Serve, learn, and connect. These words are on about every one of my Elk shirts. Or #ElksFamily of course. These may sound like words but they mean so much more. As some of you may know, I was recently appointed to serve on the National Scholary Advisory Board for the ENF. This board is made up of a group of 10 elk scholars. On this board, we work to help other scholars form the same meaningful connection to the ENF that we have. Also, we work to connect with local lodges to help serve and share the news about the amazing programs offered by the ENF. For the past few days, I have had the amazing opportunity to meet with the board and elk members in beautiful Reno, Nevada. On a side note, there are many slot machines everywhere in Nevada. More importantly though, I want to share the experience which I would like to share below.
In many ways, my experience with the ENF has really came full circle. When dad served in the elks, I was never really aware of the ENF. After his passing in 2009, I was really unsure about my future. The loss of a parent is a very impactful experience. It changes you in so many ways. Along with that, I started to lose the connection with my local lodge. When I transferred to Missouri State, I began to explore grant opportunities. After all, the cost of a 4 year university was much more expensive then my local community college. This is where my journey with the ENF would begin. While exploreing options, I heard about the Emergancy Education Grant program made possible by the ENF. This program offers grants of up to $4000 to children of deceased or permently disabled Elks members. In my first year, I was extremely lucky to recieve this grant. My involvement with the ENF would continue to grow, through participation in scholar service trips. These trips allow scholars to serve communities in need alongside other elk scholars. With 3 trips every year, they are amazing opportunities to connect and really serve a population in need. It is through these trips that my perspective regarding social issues has really changed. It is so easy to look for solutions with a perspective that is unaware of the true reality. Through these service trips, you serve alongside the population in need. You see the faces and hear the stories of the people. The circumstances that brought them to where they are. Their same yearning for the same things that we search for. Acceptance, love, and a future. Simply a place where you can call home. These trips truely showcase the sprit of the elks. The spirit that seeks to serve those in need. The ones that need it most. This same spirit was demonstrated at the convention.
When I went to the convention I was unsure of what to expect. I had never been to a elks convention. After flying into Reno, I meant with the rest of our board members and MVS scholars. All togeather, there was roughly 15 national scholars at the convention. We actually started by horseback riding in Lake Taho. The views were breathtaking. Expecially, coming from someone who lives in Illinois. There are actually mountains in some places. We really did connect as a group. One great thing about meeting with other scholars, is that we all share the same passion to serve. Despite coming from different backgrounds, we all have the passion to make the world a better place. To help those in need, wherever they are. During the second day, we had the chance to visit all of the booths set up in the convention hall. At these booths, each state had representatives to showcase how their lodge was impacting their community. It was simply amazing to see all of the great projects made possible by lodges. All of the members were so excited to see us and hear about our experiences with the elks. Also, they all were proud to show how their projects were creating change in their communities. For example, many of the lodges sponsored different type of summer camps. These would allow children from underprivilidged communites to attend camp from the summer. These children would not have the opportunity without the Elks. Also, we attended the annual donor event for the elk’s donors. At this event, we got to simply walk around and connect with many elks members from all over the nation. Once again, they were excited to hear about our stories. They were so proud of us. During the final day, we wraped up our meeting as a board. We shared our ideas on how to improve the overall scholar programs and how we would implement them in our areas. We then attended the convention presentation and ended with a dinner with the ENF board. During this meeting, we got to know the board and shared our experiences with the Elks.
So basically their were a few big takeaways from the weekend. First, I was blown away by just how much the local lodges do. I was never quite fully aware of the impact of the Elks. Through there programs, lodges were being the change that they wish to see in the world. That saying is so simple yet so true. If we can all simply be the change we want to see then there are no limits. A world with greater opportunity for everyone. With a home for everyone. A world where compassion, empathy, and love leads the way. Although I knew the great work my local lodge did, I was not aware that this was every lodge. Lastly, it reminded me just how personal my specific grant is and just how the foundation has became family. While the weekend was amazing, there was one person missing. The same person that orginally made my grant possible. The one that cheered at all of my baseball games, even though I was never really that good (true statement). The same one that taught me our ability to positively impact the people around us is really what matters. The one that was looking down on the convention with a smile. As we ended the board meets board dinner, we all shared a little bit about our experience. In this moment, I did not just see the board. In really dawned on me in that moment, just how much the foundation was family to me. This same organization that had helped me when I was unsure about what my plans were. When I did not even know what the ENF was, they took a chance on me. Jim Carry once said, “ You’ll only ever have 2 choices in life. Love or fear. Choose love and don’t ever let fear turn you away from your playful heart. “ After this weekend, it is clear that the elks as a whole is made up of people who choose to live by this quote.