For students who receive scholarships from the Elks National Foundation, these are more than words: it’s a call to action.
Above all, service is at the heart of what it means to be an Elks scholar. Whether it is in their hometown, their collegiate community or on a service trip, Elks scholars use their tireless work ethics and can-do attitudes to build stronger communities.
The ENF helps scholars live out this value by hosting three scholar service trips every year. In addition to promoting service in the name of the Elks, these trips offer scholars the opportunity to learn about societal issues and connect with their #ElksFamily.
In January, the first Elks Scholar Service Trip of 2024 was held in Phoenix. Led by Elks Scholar Fellow Libby Willkomm, the trip was the embodiment of what it means to be an Elks scholar.
“The Phoenix service trip was an absolute success,” said Willkomm. “It was so amazing to see the scholars do impactful service at diverse organizations, while also strengthening their connections to one another and the Elks family.”
The scholars began their service with the Welcome to America Project. The WTAP serves refugees who have recently been relocated to the Phoenix area through the United States Department of State. The organization strives to foster a sense of home and belonging for these families, and that spirit was felt by the scholars volunteering in the warehouse as they ensured donations were high quality and would make recipients feel at home.
“The time spent at the Welcome to America Project was a lesson in global citizenship,” said Jesus Ballesteros, a 2021 Most Valuable Student scholar sponsored by Rogers-Bentonville, Ark., Lodge No. 2144. “Assisting refugees, I learned more about the global interconnectedness of our actions and how I can foster an inclusive world for those displaced by conflict.”
The rest of the night was spent exploring downtown Tempe, enjoying a meal together, and reflecting on the day.
After beginning the second day by learning about the rich and vibrant world of American Indian art at the Heard Museum, the scholars volunteered at MANA House. Standing for Marines, Army, Navy, Airforce, MANA House is a peer-run organization that works to end veteran homelessness by offering individualized resources, community and advocacy for all veterans.
When Willkomm corresponded with potential service sites, MANA House indicated they have a high need for Welcome Home Kits. After sharing this need with Debbie Melton, from Mesa-Buckhorn, Ariz., Lodge No. 2656, it was clear the Elks would step in to help.
The scholars’ jaws dropped when they saw Melton drive up to MANA House with a U-Haul full of all the supplies necessary to make veterans feel at home. After the scholars assembled the Welcome Home Kits, they were donated to MANA House.
“The service done at MANA House was a quintessential example of the impact that can be made when scholars and Elks members join forces,” said Willkomm.
The final day of the service trip started with service at the Phoenix Community ToolBank, a local chapter of a national organization. Focused on reducing the expenses of volunteer projects, the ToolBank is a lending program that provides fellow nonprofit organizations with year-round access to an inventory of tools, equipment and supplies.
Because the tools are very popular at the beginning of the year, the scholars used their time to give the ToolBank a “2024 facelift.” This included washing and organizing chairs, cleaning carts, and sanding some of the giant Jenga sets.
The scholars were excited to volunteer with a national organization that supports other nonprofits, and look forward to supporting chapters in their communities.
In the afternoon, the scholars enjoyed the beauty of the desert at the Desert Botanical Garden, then headed to the Mesa-Buckhorn Lodge. Melton put plenty of thought and care into planning the perfect night for the scholars, which included fellowship, food and dancing. Her intentionality did not go unnoticed, as the scholars raved about their experience.
"The highlight of the service trip for me was certainly visiting the Elks Lodge,” said Anika Jannatul, a 2019 Most Valuable Student scholar sponsored by New London, Conn., Lodge No. 360. “Meeting some of the folks at the Elks Lodge was truly a great experience to learn more about the organization, as well as see how welcoming and loving they are! It was evident how much time and effort they put into planning for our visit, and I had so much fun talking to Elks members and dancing.”
Elks from across the state came to the Lodge for the night, along with dignitaries from all levels of the Order, including Arizona Special Deputy Jerry Grimes and his wife Linda, who worked closely with the scholars the entire week.
“Visiting the Mesa-Buckhorn Lodge was the perfect cap to the trip,” said Willkomm. “Scholars got the chance to connect with so many Elks who are dedicated to building stronger communities. And of course, we had a blast dancing the night away!”
To end the trip, the scholars spent the night bonding with their #ElksFamily, giving each other encouraging notes, and reflecting on all they learned.
“The diverse range of service we engaged in over the three days showcased the power of our collective effort and really inspired me to bring back what I learned to support my community,” said Cecile Schreidah, a 2020 Most Valuable Student scholar sponsored by Toledo-Sylvania, Ohio, Lodge No. 53. “By sorting through resources and donations for refugees on the first day, creating care packages for homeless veterans on the second day, and contributing to a community tool bank on the third day, we were able to witness firsthand the positive change a group of dedicated individuals can bring about.”
Service, leadership and academics define what it means to be an Elks scholar, and on this trip, scholars got the chance to live out all three. Though they may be the leaders of tomorrow, Elks scholars are changing the world today.
The Elks National Foundation offers three Elks Scholar Service Trips annually. Led by an Elks Scholar Fellow, 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 #ElksFamily from across the country. For more information about the trips, visit enf.elks.org/ScholarServiceTrips.