by Ashley LaFountain
2013 Legacy Scholar, University of Toledo
I did not expect what I gained from the experience when I initially signed up for the Summer Elks Scholar Service Trip. I assumed it was just going to be something I put down on applications for future use and a good way to improve my resume. I did not anticipate the effect it would have on me.
At first, I was overwhelmed by what I saw and learned. At nearly every street corner, there was at least one person holding a sign or trying to collect change. Sometimes the sign would say something about a veteran, sometimes just ‘Please Help’. Nonetheless, the idea really bothered me and continued throughout the trip, only escalating as we helped various local service organizations including the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center Food Pantry, Volunteers of America, and especially the Chicago Standdown.
It becomes all too regular to turn a blind eye to the man or woman on the street, holding a sign that says please help or will work for food. As a result, it becomes easier for individuals to take on the idea that poverty is not a problem we face in the United States and that individuals must go out of the country for service trips. Part of the problem is that if you are not exposed to it or surrounded by it in a big city, you may not consider insufficiency or homelessness a problem. Nonetheless, the problem remains evident throughout nearly every town, and is evident even among those we would least expect: our veterans.
The very same people we welcome back to our country are the same ones, maybe a month or maybe 10 years after they come back, that are struggling to find their next meal or something as simple as a change of socks. To me, the idea of this was eye-opening because of this trip and remains nauseating to me even after. Overall, I was extremely glad to have participated in the Summer Elks Scholar Service Trip. I learned a lot about the Elks in general and I look forward to becoming an Elks member to serve veterans and those in my local community any way that I can.
Ashley is in the process of joining her local Elks Lodge. We’re excited that she will continue to serve in the name of the Elks as a scholar and as a member.