Newest Member of ENVSC

My name is Rene Villalobos. I am currently a new Program Associate for the Elk National Veterans Service Commission and am fitting in nicely with the team. I am a 5-year active-duty combat veteran of the Marine Corps, with two deployments to Afghanistan and travel on ships to a few other countries during my service. I was an artilleryman during my time in and wouldn’t trade it for any other job besides helping my fellow veterans out now that I am out.

Echo 2/12 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan (Rene located farthest to the right)

Since getting out back in 2012, I have dedicated my time to volunteering and working in nonprofits that help veterans from homeless shelters to mentorship programs to disabled veterans’ programs. I have a degree from Northeastern Illinois University for Social justice and Substance Abuse Counseling, and I am currently pursuing my graduate degree at night, studying Clinical Mental Health Counseling so I can better support the veteran community and individuals with PTSD.

Being a disabled veteran, I find it one of my duties to help other veterans in need. That is one of the reasons I find myself in the current position I am in right now. I am currently the point of contact for the Welcome Home Kit program that helps veterans transition into homes with essentials they may not be able to afford. This program is an amazing one where lodges can support veterans with things like beds, furniture, food, clothing, dishes, and cleaning supplies. The support our lodges give veterans in this program is truthfully heartwarming.

Welcome Home Kits provided by lodges to veterans

Another program I am a part of is the Freedom Grant program where lodges can apply for funds to serve local veterans in need. These grants help Lodges serve veterans facing homelessness, active-duty veterans on deployment, veterans’ families, veterans in nursing homes, and more. Through this program, I have seen so many great projects to support veterans in each lodge’s communities. (Read about big changes to the Freedom Grant program in 2022-23! Applications go online April 1.)

The final program I am currently working with is the Elks Emergency Assistance Fund program. I am currently the point of contact for Chicago and Miami. This fund is one that is set up to be a one-time assistance fund for veterans who are at risk of homelessness. In this program, I get to work with HUD-VASH Social Workers to help veterans receive assistance with their bills such as rent, utilities, security deposits, and other needs. This is a program that goes a long way to help veterans in dire need of safe housing.

Disabled Veteran Retreat to Yosemite National Park (Rene’s holding the flag proudly on left side of picture)

I am blessed to be working for such a great organization where I can bring my skills as a veteran to help the community. I look forward to building relationships with community partners and Elks to provide the best assistance for veterans that need our support.

Old Friends and New Adventures

by Silvia Holman

Hello everyone! I want to take this opportunity to announce my retirement from the Elks National Veterans Service Commission, effective November 30th. I was hired in 1998 by the late ENVSC Director, Michael F. Manning and it has been a wonderful journey helping our members serve Veterans.

This decision was made with many tears and a very heavy heart, but the time is right and I am looking forward to some new adventures.

Veteran issues have long been a passion of mine because my late husband, Tom, was a combat Viet Nam Veteran. His struggles inspired me to find a way to help others. The ENVSC was and continues to be a vital organization in serving them. I, along with all of us here in Chicago, are amazed and grateful for the inspiring work our members have done and continue to do. I cannot thank you enough for all of your dedicated service to them.

I have made friends with so many Elk members over these many years, and I will always cherish you all. It has truly been an honor and a privilege to know you and to see how much our members and the employees here at headquarters have honored these deserving American heroes, who face such daunting challenges.

In July 2021, Silvia Holman hosted the
ENVSC’s 75th Anniversary Video.

I would also like to give my thanks to my co-workers here, those in the Grand Secretary’s office, the Shipping Department, and others, who were so encouraging and patient with my many quirks. To all of you, thank you for helping and encouraging me. I will never forget your kindness and your help. I could not have done my job without you.

Finally, my deepest thanks and affection to my co-workers at the ENVSC; Mary Morgan, Hannah Graber, and Nadezh Mulholland, and to those who have left us way too early; Michael F. Manning, Robert M. Hennings, and Linda Carlson.

Thank you all for everything (and for putting up with me). I could not have asked for better co-workers. Your dedication to Veterans has been inspiring and you will never be forgotten.

I leave knowing that the work for Veterans continues and that they will remain in good hands.

I wish you all good health, happiness and again, my deepest thanks.

Mental Health Matters: Supporting Veterans in September

by Hannah Graber, Programs Coordinator
and Nadezh Mulholland, Programs Associate

Every September, organizations like the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and other mental health services use this month to spread the word about how people can advocate for changes in mental health care and seek care for themselves or loved ones. 

While suicide can impact anyone, it can be difficult to know what to do when you are not a mental health professional. How can Elks help with suicide prevention among veterans? Building relationships may be the first step. 

