A Woman on a Mission
If the Community Investments Program had agents, Carolyn Shupe of Santa Barbara, Calif., Lodge No. 613 might well be the ENF’s version of 007. For now, we’ll stick with her official title as the 2013 CIP Volunteer of the Year.

The ENF created this award last year to honor the Elks who spend so much of their time using ENF grants to serve their communities.

It’s no secret that Agent Shupe is a dedicated volunteer. She has been listed as a contact on 17 of her Lodge’s 18 grant application since 2008.

Her mission: serve her community using Community Investments Program grants. She left no stone unturned in the hunt for local needs. With her input, the Santa Barbara Lodge uses CIP Grants to hold a number of successful grant projects—from supporting veterans to spending time with children in need to starting a gardening program for residents of a local homeless shelter.

“Helping people has always been my passion, and it is so gratifying to see positive results,” Shupe says. “It is definitely a feel good way of life.”

Come One, Come All

Those good feelings are contagious. The Lodge took advantage of an ENF Promise Grant to partner with the Isla Vista Youth Projects, Inc., to hold a Valentine’s day party for youth from low-income families.

“We wanted to do something significant for the struggling low income families with children,” Shupe says. “This school is sponsored by the state for providing safe day care and education for the families in need.” With this thought in mind, Shupe and 24 other Lodge members planned a fun and successful party for the children and their families.

After the event, Luann Miller, executive director of the organization, wrote an overwhelmed thank you to the Lodge.

“Thank you to the Elks for hosting the wonderful party for our families,” writes Miller. “It was a treat to see the parents and children busily making Valentine’s Day cards, dancing the hokey pokey, meeting the miniature horses, and enjoying good food and fun! The teachers loved the left over arts & crafts materials, and we appreciate the gift cards for food and teacher supplies.”

Shupe’s knack for forming partnerships came in handy with the Gratitude Grant. Elks lent a hand at the Salvation Army’s local Rehabilitation center by building an indoor garden; teaching cooking classes; and helping residents practice their interview skills, lead healthy lives, and move toward independence.

Spreading Peace

Reaching out to veterans is one of the Lodge’s greatest passions, and it uses both its Beacon Grant and Impact Grant to serve different populations of veterans.

The Lodge’s Impact Grant project, Peace for Veterans, is now in its fourth year. It all started with the thought to invite veterans to lunch at the Lodge, for support and camaraderie. The lunches soon expanded into educational sessions, and Elks treated veterans to lunch, friendship, support and presentations tailored specifically to their needs. Representatives from the VA spoke benefits, counselors spoke about new treatments for PTSD, the American Red Cross spoke about disaster preparedness, veterans’ transitional centers and retirement homes talked about their programs and services, and local veterans support groups offered their resources.

“As Elks we can help our veterans in need by keeping them informed of the benefits available to them and how to reach individuals in our community who can help them,” Shupe explains. “We provide support through our association with them, and we follow their progress.”

The fellowship gained from these meetings has been transformational for some. Thanks to the Peace for Veterans project, formerly homeless veterans are on their way to a new home and struggling veterans have received gas cards to get them through the month and assistance finding jobs in the community. Veterans are referred to local resources, and are comforted by a group of people who’ve been through the same things.

“We have a great following and a large group of Vietnam veterans who have joined,” Shupe says. “Some have been very down on their luck and are now feeling appreciated. Two veterans who have attended joined the Lodge and are now serving as officers. This is a unique program born in our Lodge and admired by all who attend. We have become a trustworthy friend of the veterans and the local organizations that also help our community.”

Striking up a Friendship

Inspired by the Peace for Veterans program and its success, the Lodge decided to use its Beacon Grant to reach out to young veterans in the community. Shupe took the lead and contacted the Student Veterans Organization at nearby University of California Santa Barbara.

“We aimed to provide activities for the veterans returning from the service that would help them transition into civilian life,” Shupe says of the inspiration for the project. “We wanted to help these student veterans mix with our community by providing activities that provide social contact and friendship.”

The Elks and the students struck up a friendship, and together they planned four bowling nights over the past year. Elks sponsored the events and came along to teach the students the tricks and traditions of the lanes.

The students are big fans of the Elks and the get-togethers.

“We really appreciate the bowling nights you organize,” Victor Marta writes, on behalf of the organization. “You have provided a space where we can connect and let loose and that is important because being a student veteran can be a stressful and isolating experience. You have done a wonderful service for us by eliminating some of those worries, by giving us an event where we know other veterans will be attending, and reminding us that we are supported by our community.”

Award-Winning Advice

Shupe has some advice for other Lodges looking to get involved with the CIP.

“Start by identifying a need that can be served by the members, and consider a range of community groups that need help,” she writes. “Don't be afraid to try something outside of your comfort zone.”

She also encourages Lodges to get and stay involved.

“Extending the grants beyond a one-time event makes a greater impact and helps everyone get better acquainted.”

At the ENF, we feel lucky to be acquainted with Carolyn Shupe and her passion for service. As the 2013 CIP Volunteer of the Year, Shupe will be joining the ENF at the Elks National Convention in Reno this summer, where she will accept her award, and a $500 grant to continue serving her Lodge community.

The Elks National Foundation will help Lodges meet local needs by investing up to $8.5 million this year in Elks communities through Beacon, Gratitude, Promise and Impact Grants. These grants offer Lodges opportunities to serve the community in ways that will raise the Lodge’s profile, energize the membership, encourage former members to return to the fold, and gain the notice of people who want to be part of an organization that’s doing great things. To learn more about the Community Investments Program, please visit www.elks.org/enf/community.