Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Nitty-Gritty on 
All in the Elks Family

by Jim O'Kelley, Director
Elks National Foundation

At the outset of this series, I mentioned that we didn't have time to talk with all 72 families during the busy finals weekend. Instead, we chose families that either had an interesting angle, such as the Holcers or the Abramses, or could provide insight on one of the volunteers we were following for the feature film.

The latter was the case with McKinley Fitzgerald and her mom, Jennifer. McKinley provided us with a good sound bite about Lynn Rutherford-Snow, Virginia's state director, that we used in the film.

McKinley (center) takes aim during the party at the Hall of Fame.

But we repurposed their interviews for the #TrueGritTuesdays series, because they both spoke to the role we as Elks play in developing grit (beyond the obvious contribution of the Hoop Shoot as a means).

Grit is the courage and resolve to keep going in the face of hardship. You can't force that. You can't force people to be tenacious. You can't force them to persevere. That comes from within.

We don't teach grit, they develop it.

The participants have to learn our program's lessons for themselves. But as volunteers working with kids through the Hoop Shoot program, there are things we can do to help them become grittier.

  1. We can help them set goals.
  2. We can make the experience fun.
  3. We can be supportive.
  4. We can provide encouragement.
Do those four things, and the rest will take care of itself.

In her first year in the program, McKinley reached the Virginia state contest. It was quite a run, but defeat there crushed her spirit. She was ready to quit. Lynn Rutherford-Snow wouldn't let her. The state director who had treated her like family, who had made her feel special, urged her to keep trying.

And she did.

She kept setting goals. She kept working hard. She kept having fun. Because she knew that Lynn and all the Virginia Elks were behind her, the way families are.

And all the while, without even really knowing it, McKinley was becoming grittier.

In case you haven't seen it yet, here's All in the Elks Family.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Nitty-Gritty on 
A Real Cool Hand

by Jim O'Kelley, Director
Elks National Foundation

Count me among those who have never seen Cool Hand Luke. It's true. But as I watched the footage from my interviews with Luke and Marvin Mathis, that's what was rattling around in my head. Why? Well, two reasons.

First, let's be honest--hear the name Luke and you're going to think of either Paul Newman or Luke Skywalker. Since I'm not a nerd, I was thinking of Paul Newman. (I wrote that with a straight face, hoping you've forgotten the Lord of the Rings reference I dropped in "The Nitty-Gritty on Father of the Man.")

Second, of all the kids I interviewed at the Hoop Shoot Finals last April, Luke was the most comfortable on camera. He was cool. California cool.

Luke works out with his dad at the Springfield Boys and Girls Club. During Hoop Shoot season, Luke shot 450 free throws per day.

So, once I arranged the footage, I Googled Cool Hand Luke quotes to find something appropriate for the title. This quote popped up:

"Sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand."

For context, watch the scene here. Newman delivers the line at 2:15 if you're impatient.

I think his point in that scene is that it's easier to perform when you have nothing to lose. For me, though, in the context of the Hoop Shoot and the Mathis interviews, the quote played perfectly with Marvin's refrain.

A Real Cool Hand opens with Marvin declaring that regardless of what happens in the Finals, Luke cannot lose the characteristics he's developed through the Hoop Shoot program. He circles back to that point around the one-minute mark, tying drive, determination and dedication to future success.

"It's going to help him be successful in anything he does in life," Marvin says.

In his first appearance on screen, Luke explains that this is his third year in the contest. In his first year, he made it to District. The next year, he reached Regionals, where he lost by one. And this year, he made it all the way to the National Finals. By working harder. By shooting 450 free throws per day.

Marvin drives the point home one final time: "Whether he walks home with a trophy or not Saturday afternoon, he's already a champion."

That's not the self-esteem movement run amok. "Every kid's a winner." That's the frank assessment of a parent who over three years, has watched his son's drive, dedication and determination develop through our program, and he knows that those traits will help Luke on and off the court for the rest of his life.

Luke hit 21 out 25 on Saturday afternoon. He walked away with nothing.

But sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.

In case you haven't seen it yet, here's A Real Cool Hand.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Alum of the Year Adventures

by Jimmy Tomczak
2011 Elks Scholar Alum of the Year

Hi, my name’s Jimmy Tomczak. I was honored as a 2011 Elks Scholar Alum of the Year. I spoke in Phoenix at the Elks National Convention. I served on the Elks Scholar Advisory Board, I helped at the National Hoop Shoot Finals, and I became even more involved in my local community and with Elks scholars at the University of Michigan, my alma matter, where I completed my Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience plus the College of Engineering’s Program in Entrepreneurship. But not everything’s a success story.

