Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Show Me the Heat

by Billy Donnelly
Youth Programs Associate

A contestant shoots a free throw during the competition.
While low temperatures afflict most of the United States in January and February, things are really starting to heat up for the Hoop Shoot. In gyms all across the country, Hoop Shoot contestants have been competing in state contests--another stop on the road to Chicago.

This year I had the privilege of attending the Missouri State Hoop Shoot contest, just outside of St. Louis. Randy Eaton has been the Show-Me State’s Director for more than 30 years, but after all that time, you can tell he has not lost his fire and passion for the program.

I left a looming snow storm in Chicago, happily heading south to help out with Randy’s event. It didn’t take long after my arrival before we could start to get to work. The hotel was practically ready to go—a Holiday Inn with an arcade and a large indoor pool meant that the 48 best free-throw shooters in Missouri weren’t going to have to go far to have some fun.

Randy took me to go help set up for the Awards Banquet at Eureka-Pacific, Mo., Lodge No. 2644. Exalted Ruler Ron Kurtz warmly greeted us when we arrived. He was so excited to be hosting all of the Hoop Shoot contestants the next day, along with the Missouri State Association President. The Lodge banquet hall had already been set up to seat more than 200 people. Before long, we were joined by a few other Missouri volunteers, including Jason Eaton. Jason is not only Randy’s son, but a 1981 National Finalist—he has been helping stoke the fire in his dad ever since.

We ate dinner at the Lodge—a pork steak, which is not only a classic St. Louis BBQ dish, but just so happened to be the size of a basketball! With full stomachs, we put together trophies, pumped up basketballs, and made sure everything was ready for the next day.

The gym was cold as we arranged chairs and taped the 8-9-year-old line the following morning. The contestants, however, were not. During warm-ups, shot after shot went through the net. As I helped rebound, I knew we were going to be in for a good contest. Finally, it was time. The gym temperature had risen with the packed rows of bleachers filled with family and friends. Everyone was excited to see some sparks. The contestants did not disappoint.
Participants gather excitedly before the contest begins.

Swish after swish, shoot-off after shoot-off, the contest was full of excitement. It was such a rush. Getting out of the office and seeing a contest in action always helps reignite the fire inside me and is a great reminder for why we do what we do. Before I knew it, the contest was over. Six champions were all that remained of the initial 48. It was a great show.

Luckily, I get to see those six Missouri State Champions compete at least one more time, because on March 9, I head to Paris, TN for the Region 9 contest. Make sure to follow me on Twitter at @ElksBilly for live updates on Saturday, March 10. I’m excited to see how these six Missouri champs will fare against contestants from Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee. But if there is anything that I learned from my experience, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of Missouri!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Making an Impact with My #ElksFamily

by Raphael Banuelos
2017 Most Valuable Student Scholar


My name is Raphael Banuelos and I am studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. I am a 2017 MVS scholar from Pinetop, Arizona and I can confidently say that spending a week volunteering alongside Elks scholars was the highlight of my winter break.
This was my first service trip and I had little idea of what to expect. I initially thought time spent on service trips could be better spent volunteering in our hometowns. How could we make a lasting difference working in a new city for five days?

However, the first night of the trip, our leader shared something a scholar had said on a past service trip, “service without reflection is just work.” Throughout the week, our reflection discussions every night offered lots of insight. I heard various scholars’ perspectives that made each activity and day more meaningful. Our discussions opened my eyes to the difference we could make in Santa Monica.  
For example, I never expected something as small as playing bingo with veterans could make such a difference. On two different days we volunteered at Veteran Affair Hospitals and played more bingo than I had ever played in my life. I’ve never seen bingo get so intense and it was one of the highlights of the week for me! Conversing with the veterans and being so appreciated for visiting them gave me a warm feeling and solidified my reasoning for going on the trip. One man told me he was very glad he braved the rain to come to the V.A. that day because our presence had such a positive impact on him.
Our main focus of the week was serving our neighbors experiencing homelessness. In Los Angeles, over 60,000 people experience homelessness at any given time. That’s 12 times greater than the population of my hometown in Arizona! I learned that homelessness is one of the greatest issues our generation must do something about. It is easy to stereotype people living on the streets; my experience as we prepared meals for shelters, cleaned a home for pregnant homeless women, and spent time with homeless youth our age told a different story than my preconceived stereotypes. The people we served simply needed care and aid from people currently more fortunate. I learned a great deal from this experience.

