Wednesday, December 13, 2017

But Last, Coffee

by Makenna Cannon
Programs Assistant


Last month, I moved to a new city, into a new apartment, and, most importantly, started a new job at the Elks National Foundation. From taking the wrong bus to work one morning to volunteering at my first Standdown for Chicago veterans, it has been a month punctuated by stand-out experiences. That said, most of my November was spent learning; the ins and outs of the Most Valuable Student scholarship contest, what it means to be a member of the #ElksFamily and, of course, the correct bus route to work.

I started a month before the end of the Most Valuable Student scholarship contest deadline, the largest of the ENF scholarship programs. These past weeks have been a whirlwind of important deadlines for applicants and volunteers alike. The MVS contest relies on a national group of passionate, dedicated volunteers that judge applications at their local Lodges. I am constantly struck by how the volunteers, whether from Missouri or Alaska or Vermont, have the same reason for stepping up to judge: they care strongly about the future of each applicant. It is amazing to hear their desire to help and to make a difference in the lives of students in their communities. As one volunteer told me; “I know these kids; I know the kind of impact that a scholarship like this could have on their lives. It could mean everything to them.” This seemingly simple statement has already become the one I hold closest, and not a day has yet gone by that I have not thought about it.

Speaking with the current scholars and learning about their ongoing projects, studies and experiences has been equally enlightening and awe-inspiring. Even in my interview with the ENF, I was told about the #ElksFamily, which is the idea that Elks scholars are connected, not only with each other, but also with the ENF and Elks Lodges across the country. Now, working in the scholarships office, I get to see this concept in real life through scholars requesting to hold meet-ups at their universities with their fellow Elks scholars and sending thank-you notes with stories of their last volunteer experience at their local Lodge. It’s amazing.

I am very grateful to be a member of the #ElksFamily and to be working for an organization that makes such a tangible impact in the lives of students. My first month was wonderful thanks not only to the great experiences and stories, but to the warm welcome from the entire ENF staff as well. I truly can’t wait to keep learning about all the ENF programs and the wonderful work of scholars and Elks across the country. Maybe, I’ll start with learning how to work the coffee maker first.  

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Going through the Chairs

by Billy Donnelly
Youth Programs Associate



The process of becoming an Exalted Ruler at a Lodge is simple. Before you can become a leader, you first need to follow. Working your way up the ladder, or going through the chairs, is a perfect way for you to get hands-on experience with every aspect of Lodge business, thus allowing you to make informed decisions when elected as Exalted Ruler. It makes sense.

My experience with the Hoop Shoot has been the exact opposite of that. When I started as the Youth Programs Associate at the Elks National Foundation, I had never even seen a Hoop Shoot contest in person. My first contest was my own Lodge’s—Chicago Northshore, Ill., No. 1316—and it was an eye-opening experience.

Two years ago, I went to the Goethe Elementary gymnasium in Chicago ready to take notes and observe my first Hoop Shoot from the sidelines. I should have known better. Without skipping a dribble, my Lodge Secretary Paul Ronzani called me off the bench and told me that I was going to be a rebounder that morning. I was excited to be involved and felt like a part of the team. I had a blast that first year chasing down balls. It was only my first contest, and I already had the best seat in the house, right by the basket! Except it wasn’t really a seat, and by the end of the day I felt like I needed to ice my legs!

Last year when I arrived at my Lodge contest, I was ready to rebound. I made sure I got plenty of sleep the night before, and stretched my legs, after helping set up the gym. But before I made it to the basket, Paul called me over. This year, they needed a scorer. It felt like deja-vu. While I enjoyed rebounding the previous year, I was happy to get off my feet and keep score. It felt like a totally different Hoop Shoot. Rebounding is a physical presence. It is a repetitive motion. Keeping score requires so much more mental presence and focus. It was just as exhausting, but in a different way. By the end of the day my eyes were sore, and my hand was cramping, but it was worth it!

This year, I didn’t know what to expect. I showed up at Goethe with sharpened pencils and comfortable shoes—ready to work! There was only one position left on the court that I had yet to cover, and it was the position I feared the most. Line judge. Rebounders work as a team. Scorers work separately, but still as a team, and they get to sit. The line judge has no safety net. They are the leaders on the court, and in the spotlight. They make the call to determine if the shot counts, and in the Hoop Shoot, one shot often determines the winner. I have never envied the line judges at any level of competition.

Lo and behold, after we set up the gym, Paul called me over. I’ll give you one guess as to what I was going to be doing that day, line judge. I have had the opportunity to watch some of the program’s best line judges over the years, but actually stepping up to the line was a different story. I was so nervous for the 8 to 9-year-old contest, but I knew it needed to be done.

Despite the build-up, and years of fearing this responsibility, the scorers, rebounders, and I were able to form a rhythm almost immediately. It did not take long for me to realize that the line judge isn’t out there alone—they do have a safety net. The entire team of volunteers is there to support each other and work together. Once I understood that, I was able to really enjoy myself the rest of the day. Yes, I still went home tired, but that was because I had spent the morning doing something good.
I have enjoyed volunteering at every position during my first three Lodge contests. Each year I have learned something new, and gained a further appreciation for the Hoop Shoot volunteers. All across the country, volunteers work tirelessly, both physically and mentally, in order to give an opportunity to the youth in their community. It takes a lot of work, but their efforts benefit tens of thousands of kids every year. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how tired or sore they are. What matters is the difference they made.

Going through the chairs on the court has really opened my eyes to the sacrifices that Hoop Shoot volunteers make, and I will never take their hard work lightly. I plan on continuing to volunteer at my Lodge, so that I can continue to benefit and grow from my experiences. However, when it comes to the big leagues, the National Finals, I think I’ll let the Regional Directors handle the court.