Making a Meaningful Impact: Elks Scholars Serve in Chicago
Service is at the heart of what it means to be an Elks scholar—but why do our scholars serve? Helping the community for a few days is nice, but does it really make that much of a difference?

In May, 14 Elks scholars traveled to Chicago to see how much of a difference they could make. Spanning from California to Massachusetts, these first-time service trippers quickly found out that the service they performed was only one aspect of their journey together.

“They say that life’s like a road trip; the scenery is nice, but it’s the friends you pick up along the way who make the journey truly unforgettable,” says Even Lu, a 2023 Most Valuable Student scholar sponsored by West Chester, Pa., Lodge No. 853. “Getting this opportunity from the Elks National Foundation to make profound connections with such diverse and fascinating peers meant the world to me.”

While the 14 attendees had many things in common, seven of them realized they share a major connection: They have always been part of the #ElksFamily. These seven students are recipients of Legacy Awards—scholarships given to the children and grandchildren of Elks. Considering how important service and fellowship have always been to the Order, this service trip was the perfect way for these students to pave their own paths as members of the #ElksFamily.

“Many of the students bonded over growing up around the Elks,” says Libby Willkomm, ENF Program Relations Associate. “From going to family bingo nights to cookouts, you could see that Elks values were important to them. They continue to exemplify those values as college students—one scholar even recently joined the Lodge!”

The scholars started their service at Cradles to Crayons, a nonprofit organization that provides children living in under-resourced areas with the essential items they need to thrive at home, at school and at play. The scholars sorted through donated clothes, keeping in mind Cradles to Crayons’ motto that quality equals dignity. Clothes with rips, stains, or other defects are not accepted, but are donated to other organizations that repurpose or recycle them.

After enjoying Chicago-style hot dogs for lunch, the scholars returned to work, organizing the recently sorted clothes by size. For many, the service at Cradles to Crayons was the highlight of the trip.

“I felt really connected to the Cradles to Crayons organization, as I could tell how much of an impact we were creating with our time there,” says Brianna Barrett, a 2021 Legacy Awards winner sponsored by Brawley, Calif., Lodge No. 1420. “It was wonderful seeing their mission come to life.”

The next day of service focused on a different kind of need: food insecurity. The scholars travelled to Urban Growers Collective, a nonprofit farm that works to build a more just and equitable food system in Chicago. After they received a tour of the farm, which included several samples of the delicious crops, the scholars were put to work.

Fully equipped with shovels, gloves, and can-do attitudes, they loaded compost into buckets, which were then carried to the soil beds where next season’s crops will be planted. Considering the compost was so hot that it steamed, it’s safe to say the scholars deserved their ice cream treat later that night.

“I loved the Urban Growers Collective,” says Jay Adams, a 2022 Most Valuable Student scholar sponsored by Shelby, N.C., Lodge No. 1709. “It was a unique volunteering experience, something I don’t think a lot of people know they can do. It was really physically engaging, so the time just flew by!”

The scholars’ final day in Chicago began in the Elks National Foundation’s backyard, Lincoln Park. As the largest park in the city, Lincoln Park welcomes 20 million visitors per year—and has more than enough garbage to account for all those visitors. With the support of the Lincoln Park Conservancy, the scholars spent their time in the park picking up the trash that had been left behind, receiving many compliments and thank-you’s along the way.

They then crossed the street and visited the Elks National Veterans Memorial and Headquarters, where they learned about the ornate architecture of the building and the storied history of the Elks. This visit gave the scholars the opportunity to connect their scholarships to the broader work of the Elks and Elks National Foundation. Many of them realized that their scholarships are so much more than just a check—they are an invitation to be part of the #ElksFamily.

Chicago is bursting at the seams with breathtaking sights and delectable foods, and on their final night in the city, the scholars got to enjoy both. Their sightseeing adventure started on a high note—1,353 feet in the air to be exact—on the Willis Tower Skydeck. After taking in one of the best views of the city, the scholars headed to Buckingham Fountain, then explored Millennium Park. The night was capped off with deep dish pizza and reflection on the incredible times they had together.

“The Chicago Service Trip was an amazing opportunity to meet other Elks scholars and volunteer with different organizations,” says Angelina Lovato, a 2022 Legacy Awards recipient from Westminster, Colo., Lodge No. 2227. “Volunteering alongside other Elk scholars with these various organizations made our impact feel so much more meaningful. It was such a cool experience.”

So why do our scholars serve? Are they actually able to make a difference in only a few days?

The differences they made through sorting clothes, preparing soil beds for crops, and cleaning the park will be felt by the Chicagoland area, but the differences in their own lives will be even more impactful. After such an incredible week, the scholars are left with something that will last far beyond next season’s crops: community.

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

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