Monday, August 21, 2017

The Fellow’s Fourth and First: Year in Review


by Jenna Johnson
Elks Scholar Fellow 

Channeling my inner artist as I place tiles in a mosaic mural on the 2016 Chicago Trip.
With the close of the Summer Elks Scholar Service Trip in June came the close of my fourth trip and first year working at the Foundation. As I look back on everything the Foundation has done for me as a scholar and staff member, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. 

In the past year, I have been invested in, challenged and supported in ways I could never have anticipated. I have had the opportunity to grow in professional development, leadership and service. My definition of Elks family has widened and my passion for service has deepened. 

Before accepting the position, I had never been to Chicago, had never worked in a scholarship office and my exposure to the Elks had been limited due to being the only Elks scholar at my school. But the ENF quickly changed everything for me. Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of spending a week with 56 Elks scholars who have participated in Service Trips and I’ve traveled to eight states for service trips or scholar events. I’ve participated in Elks Scholar Service Days, Scholar Meet-Ups, Elks National Convention, Leadership Weekend and Hoop Shoot National Finals. Through all of it, my admiration for the Foundation has only grown. I have continually been impressed and humbled by the vision and action of the people I work with and the scholars we work to support. 

As the Elks Scholar Fellow, my primary role is to plan and lead three Elks Scholar Service Trips each year. I could not love my job more, and I want to take a moment to share one takeaway from each trip with you!

Chicago 2016: Our week centered on serving veterans experiencing or transitioning out of homelessness. This was my first exposure to the complexity of veteran homelessness. After participating in the Chicago Standdown, an event during which dozens of organizations come together to provide medical services, housing assistance, clothes and more to hundreds of homeless veterans, I realized partnership is essential to ending any issue. No one falls into homelessness alone and no one transitions out alone. 

Interacting with our neighbors during the Dallas Trip
Dallas 2017: We served with CitySquare, an organization that fights poverty through service by managing a thrift store, food pantry and housing assistance programs. They refer to all individuals they serve as “neighbors”. They explained that “we are all rich and poor, just in different ways”. The scholars and I had lots of conversations about how to approach people we serve as neighbors, and remember that we all have gifts to offer and struggles to overcome.

My brother, Joel, an MVS Scholar, attended the New Orleans Trip.
New Orleans 2017: We served with Camp Restore, an organization that was created in response to Hurricane Katrina. Everywhere we went we witnessed the lasting effects of loss. We served in a food pantry and many of the clients were dependent upon the service because they are still dealing with the financial effects of losing a home due to the hurricane. However, more importantly, we witnessed the resiliency of people focused on moving forward, rather than looking back.

Chicago 2017: In returning to Chicago, we served in a food pantry and homeless shelter—services you would expect to be essential. However, we also served with Humble Design, an organization that furnishes homes for veterans and civilians transitioning off the streets. They opened my eyes to the fact that a multifaceted issue requires a holistic solution. People need food and clothing, but they also need a sense of stability and ownership. By furnishing a home to reflect personal taste, you communicate that not only does physical health matter, but so does a person’s dignity.

On every service trip, I most look forward to getting to know the participants as people. I want to hear their stories and affirm that each person is an integral part of our week. I want them to feel valued. As a group, we then seek to do the same for the neighbors we serve. The Foundation does the same for more than 11,000 scholars and alumni daily. Every event, email and opportunity is designed to communicate that the Foundation believes in Elks scholars and will support them financially and as a family. I can’t imagine better people to work with or a better cause to work for than that. 

I’m excited for year two of learning, serving and connecting with my Elks family! 

Speaking of #ElksFamily, here's one of my favorite films from the Dallas Service Trip: 



If you’d like to learn more about Elks Scholar Service Trips, please click here.

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