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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. 

Normally, the second floor at the ENF is a hub.
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 can process those donations, the sooner we can get more people out of the office and working from home. Better still, consider submitting your donor list electronically and covering the donations with a credit card instead of a check. Staff members at home can help process those donations. You’ll find more information here: Lodge Fundraising Chair Reports.

Relatedly, we’ve fielded questions about our donation deadline. Given all that is happening, people are wondering whether we will stick with our March 31 deadline for donations. Unfortunately, that date is not flexible. It’s our fiscal-year end. We can’t change it. So, please send your donations in, preferably electronically. Anything we receive after March 31 will count toward the 2020-21 year.

Let’s turn to our programs. COVID-19 may hit older adults hardest, but it is indiscriminate about disrupting services.

Last Friday, we made the difficult but necessary decision to cancel eight of the 12 Regional Hoop Shoot Finals and the National Finals. As you can imagine, the entire Hoop Shoot family is devastated by this decision. Not just the contestants and their families, but also the many volunteers, who pour their hearts and souls into the program, and the staff, who have been planning for the Finals for months.

Some have asked why we canceled rather than postpone the National Finals. Right now, we’re in a virtually impossible planning environment. The Hoop Shoot is reliant on other entities, all of which are making their own decisions relative to the pandemic. Local, State and Federal governments also are making decisions that affect the program. These decisions, in the forms of guidelines, restrictions and mandates, are changing so rapidly that I’m not even sure anymore what Chicago’s limit on public gatherings is. All I know is that the Hoop Shoot exceeds that limit.

So, there will not be a National Finals this year. We do hope to crown 72 Regional Champions, and from that field, six National Champions, but we’re not yet sure how we’re going to do that. There’s time to figure it out. It’s just not that important right now.

What we can focus on now is how to make this year’s Hoop Shoot experience as special as possible for the kids who are missing out on the opportunity to compete in Chicago. That’s a better use of our time and talents, because that decision space isn’t nearly as vulnerable to external influences.

We also quietly lost the Spring Elks Scholar Service Trip. We were supposed to be serving in Wheeling, West Virginia, this week, but the trip collapsed when our partner in the endeavor, a local university, closed its doors to outside groups.

The next event in the crosshairs is our Leadership Weekend, scheduled for April 23-26 in Chicago. National judging just began yesterday. Our national judges have been working remotely for several years now, so the virus won’t slow them down. But we won’t have our top 20 finalists until March 30, so we have some time to decide.

The Leadership Weekend has a small footprint, too. All in, it’s only about 35 people. Still, that’s 3.5 times the White House’s recommended size for gatherings right now. If that doesn’t change by the 30th, our decision will be made for us.

The new CIP grant year is supposed to open on April 1. We’re talking about that now, and it’s looking like we will delay the start of the grant year to June 1 for all grant components except the Gratitude Grant.

As I said above, we’re in an extremely difficult planning environment right now. We think it makes a lot of sense to press pause and let the dust settle a bit. We preach effective grant use—how effective can our projects be if we don’t know whether our partner organizations will be open, how large our gatherings can be, even what our communities need most?

Plus, we know that some of you are facing challenges wrapping up your grant projects for the current year. (Communicate with us if this is the case for you.) A pause will buy more time to work that out.

Now, Elks being Elks, we know you’re going to want to do things right now to help the most vulnerable members of your community. That’s why we think we’ll open the Gratitude Grant on April 1. That’s the one grant that can be used for a donation to another organization.

Normally, if you proposed to donate your Gratitude Grant to another organization, we’d ask you to consider a more active use of the funds. This year, we’ll flip that approach on its head. If you propose to use a Gratitude Grant for an active project to take place in the next few months, we’re going to have a lot of questions for you about feasibility. Instead, think about donating to food pantries or other organizations in your community that are better equipped to directly serve the people who are going to need help most as we work our way through this pandemic.

And we will get through this. We’ve been working together to build stronger communities, and that work will pay off now as we pick one another up and fight through this.

You know what, you may have to wait for your other grants, but Lodges still will have access to more than $3.7 million in Gratitude Grants with which to help if they choose.

In a few weeks, we’ll announce 800 new Elks scholars, and they’ll all have opportunities to attend plenty of future service trips. Undoubtedly, some will choose to study infectious diseases.

As for the Hoop Shoot, do you know why it is such an effective youth program? Because it teaches kids to deal with setback. Normally, the contestants have some agency in those setbacks, as they occur at the free throw line. “I lost because I made fewer free throws than the other kid. If I work harder, maybe I’ll make more next year.”

However, many times in life, setbacks occur due to events beyond our control. That’s another powerful lesson.

For the Hoop Shooters and for the rest of us. We’ll get through this.

Other blog posts by Jim:  


  1. What about bartenders employed through the US? What are you doing to keep them safe? Is that possible with a bar full of Members?

    1. New York State issued a memorandum that all Lodges were to close.

    2. Our lodge in West Virginia was ordered to be closed yesterday and ABC said we could not even have our meetings. The only thing we were allowed to do would be operate our kitchen on curb side service operation only. Our lodge is closed until further notice.

  2. What is Grand lodges view on paying lodge employees while lodge is being shut down

  3. I appreciate the comments and interest in my post. I'm afraid the Grand Lodge questions are outside my lane. I don't speak for Grand Lodge or know the Elks organization's thoughts on the issues you've asked about.

    The Elks National Foundation is the charitable arm of the Elks. I'm happy to try to answer any questions about what the ENF is doing, or the challenges we're facing.


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