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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!

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