Andy Warhol once said you have to be willing to get excited about nothing. I was trying to get excited about everything. I didn’t realize that with all the highs of life that I was experiencing while living and building a company—I somehow thought I could escape the equally low lows.

After starting with nothing and taking my first company from a crazy idea, all the way to being selected to appear and taped for an episode of Shark Tank, things just didn’t work out. After investing years of my time and countless resources, I failed. Or chose to fail. I spent months figuring out what went wrong. I wondered if I had fear of success. Fear of failing at what was next? I was barely ready for putting the past behind me, let alone ready for what could be next. But then again, when is anyone ready for anything? When you choose to be ready.

I kept on keeping on.

As I willed myself to move forward, I recall doing more of what really mattered in life: connecting with friends, helping family, serving with strength in ways that made me happy and truly helped. I traveled. I worked at other business concepts in areas where I could learn the most the fastest. I love learning.

I remember sitting down with one of my mentors who runs a software development firm in Ann Arbor, Mich. He’s famous for bringing joy into the workplace. In fact he wrote a book on the subject.

Joy Inc. is the story of his organization and has been featured all over the national media. His award-winning company is noted as an outstanding workplace that puts out exceptional products and services for the world.

I asked him how he knew it was a good time to write a book. I too wanted to share some of what I learned in hardcover form with the world.

“Should I do more before writing a book, or can I start writing now?” I asked him.

He told me you’re never really ready—but you’ll know the right time.

In fact, when I purchased a copy of his book—now a bestseller—I caught him one day between his intense tour and speaking schedule to ask him to sign it and meet to update each other on where we were at. We chatted about life and joy and doing good work. His handwritten dedication in the book to me: “Jimmy, It’s been great walking along together on our journeys. I wish you JOY on the journey ahead." – Rich.

* * *
Voyages through life’s highs and lows make life worth living. When we embrace all experiences equally we can really shine. We can live, love, and serve with boundless energy. I chose to build a community around the concepts of inspiration and living your best life now. I found the best way to do that was to ask people to support what I’ve already been doing along the way: documenting my personal journey that started from very little to learning a whole lot by doing. I created a Kickstarter campaign to create a one-of-a-kind hardcover book—a book you’d be proud to own. A book that looks like art just sitting on your coffee table. A book that can be passed along to future generations.

If you’d like to learn more or order your copy of Lakeside and Tide, please visit lakesideandtide.com

Thank you for your support. I wish you the best on your journey.

-- Jimmy

PS: Know that nothing would bring me greater joy than to connect with you and find how we can share inspiration. If something resonated with you in this post or something else you found about me online please reach out via facebook, twitter, email or via my website jimmytomczak.com.

Connecting with each other and becoming real friends is so powerful. I’ve watched friends I met at Elks events go on to do big things: Clara raised money for a train ride across the country to meet other millennials and promote healthy food. Maryann got involved with the ENF at the organizational level. Macy’s volunteered at more Hoop Shoots than anyone I know. I still keep in touch with Sean, Erika, and other scholars too. Sharing these kinds of experiences and the ones we will in the future make for the warm-fuzzy-feels of joy and happiness every day. The Elks National Foundation helped teach me how to serve to the best of my abilities.

So how can I help you, really?

by Jimmy Tomczak
2006 Elks Most Valuable Student Scholar
2011 Elks Scholar Alum of the Year
2011 Elks Scholar Advisory Board Member




Thursday, October 15, 2015

An NU Adventure

By 2015 Most Valuable Student Scholarship Recipient and Elks Scholar Advisory Board Member Jessica Carter

Jessica Carter, 2015 Most Valuable Student scholar and freshmen representative on the Elks Scholar Advisory Board, is giving us a glimpse into life as a college freshman. Join her each month as she blogs about her exciting new challenges and experiences at Northwestern University. 

After five long months of waiting, I’m finally at Northwestern! From orientation and starting classes to hosting an Elks Scholar Meet-Up, it has been a crazy and exciting past few weeks and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Northwestern is very different from most schools. To start, our orientation is 10 days long. This year, the university rented out Six Flags Amusement Park, the Chicago Field Museum, and even a Target just for the freshman class. There was no shortage of excitement! It’s a week centered around building friendships and getting familiar with campus so by the time classes actually began, students are fully prepared for their NU adventure.

