Piloting toward the Possible
There are few greater rewards one can have in their lifetime than helping a child or young adult reach his or her full potential. Tawas Area, Mich., Lodge No. 2525, received a $10,000 Impact Grant from the Elks National Foundation and are using it to assist the Alternative Education Academy (AEA) of Iosco County a charter school serving 120 at-risk students, ages 12-19, to help them reach their potential.

The Lodge worked with teachers and students from the Academy to identify three goals to accomplish: enhance the learning environment at the Academy, increase the opportunities presented to students upon graduation and improve students’ life skills.

“Our primary objective of the ENF Impact Grant project is to help AEA students graduate from high school with a diploma and become productive members of their communities,” says Brad Saegesser, Tawas Area Lodge’s Grant Coordinator.

The Lodge is well on its way to accomplishing each of those goals and more. Together with the Academy, the Lodge provides a food and hygiene bank that also provides Subway gift cards to provide meals outside of the school day. They also conduct a workshop in partnership with the Michigan Works office where students are taught how to complete job applications, conduct mock job interviews and discuss jobs available in the area.

The students are also taken on field trips to places like the Genesee Career Institute Base Camp Challenge Center where they spend the day engaging in team-building activities, climbing a rock wall and navigating a high ropes course. During these field trips, the classmates learn to put their trust in one another and have faith in themselves. After one student breezed through a high ropes course, he challenged himself by completing the course with a blindfold, and then backwards.

“His peers encouraged him and his confidence inspired some of the more tentative students to challenge themselves to go further and higher,” Saegesser says.

Volunteers have shared that the Lodge’s participation with the Academy has shown students there are people outside of the classroom and their homes who care about them. Through the field trips, group activities and classes, the students are learning more about one another, and themselves.

Members in the community who have heard about the work the Lodge is doing with students from the Academy are offering to help in any way they can, like offering students the opportunity to shadow them at work.

“They want to show the AEA students the different types of jobs exist within the community that they might not have considered,” Saegesser says.

Not only are Academy students getting more involved with their community, they’re getting a better understanding of the Elks. More than 20 volunteers from the Lodge have participated in the program by meeting with students, running the activities and undertaking the responsibility to continuously plan new efforts that will positively impact participants. The students have also helped the Elks in unexpected ways.

“The students have had more ideas for community service projects than we could handle, so they have taken it upon themselves to do additional work,” Saegesser says.

Outside of the Academy and Elks program, many students have taken up volunteering at a local animal shelter on a regular basis. This program has built students’ confidence, developed their skillset and sparked their compassion to pass on their goodwill to others. The students are reaching the potential Elks saw in them from the start.

“We see AEA students in the community outside of the classroom and they recognize us, and we recognize them,” Saegesser says. “They engage in conversations with us and appreciate the interest we have taken in their lives and in their education.”

Impact Grants do just that—impact the community. It starts with the children who use the Foundation’s values to strengthen and build their communities together with Elks across the nation, into the future.

The Elks National Foundation helps Lodges serve their communities in significant and ongoing ways by awarding Impact Grants of up to $10,000. To find out more about Impact Grants and the Community Investments Program, visit enf.elks.org/ImpactGrants.

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