Skip to main content

Baby Elks Take on San Diego: A Week of Service, Laughter and Understanding

by Eric Xia
2017 Most Valuable Student Scholar

My name is Eric Xia, and I’m currently in my third year studying medical science and economics at Boston University. As an aspiring physician, I was undoubtedly excited about the idea of serving and learning about the many issues facing San Diego; however, the idea of spending an entire week with 22 strangers across the country was a little nerve-racking. I can now confidently say that the Winter Elks Scholar Service Trip was one of the most fulfilling and transformative experiences of my life.

My most vivid memory of feeling like a part of the Elks family was at the 150 for 150 celebration at the 2018 Elks National Convention in San Antonio. In just a few short days, I scrubbed sleeping mats for those experiencing homelessness, connected with 150 of the most incredible and kindhearted scholars, and met countless Elks members, including the representatives from the Westbrook, Conn., Lodge No. 1784 which sponsored my scholarship!

So, when the opportunity came to learn, serve, and connect in the name of the Elks, I knew I couldn’t miss it. Because Boston Medical Center is the largest safety net hospital in New England, I was already familiar with the socioeconomic struggles facing many metropolitan cities. While I knew of San Diego’s warm and beautiful climate, I also knew of the struggles and inequality that undoubtedly come with it.

Luckily, from the first night, Elks Scholar Fellow John Kavula taught us that, “without taking the time to reflect and empathize with those you’re serving, service is no different from work.” Rather than seeing homelessness as a stigma, I immediately learned the importance of being aware of the assumptions I make so that I could make genuine connections with my neighbors.

At Father Joe’s Villages, which serves 3,000 meals per day for people experiencing homelessness, I got to learn about the amazing facilities (day care, therapy, pharmacy, etc.) as well as the rising housing prices due to gentrification. Seeing the tight-knit community filled with friends joking, sharing food, and helping one another was truly eye-opening. Through another direct connection, I met Mark, a veteran with a PhD who gave all his money to his children. I learned about his vast literary knowledge from Tolstoy to Twain, as well as his past successes as an artist and small-business owner.

San Diego contains one of the highest homeless veteran populations in the country, and spending time at the Chula Vista Veterans home was incredible. Through serving barbecue, cleaning around the facility, and playing trivia and bingo with the veterans, it was clear this was also a close community. One particularly memorable experience was with Kim, an Elk and veteran who dedicates herself to improving veterans’ lives—from applying for national grants to baking desserts using lemons from the garden. When I told her of my passion for medicine, she personally took me through the clinic to better answer my questions. She epitomizes the Elks’ values, and I strive to one day live up to her example. 

We were also able to experience the indirect aspect of service by packaging hygiene kits, bagging oranges, and sorting through clothes at the organizations we served. Contributing to these amazing organizations is so fulfilling, especially given that volunteers are often needed for them to function. We learned about the populations served and the amount of good these organizations do.

I'd be remiss if I didn’t mention the camaraderie and love felt at the El Cajon, Calif., Lodge No. 1812. Speaking with Elks who were obviously so excited to meet us was so heart-warming. We connected over organic syntheses and childhood interests in kite-flying and aviation before ending the night with good old-fashioned karaoke. A flood of emotions rushed over me upon leaving; as someone who has been granted the privilege of pursuing my passion for medicine due to these scholarships, being shown this amount of care and support was quite overwhelming. 

Throughout the trip, I had an amazing time connecting with incredible scholar-leaders from across the country while exploring areas like Mission Beach and La Jolla Cove, and bonding over meals, nightly reflection, and games. While the trip still seems like a dream, I came out with a broader outlook, invaluable connections, and my closest friends. Whether it be immediately signing up for the next service trip, scheduling a local scholar meet-up, or getting involved with a local Elks Lodge, I guarantee that it'll be an experience of a lifetime!

So, what are you waiting for? Go out there and connect with your #ElksFamily!

The Elks National Foundation offers three Elks Scholar Service Trips annually. These trips provide scholars the opportunity to learn about societal issues, serve those in need in the name of the Elks, and connect with their Elks family from across the country. For more information about the trips, visit



Show more

Popular posts from this blog

What is Zoom?

by Jim O'Kelley
Director, Elks National Foundation

(This is the first in a series of articles about the need for Lodges to be relevant during the pandemic. To find all posts in the series, click here: #StaySafeBeRelevant.)

Every crisis seems to have its breakout star. This one has two, so far—Dr. Fauci and Zoom.
If you’re not familiar, Zoom is a remote video-conferencing tool with a free basic package. In these days of social distancing and sheltering in place, Zoom is also a godsend. At the O’Kelley household today, we had three concurrent Zoom meetings going on at one point—Meghan, me, and Jane with her Panda Room preschool pals.
In our new teleworking reality, the ENF staff has been using Zoom through Microsoft Teams for check-ins, standing meetings and impromptu discussions. These conferences have helped us stay connected and feel like we’re part of a team despite our isolation.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw on Facebook that Boonton, N.J., Lodge No. 1405 had installed its new c…

Hope in the Time of Coronavirus

by Jim O'Kelley
Director, Elks National Foundation What a difference a few weeks make. As I’m sure is the case with you, COVID-19 has upended things around here.

I’d like to take a few minutes to update you on how the pandemic has affected our staff and programs. I’ll start with the staff.

On Monday, there were 18 of us in the office. Yesterday, only five. Everyone else is working remotely from home. We’re all communicating with one another using wonderful technology. And the people at home have access to the network via work-issued laptops, as well as their work phones and email. Contacting us should be seamless for you. 

The skeleton crew in the office should shrink to four at some point this week. We are here to deal with the aspects of our work that do not lend themselves to working remotely.

You can help us further reduce our numbers. If you are a Lodge officer or ENF Fundraising Chair who has been sitting on a stack of donations, please send those in today. The faster we c…

See you at the Julebukking

by Jim O'Kelley
Director, Elks National Foundation
(Earlier this week, I started a series of posts on the need for Lodges to stay relevant during this time of isolation. This is the second post in the series—technically, the series became a series when I posted this. Anyway, read the first post here. To find all posts in the series, click here: #StaySafeBeRelevant.)
Humans have a fundamental need to connect. Scientists, psychologists, therapists, they’ll all tell you the same thing. Our culture may celebrate individualism, but we are wired to be around other people.
How else can you explain the existence of organizations like the Elks? It’s certainly not the dated titles or the jewels of office that go along with them. It’s not the many meetings that demand so much of our time if we want to rise through the ranks. It’s not even the desire to serve our communities.
The Elks have been around for 152 years because people need other people in our lives. Local Lodges satisfy that need.