Thursday, April 21, 2016

On Board with the Best People on Earth

by Jenna Johnson
Elks Scholar Fellow

Since joining the Elks staff on April 4, I have been welcomed into a supportive and inviting community that embodies everything the Elks stand for, and I could not be more grateful. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the chance to converse with wonderful co-workers and had the opportunity to learn more about the various programs and events the Elks National Foundation facilitates.

I have always appreciated the mission of the Elks--I would not have been able to attend the university of my choice or pursue the degrees I was passionate about, had it not been for the generous support of the Foundation. However, my admiration for the organization only continues to grow as I learn about departments, such as the Community Investments Program, and events, such as the Hoop Shoot, that are entirely focused on fostering community partnerships. I’m looking forward to involving Elks scholars across the country in the good work of the Elks by engaging them on upcoming Elks Scholar Service Trips.

Jenna settles into her new digs at 2750 N. Lakeview.

Prior to beginning in the office, I had the opportunity to participate in the Spring Scholar Service Trip to Washington, D.C. It was a great introduction to what these trips are all about. My favorite part was the natural integration of relationship building and volunteering. Serving alongside each other provided an immediate platform of commonality for everyone in the group. It allowed me the opportunity to hear the scholars’ stories, learn what they are passionate about and find out how the Elks and the ENF have impacted their college careers.

As we served individuals experiencing homelessness, by preparing meals or by visiting veterans at a senior center, I was surprised by how quickly walls came down between different individuals. Scholars were forming friendships and engaging each other in meaningful conversation from day one. They were discussing what they had seen throughout the day, and they were processing their experiences in intentional and insightful ways.

Jenna (left) prepares a meal on the Spring Scholar Service Trip.

They were also learning from the individuals they served. They were in constant dialogue with the community members we came into contact with, and they were enthusiastic and eager to serve. The scholars cleaned homes, raked yards, led Bingo games, initiated conversation during bedside visits at the V.A., organized furniture, packed food, and participated in a variety of other forms of service. However, at the end of the day they always seemed more satisfied than drained. It was a privilege to witness the ways in which service became a life-giving endeavor.

It was a week full of connections. Attaching personal faces to pivotal issues, such as homelessness and food insecurity, bringing scholars together to form meaningful friendships, and getting to know the Elks members who make many college and career aspirations a possibility by investing in individuals. The trip had a transformational impact upon the scholars and staff alike and was a unique blend of serving communities, building relationships and exploring our nation’s capital.

Over the past few weeks, I have come to realize that the values I saw the Elks encourage and instill in scholars on the service trips are reflected in every aspect of the Foundation. I am eager to get involved, invest in the work of this organization, and learn from fellow staff members who are dedicated to selfless service.

As the second Elks Scholar Fellow, I am also thankful for the wisdom and support of Maryann Slater, who led the first three Elks Scholar Service Trips when she was in the Fellow position. She has laid the groundwork for service to become an integral part of scholars’ lives. Hearing about her vision for the trips has helped shape my understanding and makes me excited to follow in her footsteps as best I can. Click here to read her blog post from the Winter Trip. I feel privileged to be joining the Elks team, and I look forward to planning and leading the future Scholar Service Trips!


We know Elks scholars are dedicated to service. Elks scholars now have the opportunity to come together in service with their Elks scholar peers. In 2016-17, Jenna will lead three Elks Scholar Service Trips for up to 20 Elks scholars each. They are scheduled for the summer, winter and spring in locations from coast to coast. 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.

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