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What is Zoom?

by Jim O'Kelley
Director, Elks National Foundation

Zoom--It's like the Brady Bunch, but without Jan.
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 class of officers through a virtual Lodge meeting and installation ceremony on Zoom. That post stuck with me as an example of some solid problem solving in this new environment.

Certainly, Zoom and other communication technologies can help keep the Order’s machinery churning until things return to normal. But what if this is the new normal? What if America is not open for business by Easter? What if we’re still hunkered down weeks or months from now? What would that mean for the Elks?

Lodges need to be thinking about that. If you’re a leader in your Lodge, maybe it’s time to do some soul searching about why the Lodge matters to its members. Put a list of reasons together, and then look it over. If you’ve got reasons on the list that no longer matter to a membership that’s effectively shut in, you have a relevancy problem.

How do we fix that? How do we stay relevant in the time of coronavirus? How do we continue to ensure that the Elks matter?

(If you don’t think we need to answer these questions, consider that some experts are saying that the unemployment rate could hit 30 percent as the coronavirus pandemic hammers our economy. We better be relevant when cost-cutting, belt-tightening members start receiving their dues notices.)

The Elks matter to Steve Coulthard, the Loyal Knight at Fremont, Calif., Lodge No. 2121. You probably have guys like Steve at your Lodge. You may even be one of them. They’re the members who get things done. They plan activities, work at all the parties, maintain the Lodge, bust their asses so everyone can have a good time.

Just a quick snapshot of who Steve is. Fremont Lodge has a beautiful bocce court and a bustling league that keeps the place hopping in season. But the Lodge needed a draw for the winter months, so last November, Steve started hosting a trivia night every other Tuesday.

Of course, the pandemic put a stop to that. California has been sheltering in place since March 19. Even before that, people had been practicing social distancing.

One day last week, a Lodge buddy texted Steve with a bad case of cabin fever.

“He was feeling low, so I asked if he would like to chat via ‘Online Video,’” Steve says.

Steve set up a Zoom call, and the two caught up over cocktails. With the help of technology, they were trading stories, cracking jokes, and exchanging toasts, just like they normally did at the Lodge before the pandemic sent everyone home.

“We had a blast,” Steve says. “[My friend] was so thankful to have a buddy to talk to during these tough times.”

The experience got Steve wondering whether other Lodge members were in desperate need of some good old-fashioned Elks fellowship? Soon, he was calling the usual suspects to organize an online version of trivia night, hosted by Zoom.

The inaugural event was last night. It featured a cocktail-hour chat, complete with the Lodge’s bartender, Rob, demonstrating how to make his signature drinks. Your standard two-round trivia format followed.

It was a great first event. I know, because I was there.

I spent some time yesterday reaching out to people to gather information for a possible series of blog posts about ways Lodges are trying to stay relevant to their members during the coronavirus pandemic. One of the people I contacted—Ben Braden of Ballard, Wash., Lodge No. 827—told me about Fremont’s trivia night, so I decided to attend for research purposes. (I finished in the middle of the pack, if you’re wondering. I know a lot of stuff, but the stuff I know tends not to be trivial …)

At the peak, a total of 18 people Zoomed in, with several partners and spouses boosting the count to around 25.

In my bedroom last night, I hung out at an Elks Lodge. I had a couple of beers, listened to stories, laughed, cracked some jokes. It was fun.

I heard Fremont Elks plan for a hopefully not-so-distant future when they could emerge from their homes and return to the Lodge. They talked about scheduling a bus crawl to the other Bay Area Lodges, and about themes for the Lodge’s reopening party. They just did a tropical party for New Year’s, so that’s out.

One guy nodded to the nation’s war footing against the pandemic. “Maybe we do ‘Happy days are here again,’” he suggested.

At the end of the night, Rob the bartender summed up the general attitude of the attendees: “I love the entire organization.”

I left the event feeling like Fremont Lodge is more than its building. The Lodge building may be the gathering place, but it’s the community the Fremont Elks have built and the friendships they’ve forged that give them all a reason to gather. I suspect the Lodge will weather the pandemic just fine, and I hope to see some of my new friends at Convention one day on the other side.

Until then, Fremont Lodge’s new online trivia night will be every other Tuesday. I better brush up.

Other blog posts by Jim:  


  1. I'm hoping to post at least two more stories about Lodges navigating the COVID-19 crisis. If you'd like me to consider your Lodge for the series, tell me what you're doing to stay relevant in the comments below. Thanks!

  2. That was a fun night Jim - we actually did Friday evening happy hour with 2121 last night on Zoom. Good people. and I taught them the dark tower toast.

  3. It’s a great tool. At Ferndale, Mi #1588 we have been using it to host a virtual happy hour as well. It keeps people involved. We end the night with the hour of 11 toast. We play music trivia and other fun activities. We are installing our officers on Tuesday via zoom and have held our budget meetings using it as well. At the end of the month we are having our District Spring Conference with 10 other lodges all virtually.

    1. Sounds like you guys are staying relevant. I have a couple of Lodges queued up, but after I get through those two, I'll reach out to chat about what's going on in Ferndale. Sounds like good stuff for a blog post.

  4. Great post, Jim! We did our installation of officers via Zoom last week as well. Cindy Wyszynski

    1. Thanks, Cindy. Man, we're a long way from Colorado Springs!

  5. Excellent and uplifting article. The first I heard of Zoom was yesterday. I had it on my to do list to learn more about it and suddenly I came across this great article. Thank you for writing it. It does provide incentive and room for thought. If you swing by Natick, MA Lodge 1425 stop in. Nobody is here but perhaps we will leave the key under the mat!

    1. Ha. I was born in Lawrence and lived in Melrose until I was 4 1/2 or so. We used to take a family road trip back east every year when I was a kid. Later in my early adulthood, we had family reunions every other year. Sadly, I haven't been back to Massachusetts to visit our extended family there in 9 or 10 years. I'm overdue for a visit!


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