One hundred and three stories in the air in the Willis Tower, one can see 50 miles in every direction, from Michigan to Wisconsin, and all of Chicago in between. Up there, you can see how big the city is. And on the Summer Elks Scholar Service Trip, the scholars learned that while they may not be able to impact all 2 million people living in Chicago, 16 dedicated volunteers can make a big difference in a community.
That became clear on the first day when they traveled to Breakthrough Ministries, an organization that provides a variety of programs and resources to neighbors experiencing hunger, homelessness and poverty. The scholars made meatball subs, Caesar salads and cookies for the more than 100 residents. The cooking was a lot of fun, but the most significant part for the scholars was sitting down to share the meal with the community. Some people talked about movies. Some about the Cubs versus White Sox. Others shared stories of how they ended up at Breakthrough Ministries. Regardless of the gravity of the conversation, both the scholars and the residents enjoyed getting to know each other.
The next day, at the Jesse Brown V.A. Medical Center, the scholars again worked directly with the people they served. As they helped veterans shop in the food pantry, they chatted and thanked the veterans for their service. What surprised many is how grateful the veterans were— many of the veterans thanked the scholars and other volunteers, which was an amazing way to see how much a simple act of service can mean for someone.
During the week, the scholars served the clients of organizations indirectly by preparing furniture for the new homeowners Humble Design supports and helping Girls in the Game get ready for its hundreds of summer campers. While it can be difficult to see the difference scholars are making in the moment, looking at all the work that’s been done and hearing about what the organizations do to better their community, it is rewarding to realize the effect something as simple as moving furniture can have.
When they weren’t serving others, the scholars experienced a taste of Chicago, literally and figuratively. In addition to visiting the Willis Tower Skydeck, they toured the city and its stunning architecture on a river boat tour and visited the Garfield Park Conservatory. Plus, no trip to Chicago is complete without eating a Chicago-style hot dog and delicious deep-dish pizza. There are so many different cultures in Chicago, and the scholars had the opportunity to experience some of them not only through food and tours, but also through the organizations that serve the communities that make Chicago what it is.
There was one event that made the Chicago service trip different from any other—the Elks family dinner. On Tuesday night, the scholars traveled to the Elks National Memorial and Headquarters where they learned about the building and the history of the Elks. Afterward, they shared a meal with local Elks and staff at the headquarters building. Eating in the Memorial’s rotunda was an amazing opportunity not many people—scholars or Elks—ever get.
Safa Khawaja, a 2014 MVS scholar, summed up the Elks Scholar Service Trip experience perfectly.
“From meaningful connections with scholars, to learning about social issues the service sites combat, I was able to understand the true meaning of the Elks Scholars trips,” Safa says. “I know I will carry the memories and the support of the Elks family for many years to come!”
Click here to view photos from the trip.
The Elks National Foundation offers three Elks Scholar Service Trips per year. 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 Elks family from across the country. For more information about the trips, visit enf.elks.org/ScholarServiceTrips.