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Same City, New Perspective


by Jyotsna Bitra
Most Valuable Student Scholar


My name is Jyotsna Bitra and I attend the University of Illinois at Chicago. I am studying Economics on the pre-medicine track. I love to play tennis, bake, write, teach, and listen to other’s stories. Growing up in Illinois and attending college in Chicago, I did not think participating in service in Chicago would be anything special. I’m used to the city and I was familiar with the area. But I was so glad to be mistaken.
 
Serving with my fellow scholars.
The first day of the Elks Scholar Service Trip, we served at a shelter known as Breakthrough Urban Ministries. We prepared and shared a meal with those experiencing homelessness. I knew there were many individuals in this situation throughout Chicago, and I often pass many of them on the way to the grocery store or mall. But I’ve never stopped to talk to them, other than muttering a hello. At Breakthrough, I heard some of their stories and witnessed their interactions. They seemed like a family, an unorthodox one perhaps, but a family nonetheless. They care for each other and when one client stopped coming because he found an apartment, the others felt a mixture of hope and loss.

The next day we visited the Jesse Brown V.A., which is right across the street from the building I conduct research in during the school year. Yet, I never knew it existed. In fact, I didn’t know what a V.A. was until this trip. But the pop-up food pantry we set up and served in was one of my favorite opportunities during this trip. Seeing the massive amounts of food and knowing it was all going to lessen stress for families and individuals put me in awe. I served near the end of the line and I realized the veterans thanked me more than I was able to thank them. And yet, my work of emptying boxes and organizing food didn’t begin to compare to the service they have provided our country. I learned that even though we each have our own place in society, we have to help each other in order to keep moving forward. Even though my volunteer work seems minor, the veterans experiencing homelessness have great appreciation and gratitude, and it is truly rewarding to witness.

The next day we visited Humble Design, which was by far one of my favorite organizations because turning a “house into a home” seems simple, but does wonders for families. We learned that coming home to a place of complete comfort and knowing it is yours can completely change a person’s perspective on life. A home is not simply a symbol of hope, but longevity. I am so thankful to the Elks for introducing me to the Humble Design warehouse in Chicago.

Finally, the last two days we helped with the Chicago Standdown. We sorted and folded more clothes than I ever have in my life. But all of this was put to good use when we helped veterans pick out clothing to take home. I saw their faces light up when they found a coat that fit them perfectly. The experience was a mixture of satisfaction, tiredness, smiles and endless thank-yous. When we left on Friday, I knew I wanted to return and serve at the Winter Standdown in November.
We had a great time exploring Chicago! 

The Service Trip was incredibly moving and impactful, but the other scholars I served with were equally important and touching. I met some amazing people from all around the country. I know we will all go our own way, but I am very happy to have met them and come together to learn in valuable ways.

I could go on and on about how much I love and miss the scholars I came to know on the trip, but I hope my fellow scholars will experience the connections themselves. Elks Scholar Service Trips are about more than meeting scholars or serving in a city; they’re about a combination of those two experiences that sparks new ideas and feelings to help us create a better home for all.

We know Elks scholars are dedicated to service. Now, they have the opportunity to come together in service with their Elks scholar peers. The Elks National Foundation offers three Elks Scholar Service Trips per year for up to 20 Elks scholars each. 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, visit enf.elks.org/scholarservicetrips.

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