Musty cabins, mess hall dinners, s’mores and campfire songs—in general, after you surpass the age of 14, those classic summer camp experiences are hard to come by. Fifteen Elks scholars had the unique opportunity to relive summer camp this past March during the Spring Scholar Service Trip to Asheville, North Carolina. Scholars from Alaska, Puerto Rico and everywhere in between arrived at the Blue Ridge YMCA camp ready to serve. Many had been on an Elks Scholar Service Trip before, while others were getting to know the Elks for the first time. Regardless of home base or Elks experience, they all arrived ready to serve and finished the week more connected members of the #ElksFamily.
Letters from Camp
Day one presented the threat of snow but didn’t dampen the crew’s excitement to get started on service. The 15-passenger van used for the week’s transportation expertly winded its way down the mountain to the Black Mountain Home for Children. It’s not technically one home, but more like a campus of homes and services for kids in the foster care system from birth through college. The organization gets tons of donations from the community, and it was the scholars’ task to clear space to make room for a soon-to-be built resale shop. The day spent outside ended the same, with the scholars completing a low-ropes course and teambuilding activities back at camp.
The physical labor continued to day two, where the scholar service crew spent the day at the ABCCM Veterans Restoration Quarters. This former motel in Asheville was converted to apartments for male veterans transitioning out of homelessness. The facility provides 240 veterans with myriad support, including meals, case management, counseling, and transportation to V.A. Medical Center appointments. One of the volunteers at the VRQ, who was a veteran himself, had been living out of his car unbeknownst to the organization. Upon finding out, the staff did not hesitate to clear out a storage room and make it into a home for him. A portion of the group helped paint the facility’s lobby, while the rest helped renovate the flooring of a veteran’s apartment. The scholars also had the opportunity to eat lunch with some of the clients.
Snow and Lodge Visits
The snow that threatened at the beginning of the week finally started to fall on day three, which threw a wrench in the service plan. A day that was meant to be spent outside with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy was quickly reconfigured to an indoor day of service at the Hominy Valley Crisis Center, where scholars organized food donations and cleaned offices and common areas.
The highlight of day three had to be the lasagna dinner at Asheville, N.C., Lodge No. 608—the scholars enjoyed amazing food and great conversation with a wonderful group of Asheville Elks.
The Steadfast House, a shelter for women veterans and their children, was the focus of day four. With the sun finally shining and temperatures more like spring, the crew spent the day weeding, gutter cleaning, window washing and meal prepping. Day five was the last day of the trip, and it was packed with service and fellowship. The crew pulled on waders and ventured out into the Ivy River to retrieve tires and trash. When all was said and done, a giant pile of more than fifty tires made it out of the river thanks to the strong Elks scholars.
The day ended with food, music and fun at Hickory, N.C., Lodge No. 1654. The crowd celebrating St. Patrick’s Day warmly took in the scholars and served the best corned beef and green-themed desserts in all of North Carolina.
Home Away from Home
When at summer camp in an unfamiliar environment, there’s a comforting routine that campers find themselves in day after day. The Elks Scholar Service trip crew certainly found that routine from day one—roll out of a bunk bed to fresh mountain air, breakfast in the mess hall, dinner at the mess hall, reflection, and lights out. Pepper in some hiking and ghost hunting, and the week in Asheville mirrored a classic summer camp.
But the 2018 Spring Scholar Service Trip was so much more than a week at camp. Though the mechanics of each day stayed the same, each day presented a new opportunity for Elks scholars to substantially serve the people of Asheville and make real connections with their Elks family—connections that will surely last a lifetime.
Click here to view photos from the trip.