Another thing that’s unique is that Northwestern runs on a quarter system. So I’ll be taking four classes at a time for 10 weeks. It’s good in that there’s a lot of flexibility with scheduling and finding required classes for majors. Right now, I’m enrolled in Developmental Psychology, Law and the Civil Rights Movement, Introduction to Philosophy, and School and Society. I’m hoping to go to law school after my four years at Northwestern and the cool thing about being Pre-Law is that there is no set major—I can pursue whatever I choose. So it’s my goal this year to explore as many different subject areas as possible to find the major that’s best for me.

One of the biggest (and best) differences from high school is that there is never any shortage of excitement. It’s always easy to get involved, even in activities that are far out of my comfort zone. For example, this past week, one of my friends told me he was DJ-ing at the local radio station and asked if I wanted to come help. I was very bad, you will definitely not be hearing me on Kiss FM any time soon. It was just such a unique experience, one that makes me immensely excited for everything that’s to come in these next four years.

A final highlight was getting the chance to host an Elks Scholar Meet-Up. Three other Northwestern scholars joined me, Elks Scholar Fellow Maryann Slater, and the wonderful Debbie Doles for dinner at Smylie Brothers. The other scholars had already been through freshman year and hearing their advice about how to make the most of my college experience was really helpful. It was a great to see how, through the Elks family, we were able to make the large Northwestern community a little bit smaller.

From making great memories and even greater friends, my time at Northwestern has been nothing short of amazing. I can’t wait to see—and share—where the rest of my freshman year takes me.

Jessica Carter
Elks Scholar Advisory Board Freshman Representative
Northwestern University 

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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Nitty-Gritty on 
Preparation Meets Opportunity

by Jim O'Kelley, Director
Elks National Foundation

Of the six films in the #TrueGritTuesdays series, Preparation Meets Opportunity is the most lighthearted. That's by design.

In this film, we circle back to a point first made in Ice Cream and the Rocky Road Back, which led off the series. With kids, reinforcing the traits that develop grit--goal-setting, practice, hard work, determination--is much easier when they're working hard at something they want to do. And clearly, NiNi Davenport is a girl who's having fun doing what she's doing. You see it in her answers, and you see it in the b-roll. (By the way, I had no idea what b-roll was 18 months ago, but I'm an old hand at filmmaking now. B-roll is the extra footage used for cuts while the interview subjects are talking.)

"Each step along the way, we've come away with a new friend," says NiNi's father, Larry. Here, NiNi (left) and eventual champion Zoe Canfield look pretty relaxed at the Breakfast of Champions.

The Hoop Shoot has been developing gritty kids for more than 40 years. Why is the program so effective? There are a few factors in its favor.

  1. Basketball is a fun activity.
  2. The contest starts at an age when kids haven't yet been weeded out of the sport or chosen to specialize in another one.
  3. For the older kids, free throws are a level playing field that neutralizes the natural advantages of size, strength and speed.

The Hoop Shoot program's detractors will often question the benefits of an activity that takes less than an hour to complete. They miss the point. The contest isn't the thing. The contest is just a carrot. It's the perfect carrot for encouraging behavior that develops grit.

Mat Pentelute, the father of 2014 national champion Cole, nailed it in the Lessons Learned film. He said, "The thing I like about what Cole has done with this Elks Hoop Shoot is it's been Cole. He wants to go practice. He wants to put in the time. He sets his goals. He's worked super hard."

Mat's quote is at the 54-second mark if you'd like to hear the words in his voice.

Larry Davenport, NiNi's father, echoes the sentiment in Preparation Meets Opportunity. "When she first started [playing] basketball," he says, "I told her if you're willing to put the work in, I'll get behind you 100 percent."

NiNi has put the work in, only to her, it doesn't seem that much like work because see above.

NiNi hit 21 out of 25 in the Finals to finish in a four-way tie for third. In the shoot-off that followed, she fell to fifth place. Practice and hard work won't guarantee a national championship, but it will give competitors a better chance to win and advance.

That lesson is not lost on the participants. Win or lose, even the youngest competitors can connect the time spent in the gym with improved success at sinking free throws, and that reinforces gritty behavior. The lesson translates off the court as well.

There's nothing lighthearted about that.

In case you haven't seen it yet, here's Preparation Meets Opportunity.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Nitty-Gritty on 
Father of the Man

by Jim O'Kelley, Director
Elks National Foundation

“The child is father of the man.”

I’m not sure where I first saw that written--whether on a t-shirt or a billboard or tagged on a wall--but it was recent and it caught my eye. “The child is father of the man.” Sounds like a riddle, and I love a good one.

"I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you," Christopher Abrams might have said to his father had they been in Lord of the Rings instead of the Hoop Shoot Finals.

