While doing chores around the Veterans Home of California in Chula Vista, one of the residents approached a scholar to ask more about the service trip program and the Elks National Foundation. After just a few minutes, the woman asked how she could help—before receiving a full answer, she and her husband pulled out a checkbook and wrote a check to the ENF. After seeing the scholars do something as simple as clean the tables in the place they call home, this couple, who had never heard of the Elks or the ENF, was moved to give back. This moment represented a common theme during the 2020 Winter Elks Scholar Service Trip: little things can make a big difference.
During the first week of January, 22 Elks scholars traveled to San Diego for a week of learning, serving, and connecting in the name of the Elks. For many, this trip was a chance to give back, travel to Southern California, and escape the cold winter weather of their hometowns. But none of them expected to leave six days later with a completely new perspective on issues like homelessness, poverty and food insecurity, along with a new group of friends from across the country.
The scholars served with various organizations in the San Diego area both directly and indirectly. While sorting clothing donations at the Veterans Village of San Diego and bagging produce at the San Diego Food Bank—although not directly connecting with those seeking services—the scholars learned important lessons about the organizations’ impact and their dependence on volunteers. Tasks like these also helped them bond with each other, as they spent hours sharing their stories and learning about one another.
All of the scholars agreed that the most impactful part of the trip was the connections they made: with each other, the Elks, and, most importantly, the people they served. As part of their service with the San Diego Rescue Mission, the group went into the community and distributed hygiene kits as needed. As soon as they started talking to the people they met, they realized something important—homelessness doesn’t define someone. Our neighbors experiencing homelessness can have a family, a job, or a PhD. Sometimes, all it takes to make someone’s day is a simple hello.
One of the highlights of the trip for many was the day spent at the Veterans Home in Chula Vista. The group cooked and served a barbecue lunch, cleaned and decorated, and finally shared dinner and played bingo with the veterans living there, as well as some Elks from Chula Vista, Calif., Lodge No. 2011. While the actual service was helpful, the connections made with the veterans were the biggest takeaways for the scholars. Many scholars were taken aback when the veterans—the ones who sacrificed to serve their country—were thanking them for being there because the scholars felt it should be the other way around. This is another great example of a small action with a big impact; listening to a veteran’s story can make a big difference in their day.
Whether taking pictures with sea lions in La Jolla, playing a game of pool at the hostel, or sharing dinner with the Elks at El Cajon, Calif., Lodge No. 1812, the scholars always found time for fun when they weren’t serving. The close connections the scholars formed with each other and the Elks gave new meaning to Elks family. Eric Xia, a 2017 MVS scholar from Connecticut summed it up well.
“As an Elks scholar, I am an embodiment of the future of the Elks organization. To me, I feel that I now represent the Elks and will strive to demonstrate the values encompassed by this incredible organization throughout all my endeavors. I will always be a part of this great big Elks family and am glad to have amazing friends that I know will always have my back.”
As they head back to school and jobs, each scholar left San Diego with brand new ideas and perspectives. Perhaps the most important is that it doesn’t take one person to make a big change. Sometimes, a small act can make a huge difference.
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.