Recognizing this need, Towson, Md., Lodge No. 469 started a program that helps schools create a dedicated area for students to relax with their peers, read, and play games outside of the classroom. The Lodge has used its Beacon Grant for the last two years to establish and maintain these spaces where students can take a break from the daily grind, which they call Cozy Corners.
The benefits of these breaks might not be immediately obvious, but they are plentiful. Taking time off from schoolwork can help students recharge during the day. But these Cozy Corners go beyond simply providing a place to refresh; spending time with their peers and playing board games helps students develop social skills, a crucial part of the middle school experience that was lacking during remote learning.
“Kids learn empathy from one another,” says Bryan Mager, the Lodge’s charitable giving chair. “Board games can have a great influence helping them learn how to play and get along.”
Mager and the Elks defer to the school professionals for the exact needs of the students. Board games have become a top priority for educators, as making up for lost socialization time during the pandemic is a primary concern for many teachers and counselors. A principal at one of the schools with a Cozy Corner called the games the “biggest hit and most effective tool” for teaching socialization skills.
My Cozy Corner began over the pandemic, when Mager noticed the Baltimore Hunger Project, a local hunger relief organization, feeding schoolkids in his neighborhood. As part of his role, Mager is always seeking partnerships with local nonprofit groups, so he reached out to see if the Lodge could support the Hunger Project’s efforts.
“They told me we could keep our money. Instead, they invited us to directly help fulfill their mission,” says Mager.
The Baltimore Hunger Project strives to feed both body and mind, and it invited the Townson Elks to help with the latter by contributing materials for the new school year. The Lodge decided to take it a step further and created designated spaces within schools where students could enjoy the donated materials. It also reached out to My New Book, Inc., which has provided 600 books in each of the past two years to stock the Cozy Corners.
In 2022, Mager and Lodge volunteers worked with 10 schools to create these spaces and fill them with supplies. The response from school staff was overwhelmingly positive; most of the schools that received a Cozy Corner last year asked for them to be restocked this year, and the Towson Elks were similarly enthusiastic about the project.
“Our membership loved it,” Mager says. “Everybody there is willing to drop everything and help.”
The Lodge recently completed the second year of Cozy Corner installations. Twelve new schools received them this year; with the 10 from last year, the Lodge is getting close to reaching its goal of providing Cozy Corners to 30 schools. Still, hitting that mark won’t mean the end of the project. The Lodge will continue to resupply the schools as needed each year.
While the Towson Lodge continues with what it hopes will be an annual project, Mager wants other Lodges to know that they too can find success with a long-running project by simply getting out into the community.
“This project kind of landed in my lap, which is how most of these things happen,” he says. “If you’re an Elk and you’re involved in the community, you’ll find yourself in a situation where you can help—and that can turn into a 10-year project.”
CIP grant applications are open through January 17, 2024. If you have any questions about grant projects, the CIP can be reached at 773/755-4730 or LodgeGrants@elks.org.