After running across it a few more times, I finally turned to Google. Turns out the line comes from “The Rainbow,” a poem penned by William Wordsworth in 1802.

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

It means that our experiences as children--the lessons we learn and the habits we form--shape the adults we become.

“The child is father of the man.”

When I sat down to watch and arrange the footage from my interview with Phil and Christopher Abrams, the line kept popping through my head. I chose Father of the Man for the title because the film starts with Phil talking about his dad. Then the title appears, so we naturally assume that the story will be about Phil’s father.

But we quickly realize that it’s really about Phil and the person the Hoop Shoot helped him become.

You see, he’s a former participant. We learn that as a 9-year-old in his first year of competition, he made it all the way to Regionals before meeting his match. Phil describes his defeat there as an eye-opener.

“You’re good,” he says, “but there’s somebody out there who has worked harder and is better.”

When it comes to developing grit, losing is part of the process. Yet, too often in youth sports today--at least at the beginning levels--we protect our kids from defeat. Whether through participation awards ("Everyone's a winner!") or by not keeping score ("No one's a winner!"), we shelter them from failure. But as adults, one thing we know is that failure is everywhere. Gritty people know how to deal with it. And they learn to deal with it by dealing with it.

General Patton said, “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.”

He had grit. So does Phil Abrams.

He didn’t give up when he lost at Regionals as a first-time participant back in 1982. He kept trying and made it back four years later. But he lost again. Twenty-nine years later, his son Christopher finally carried him over the hump.

“You guys have provided a great vehicle for these kids to participate in something that teaches them a work ethic, a drive, success, failure, how to cope with both,” Phil says. “How you react to failure and success is very important in all things. It really teaches that.”

Can there be a better endorsement for our program and the lessons it teaches than a former participant who encourages his kids to compete?

“The child is father of the man.”

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s Father of the Man.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Nitty-Gritty on 
Ice Cream and the Rocky Road Back

by Jim O'Kelley, Director
Elks National Foundation
There simply wasn’t enough time to sit down with every family during the Hoop Shoot finals. We had to pick families who either filled a need--they could provide insight on one of the volunteers we were following in the feature film--or had an angle.
No stranger to the Hoop Shoot, Korrie Holcer knows that luck happens when preparation meets opportunity. Still, a lucky penny can't hurt any.

The Holcers were a natural choice for a sit-down because they had not one but two angles. First, you have Korrie following in big sister Kiera’s footsteps. Korrie was competing in her first finals--in the girls 8- to 9-year-old division--but two years earlier, she was in Springfield as a spectator. And watched Kiera win that same division.
Second, you have the opportunity to check in on the ice cream shop. The film starts with a clip of Kiera speaking to the delegates at the 2013 Elks National Convention in Reno. Kiera didn’t just win a championship that year. As the best overall female shooter, she also won the Getty Powell Award and an appearance at the Convention.
In the clip, she tells the story that inspired the name of the film. In a nutshell, her father promised to buy her an ice cream shop if she sank all 25 shots at the finals. She did. Here's Kiera’s full speech:

That story also leads us into the grit series. And I should say here that we didn’t set out to film a series of stories about grit. That happened organically. When contestants and families talk about the benefits of participation in the Hoop Shoot, the grit thing just happens (which lends credence to everything we’re saying).
Goal-setting is a key to developing grit. The idea is to get kids to set long-term goals and then work hard to achieve them.
Now, think about Sisyphus and the bolder he had to push up a hill for all eternity. That’s one approach. Not giving up when you know you’re doomed to fail certainly takes grit. But with kids, developing grit works so much better when they’re working hard at something they love.
That’s why the Hoop Shoot is so effective. Basketball is fun. Kids like it. And free throws, in particular, offer a level playing field. You don’t have to be the biggest, strongest or fastest athlete on the floor to excel. You just have to be willing to put in the time.
And now we weave Korrie back into the story. In the film, her mom describes her as a gym rat. She asks to go to the gym two or three times a day. She’s working hard at something she loves, and she wants to be there. Doing well in the contest is her goal, not her parents’ goal or anyone else’s. It’s hers, and that’s why she goes after it so hard.
In the film, their father tells us that each time he raised the ice cream bar, Kiera would meet the challenge.
Yes, they’re doing something they love. Yes, they’re only 8 to 13 years old. But the lesson is not lost on them, and it translates off the court: Work hard and the rewards will come.
Bribes can’t hurt. Once again, though, we caution you: When you help your kids set goals, they may achieve them.
In case you haven’t seen it yet, here’s Ice Cream and the Rocky Road Back.