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Family is Forever

by Jim O'Kelley
Director, Elks National Foundation
(This is the third in a series of posts about the need for Lodges to stay relevant during this time of isolation. Whereas the first two postswhich are here and herefocused on what Lodges are doing, this one is about what Lodges can do. To find all posts in the series, click here: #StaySafeBeRelevant.)

In the department of silver linings, the pandemic has given us a reason to dust off those high school graduation photos. Alas, I can’t find mine, but that’s okay, because there’s an even better way to support this year’s seniors.

If you want to do something for them—particularly our new Elks scholars—put them to work.

Not work work. I mean the kind of work that Elks do.

“Our scholars are service-minded,” says Colleen Conrad, who manages the ENF’s scholarships department. “In this time of online classes and disrupted schedules, I know many are looking for a tangible way to give back, and they have more time than ever to do so.”

It’s no accident that our scholars are committed to service, by the way. The Elks is a membership organization that puts a premium on community service. Therefore, we’ve developed scoring rubrics for our Most Valuable Student and Legacy Awards scholarships that value engagement, leadership, and service. The idea is to award scholarships to students who one day will make great Elks.

In the meantime, Colleen says, “why not tap these members of the Elks Family to support your Lodge?”

Most Valuable Students may be inclined to help when asked, but Legacy scholars are required to serve with an Elks Lodge at least once per year. (Another example of our thumb on the scale as we work to turn Elks scholars into champions of the Order.)

Elks Scholar Fellow John Kavula's modern work space is also a throwback to the era of the adman.
Typically, Legacy scholars must serve with a Lodge by June 15 to be eligible for their next scholarship payment. Due to the pandemic, we’ve waived that deadline this year, but they’ll still have to serve. Might as well be with your Lodge.

Possibly like you, our scholars are stuck at home right now, but there are ways they can help from the safety of their homes. You could do something as simple as asking a scholar to speak at a virtual meeting—on Zoom or another video-conferencing platform—about their scholarship and career plans. What a welcome message of hope that could be, and a guest speaker may give your members a reason to tune in to the meeting. 

Here are some other ideas. Consider asking a scholar to:
  • Create, or beef up, your Lodge’s presence on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other social media platforms.
  • Design or redesign an online newsletter or email campaign for the Lodge.
  • Organize a virtual food or supply drive to support community members in need.
  • Scan photos or documents to help your Lodge move records online.
  • Write a news release highlighting the Lodge’s good works for the local newspaper.
  • Reach out to vulnerable members of the Lodge.
  • Thank members for paying their dues.

You can tackle headier projects, too. With all components of the Community Investments Program except the Gratitude Grant currently on pause, this is a great time to reassess your longstanding Lodge projects. If you can’t change things up after a pandemic, when can you? Maybe you can make a bigger impact in your community while meeting a more urgent need. An Elks scholar with a fresh perspective and analytical skills can help you sort that out.

A key here is understanding that the value proposition of this service arrangement cuts both ways. You get a smart, motivated, talented volunteer. The scholar gets experience and an outlet for their passion to serve. It’s a win-win.

So, don’t think of scholar service as an obligation, even when it kind of is in the case of Legacy scholars.

“We’re not working off a debt,” says John Kavula, who is in the final months of his two-year Elks scholar fellowship. John received a Legacy Award in 2014 and has been working as the Fellow at the ENF since June 2018. He studied applied mathematical economics at Marquette.

“How could we possibly pay it off anyway?” he continues. “My scholarship was worth so much more than the $4,000 I received. It provided opportunities for service, education, friendships, (and a great job).

“Volunteering with a Lodge is just a great way to help the communities that the Elks support.”

That attitude right there is what makes our service-minded scholars such outstanding candidates for eventual membership in the Elks. John joined in November.

“With every scholarship,” Colleen says, “we welcome a new member to the Elks family. We take that seriously, and so do our scholars.”

Just ask John, whose post-Fellowship plans are in flux due to the pandemic. (Could be grad school, could be another job, but either way, he’s committed to the non-profit sector.)

“We’re Elks family,” he says. “That doesn’t change when we graduate.”

Are your wheels turning? We can help you engage Elks scholars. Although the office is closed, the scholarships department is working remotely and can be reached at or 773/755-4732.



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