by Cullen Edens
2016 Most Valuable Student Scholar
2016 Most Valuable Student Scholar
Cullen, along with 19 other scholars, came together to serve the San Antonio community in the name of the Elks from June 26 to June 29. These 20 scholars then joined 130 of their fellow scholars for the 150 for 150 Service and Celebration Weekend, where all 150 scholars worked together to serve the city of San Antonio from June 29 through July 2.
My name is Cullen Edens and I am a junior at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma where I am majoring in Accounting. When I was selected as an Elks Most Valuable Student scholar, I simply thought I would collect my award and move on with my college education. I had no idea the impact that the Elks National Foundation would have on my life.
In late June, I traveled to San Antonio not knowing that this service trip would transform the way I viewed the communities around me. Arriving at Trinity University, I met 19 other Elks scholars from across the country from Maine to California. We instantly connected as we ate dinner in the cafeteria and played games in the lounge area.
Our first day of service was at the Guadalupe Community Center, where we picked fruit and vegetables from the garden and pulled weeds from the flower beds in the 100-degree Texas heat. Being from Oklahoma, I have the authority to say that the sun was relentless! Despite the heat, we never let the conditions stop us from our mission.
The next day we volunteered at SAMMinstries. SAMMinstries is a shelter for those experiencing homelessness, and I left with a new perspective on the issue. Many times, the word “homelessness” has a negative connotation, but SAMMinstries explained how homelessness is a situation, not an identity, and can affect any single person.
The Battered Women and Children’s Shelter was our first look at combining both direct and indirect service, as we landscaped, painted, built a playhouse, and interacted with children. At the end of the day, we saw the difference that our group made in helping this organization.
One might ask the importance of traveling across the country to do what others might call “chores.” This service trip has taught me that there is perhaps nothing more powerful that we can do than take our focus off ourselves to help others. Together, we are believing that our generosity will tangibly become the difference to so many who have lost everything, even if it’s by pulling weeds or sorting donations. It’s impossible to fathom the enormity of someone’s crisis— and the turmoil people have been through and are going through— but when we all came together, we made an impact on the community.
I made many new genuine friendships over the course of this week. We all came from different backgrounds and states, but we shared one thing in common: our love for service. Saying goodbye to these 19 Elks scholars was extremely hard, but I know we will meet again, perhaps on another service trip.
When I travel, I often ask myself what I’ll remember the most. For this trip, it’s pulling weeds out in the blazing sun with my fellow Elks scholars that I’ll never forget. It’s the reflection time at night where we shared our perspectives and experiences of the day that I’ll never forget. It’s sharing our life stories, dreams, and aspirations at the breakfast table that I’ll never forget. In 10 years when I look back on this experience, I will ultimately remember the perseverance of our group, the friendships I made with my #ElksFamily, and the memories that will always lead me to believe that San Antonio is a place just like home.