An Elks Scholars Service Trip wouldn’t be complete without the Elks members who support us. During the trip the Elks Lodges provided food, fun, and fraternity. One night, a Lodge made us great Italian food; the next night, a Lodge brought us sub sandwiches; a third night, a Lodge treated us to In-N-Out; and to top it all off, a Lodge made us tacos at the end of the week. Spending time with Elks members put a face to the support we receive and sparked greater appreciation on both sides. The theme of #ElksFamily proved true everywhere we went.
To anyone considering participating in a service trip, I highly recommend it. After a week of service and reflection, I am motivated to be much more proactive in my community. Service with the #ElksFamily is fun, and these trips offer a friendly environment to connect with people from across the nation. Playing games every night, tie-dying snazzy socks, listening to pump up music with the boys, and competing for who has the best fidget spinning skills are some examples of quality downtime with the friends you make on an Elks Scholar Service Trip.

Sometimes you have to travel far to learn about yourself. I had the opportunity to do so and serve with some of the greatest people, and the experience was worth every moment of our time.

Thank you, Elks National Foundation!

Friday, February 2, 2018

My People

by Keegan O'Ravez
2017 Legacy Awards Recipient


Keegan spending time
with fellow Elks scholars.
My name is Keegan O’Ravez and I am a freshman at Sonoma State University. I am majoring in pre-nursing with a minor in Spanish. I am a 2017 Legacy scholar, and the winter trip to Santa Monica was my first time going on an Elks Scholar Service Trip.

When I heard about the service trip to Santa Monica, I was in a place where I needed more from my time. On a whim, I applied to the trip. I was intrigued, and nervous, but mostly excited to go on this unknown adventure. Back then, I never realized how big of an impact this trip was going to have on me. During the week, I learned three major lessons that changed my perspective on people experiencing homelessness, my understanding of the people who make these trips possible, and my connection to fellow Elks scholars.

I grew up in a beautiful town in northern California, surrounded by lakes and mountains. However, as years went by, violence, homelessness and drugs became the highlight of my town, rather than the scenery. I was always frustrated; people experiencing homelessness seemed to be taking over the town. After this trip, my frustration has been put to ease. I realized that the people I referred to as “taking over the town” are people just like you and me. They have feelings, wants and dreams, but they might not have the same privileges that some of us take for granted. Some are really trying to end this chapter of their lives and seek help, but some may not be aware of resources or think they deserve help. Because of the trip, I now understand I should give more time and respect to those experiencing homelessness.

Keegan serving alongside Elks scholars.
During the trip, I also gained more insight into the people behind the scenes—the people who make it possible for me to take part in service trips and to have been awarded a scholarship through the Elks National Foundation. We were treated like kings and queens when we visited three different Elks Lodges in the Santa Monica area.

For them, we are a reminder of why they do what they do. To us, they are a reminder that what we do is because they make it possible. R.A. Pickett was one of the Elks I had the pleasure of meeting over the week. You could see the love he had for other members and how much he cares for the Elks. Every pin he gave me had its own unique story. He even joined us at our last service site to help feed people at a homeless shelter. He and all the Elks are the reason I can go on these trips and make an impact.
Keegan holds a pin shared with her by
 R.A. Pickett, member of Santa Monica, Calif., Lodge No. 906.


The last realization I came to during my trip was that the fellow Elks scholars who came on the trip are “my people.” I was surrounded by young adults who are passionate about school, travel and volunteering. Just a few days into the trip, I felt at home. As the week went on, someone from the outside would have assumed we had known each other our whole lives, or that we were a version of a Cheaper by the Dozen family. We truly became #ElksFamily that week, and it is a bond that will be with us forever.

The people I met and the experiences I had on this trip will stay with me for a lifetime. I am already signed up to serve in San Antonio in celebration of the Elks’ 150th anniversary. I cannot wait to see familiar faces and expand my Elks family. The opportunities I have been extended through the Elks National Foundation are making my dreams come true.