The Warmth of Community
This year, weather wasn’t the only thing bringing the heat in Atlanta. The Elks took the city by storm, braving the rain and the high temperatures to warm up the city with the benevolence and cheer that only Elks can bring.

From July 2-6, the Elks National Convention took place at the Georgia World Congress Center. Elks hopped off the buses and headed into the Exhibit Hall in droves, visiting booths for the different state associations, collecting pins, and meeting up with friends old and new.

Elks stopped by the ENF Booth to drop off donations for the Supply DriveFollowing a scaled-back 2021 Convention in Tampa, the Elks National Foundation returned to Convention in full force. Like a beacon in the middle of the Exhibit Hall, the ENF booth featured just some of the great things Elks accomplished in the past year on digital displays. Elks from across the country stopped by to chat with ENF staff and decorate their credentials with ENF accolades.

The ribbons at the ENF Booth celebrated Lodges that used their Beacon Grant and Lodges that used all three of the ENF’s Community Investments Program “small” grants. Ribbons also recognized donors to the Foundation who give through the Fidelity Club, have joined the John F. Malley Society, or have reached certain annual or cumulative recognition levels.

At the Hoop Shoot Booth, attendees could suit up for the big contest with all sorts of Hoop Shoot swag, including t-shirts, ribbons and 50th anniversary pins. Staffed by the Regional Directors and their spouses, the Hoop Shoot Booth allowed Elks to test their grit at the line.

Elks could try as many times as they needed to sink a free throw. Some made it on their first try, and others tried and tried again, developing some grit of their own. Whether it took them one shot or many, everyone who stepped up to the line took home a prize.2022 Getty Powell winners Bree Besonen and Brandon Smith signed autographs at the Hoop Shoot Booth.

“Practice is the point of the program,” says ENF Youth Programs Manager Makenna Cannon. “It takes grit to attempt a free throw, miss and try again—especially when everyone is staring at you. Bouncing back from failure is hard, but it is so important.”

Grit wasn’t the only attribute on display at Convention; Elks also showed their benevolence.

For donating a new or gently used children’s book or new socks to the ENF’s supply drive, Elks could get a special Spotlight on Service ribbon for their credentials and a chance for their Lodge to win a bonus CIP Grant. For four days, the ENF collected books to promote children’s literacy and socks for veterans in need.

“We were constantly running out of room for the donations,” said ENF Assistant Director Debbie Doles. “Almost as soon as we put out a new hamper or box for collections, we’d need to get a new one ready. Elks truly step up when called.”

In total, Elks donated 1,028 books and 30 hampers full of socks. The books were donated to Children Read Atlanta, and the socks were donated to the Atlanta V.A. Medical Center and Seven Bridges. Atlanta-Northlake, Ga., Lodge No. 81 facilitated the sock donation. The donations will benefit people in the Atlanta area, but several Lodges get to take that goodwill home. The Lodges chosen to win a bonus grant will be announced on the ENF’s Facebook later this month. The winners will be announced in CIP Club on July 22.

The ENF Supply Drive was just one way Elks gave back to the people of Atlanta. As a token of gratitude to the city for being such a great host, the ENF gave $10,000 to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, a nonprofit organization that helps kids access the life-changing, specialized healthcare they need.

Elks also had the opportunity to serve side-by-side with Elks scholars. On Sunday, the Scholar Advisory Board and the Atlanta Service Trip participants, a group composed exclusively of Top 2022 Most Valuable Student scholars, gathered in the Exhibit Hall to pack hygiene kits and write thank-you notes for veterans in need. With help from the Elks, they successfully packed 1,000 hygiene kits, which were donated to the Atlanta V.A. Medical Center.

Elks scholars were able to experience Atlanta while serving the community The scholars also got to ride the Skyview Ferris Wheel, explore Ponce City Market, visit the Aquarium, and sample some of the food Atlanta has to offer in between serving at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, BTG Community Outreach and Truly Live Well Urban Farm.

And that was all before the Opening Ceremony even started.

When the lights went down and Past National President and emcee Mike Luhr stepped up to the podium to start the proceedings, ENF volunteers and the Elks scholars were already proud of all that they had accomplished. As the charities presented, that pride would only grow. Past National President and ENF Board Chair Jim McQuillan kicked off the Charities at Work section of the Opening Ceremony with a reflection on the past year.

“Your generosity last year was incredible,” said McQuillan. “We used to think that $7 million was a fundraising bridge too far. The closest we’d ever gotten was $6.7 million. But last year, you blew past that bridge. For the first time, we raised more than $10 per member.”

With a $42.5 million budget this coming year, of which $40 million will go directly to program services, the ENF has big plans. McQuillan passed it over to Past National President John Amen, the chairman of the Elks National Veterans Service Commission, to share how a portion of those funds will serve veterans. Then, ENF staff took the mic to talk about the Hoop Shoot, the ENF Scholarship programs, and the Community Investments Program.

It was a special year for all ENF programs, but especially for the Hoop Shoot, which celebrated its 50th anniversary as a national program in April. Cannon stepped up to discuss the program’s history and look toward its future.

“For 50 years, volunteers have been rebounding, parents have been silently cheering, and children have been practicing, winning, losing, and building up the grit to bounce back,” said Cannon. She ended her presentation by saying, “Tighten your laces and keep your eye on the basket—we’re going to make more history.”

While the ENF was gearing up for the golden anniversary of the Hoop Shoot, Elks were working hard to strengthen their communities. More than 80 percent of Elks Lodges used at least one CIP grant last year, and the ENF awarded more than $10 million in grants alone.

“Every $1,000 put nearly five Elks in the field, volunteering more than 26 hours on projects,” said Doles.

The ENF also reignited its Impact Grant program after a brief COVID-induced hiatus, and many Lodges implemented large charitable projects in their communities. Bremerton, Wash., Lodge No. 1181 used its Impact Grant to be a force in its community, and attendees got to hear a little bit about it in a film that featured Lodge volunteers Heather Beal and Gus Holstein.

A Community Force

“We’re so proud of the work the Lodges are doing with our grants, and there are a lot of you,” said Doles. “For those who aren’t taking advantage of all the available grants, I urge you to take heed of what Gus and Heather said at the end of that video: find a need in your community that’s not already being met and use our grants to do something about it.”

The presentation included five new short films featuring the Bremerton Lodge, the 2022 Hoop Shoot Getty Powell winners, and the two 2022 Top Most Valuable Student scholars. To view the films and hear all that Gus and Heather have to say, visit enf.elks.org/Conv22Films.

After the five largest national programs gave reports, McQuillan signed off.

“Listen, last year was remarkable. From a fundraising perspective and from a program perspective, it was our best year yet,” said McQuillan. “But I have a hunch that this year will be even better.”Two Elks pose with an ENF photo frame and donations for the supply drive

The days that followed offered educational opportunities, including several ENF seminars that discussed the Hoop Shoot, the Community Investments Program, and even the basics of fundraising. Elks also had the opportunity to attend idea exchanges, where they spoke with other Elks about successful programs in their Lodge, and CIP office hours, where they asked ENF staff questions about their grant projects.

The Elks are keeping the heat on and heading home for another year of building stronger communities.

“When we pair our resources with passionate and dedicated Elks volunteers,” said Doles during Opening Ceremony, “the result is powerful.”

We have accomplished so much together, but you get the feeling that we’re just getting started. See you next year in Minneapolis!


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