a greenhouse that the Elks built. Each week, about 15 Lodge members volunteer at the greenhouse at classes that teach gardening skills to the clients. The gardening program will culminate with the clients bringing their produce to a farmers market.  

My window for the visit was small. The Board meeting was scheduled to end at 3:15 p.m., at the Marina Inn at Grand Dunes in Myrtle Beach, and I needed to be back there by 6:30 for a dinner. Assistant Director Debbie Doles, who oversees our in-house programs, worked out the details for me with Bill Judd, the enthusiastic and energetic manager of the Impact Grant project, which is called DIG (Disabled Involved in Gardening). All I had to do was show up.

I did that with Trustee Frank Garland, a past national president of the Elks and also a former chair of our Board.

“How long will it take to get there?” Frank had asked me.

“Oh, 15 to 20 minutes,” I said.

It was actually closer to an hour. Whoops.

And the start was delayed when Bill and District Deputy Dave Straka couldn’t find the valet who had checked their car. Bill was on a tight, expertly coordinated schedule, and he wasn’t about to let a missing valet slow him down. Demonstrating some of his old Marine ingenuity, he walked up to the valet station, opened the key box, and removed his. A moment later, we were off, and I had fresh insight into his “get-it-done” mentality.

The long car ride gave me a chance to talk to Bill about the project.

“We were ecstatic when we got this grant,” he said. He explained that they had tried and failed the three previous years. But in Orlando, he and ER Fred Thompson attended our Impact Grant workshop and office hours, and that helped.

“[Debbie and Mary Morgan, the CIP Associate] were probably sick of us with all our questions, but it really helped,” echoed Fred when I met him at the greenhouse.

We were greeted at the greenhouse by about 15 Elks volunteers in matching forest green DIG t-shirts. They also wore a matching sense of pride and accomplishment.

Bill had organized a ribbon-cutting ceremony for my visit. The president of the local Chamber of Commerce was there with oversized ceremonial scissors, along with a more practical pair.

She praised the Elks in her remarks. “Your support shows that there are people who still care about the community,” she said.

Three representatives from the Georgetown Disabilities Board were also on hand, including the woman who first dreamed of the greenhouse project many years ago. (Bill rounded many to 20, but either way, the greenhouse was a long time coming.) They were extremely grateful for the Elks’ support.

And everyone was full of praise for me and the Elks National Foundation. But as I explained in my remarks, “Our job at the Foundation is to help Elks build stronger communities. We can make the resources available to do that, but it takes dedicated volunteers like you to make a project like this happen.”

On the ride home, Bill noted that the community stepped in to help as soon as the Lodge was notified that it had won a grant.

“That letter made a big difference,” he said. “After I got the commitment that we were going to get the funds, people were willing to help.”

He took the letter to Lowe’s and got a 10 percent discount on supplies. The Knights of Columbus contacted him and offered to split the cost of the dirt. (Which made the dirt even cheaper…) And the company that delivered the dirt waived three of the four delivery charges.

These partnerships and discounts reduced the project’s overall costs. Bill asked whether they could use leftover funds to expand the garden.

“Of course we’d detail the changes in our quarterly progress report,” he said.

“Bill,” I said, “we didn’t give you $10,000 to build a greenhouse. We gave you $10,000 to fund a gardening program for adults with disabilities. The greenhouse was just the beginning.”

Bill got us back to the hotel by 6 p.m., and then he was off, a busy, energetic man on his way to another assignment. As he drove home, I’m sure he was thinking about the garden.

The ENF awards Impact Grants to help Lodges significantly address unmet needs in Elks communities. Impact Grants are competitive grants worth up to $10,000 and are open to all Lodges. Murrells Inlet, S.C., Lodge No.2797 was one of 51 Lodges nationwide to receive a grant in 2011. Click here for more details on the Community Investments Program.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Elks Community Builder of the Week

BREAKING NEWS! The ENF Board of Trustees has doubled the funding for the Community Investments Program to $4.6 million from $2.3 million. This increase in funding will allow Lodges to do even more to strengthen their communities. Every week from now until the new fiscal year begins in April, we will highlight a Lodge that has used a Community Investments Program grant to make a meaningful difference in its community.

Long Beach, Wash., Lodge No. 1937


Long Beach, Wash., Lodge No. 1937 used its Gratitude Grant to support a new branch of the Boys & Girls Club in their community. Elks purchased games, books and sports equipment for the club, and also volunteer their time. The happy recipients pose here with their supplies!