Loneliness is something many people feel at some point during their lives. But did you know that veterans have fewer people to turn to for support and are more likely to feel lonely? Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many veterans experienced loneliness, especially older veterans and those with disabilities. Once the pandemic began, feelings of isolation grew. Being lonely can make a big impact on our mental health. The VA reports that loneliness contributes to depression, alcohol abuse, and thoughts of suicide.

Veterans might need extra support to get
back to socializing the way they used to.

But for volunteers who serve veterans, there is a silver lining. Just as loneliness can harm mental health, human connection buoys veterans’ wellbeing. Sometimes, the greatest thing a volunteer can do is to simply be there and spend time with a veteran. Even small moments of connection can make a big difference. 

Connecting with veterans is more important now than ever. The paradox of loneliness is that when people need connection most, they often feel least prepared to seek it out. Residents of Veterans Homes, where strict COVID precautions were implemented, might need extra support to get back to socializing the way they used to.

As you return to facilities, look for chances to connect with veterans. If you notice that a veteran you’ve spent time with in the past isn’t participating in activities, consider extending a personalized invitation to the next event to show them you care, or ask if the veteran is up for a one-on-one visit. 

Over the years, Elks volunteers have found many ways to support the mental health of veterans. For example, last year, Middletown, Conn., Lodge No. 771 began hosting a weekly lunch along with kayaking for veterans with PTSD. The intention of the program is to provide a therapeutic activity and help address the risk of suicide within this group of veterans. Participants got to experience the rhythmic movement of the sport and spend time together out on the water. 

Reflecting on the project, one Lodge member said, “It’s hard to describe the particular feeling, but it was clear that we were making a difference to our new Vet friends. It was interesting the way the Vets helped each other and we saw how they relaxed.”

Volunteers from Marion, Ill., Lodge No. 800 take veterans out for a day on the water.

Outdoor projects like kayaking are a great option when social distancing is required due to COVID. Many Lodges have also adapted to pandemic circumstances by providing Zoom accounts, iPads, and computers for isolated veterans to communicate with family and friends or hosting events like drive-through meals or baby showers. Elks have also partnered with other veterans’ organizations, VA, and state veterans’ homes to provide activities facilitated by staff members. 

September is a great time to get creative
about connecting with veterans.

Elks from Brigantine, N.J., Lodge No. 2428 were not permitted to enter the Veterans Haven North facility where they volunteer due to COVID restrictions. They knew the residents were isolated and wanted to help relieve the stress and monotony of being away from family and other visitors, so they sponsored a barbeque cook-off. Veterans shared their cooking skills with each other and enjoyed the friendly competition and time to picnic.  

Whether you are back to serving veterans in person, or still helping from a distance, September is a great time to get creative about connecting with veterans. Fostering opportunities to get together and talk about experiences is one way Elks can support veterans’ mental health during a difficult time. Visit VA’s website for more information about suicide prevention and mental health resources. 

Elks Back in the Wild

by Mary Morgan, ENVSC Director

After many months of supporting veterans from afar, Elks HQ staff recently made an enthusiastic return to in-person service.  

In the past few weeks, there have been multiple opportunities for us to get out and serve veterans directly. Inspired by the Elks’ commitment to service, we jumped in and helped at 3 separate events.  

For Programs Associate Nadezh Mulholland, who started with the Elks in August of 2020, this was one of her first opportunities for hands-on experience as part of the Elks community.

She took a couple days out of her schedule to help with the National Veterans Wheelchair Games earlier this summer, which the Elks sponsor every year.  

“This was my first time volunteering at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games and I had a great time,” Mulholland says.

“I helped out at the registration table, which is the first stop for veterans arriving at the games. It was so much fun to welcome athletes and coaches from all over the country, and to feel the excitement in the room!”

Following her lead, 8 Elks staff headed to the Lincoln Park Archery Range, not far from the Elks National Memorial, to volunteer at the Valor Games Midwest. We spent the day learning about archery and acting as personal scorekeepers for the competing veterans.  

“Volunteering at the Valor Games was incredibly meaningful and I am so thankful for the opportunity to participate,” shares CIP Program Coordinator Meaghan Morris. 

“Adaptive sporting events provide transformative benefits, inspiring both strength and hope in our nation’s disabled veterans. Being able to witness first-hand the social, mental, and physical impact the Valor Games had on disabled veterans and wounded service members was such an enlightening experience!” 

Finally, delayed a bit but not forgotten, the Chicago Summer Stand Down took place in the waning days of August. This two-day event was different than in years past, with veterans visiting during specific time slots to increase safety and offer veterans more time to connect with the available resources.

Colleen Conrad and Brianna Thompson from the ENF Scholarships department lent a hand on the first day of the event.  

“Each time I volunteer at a Chicago Stand Down, I am always struck by the camaraderie and passion for service that exists between all of the VA staff and volunteers. This year was absolutely no different. It felt great to spend the day serving veterans in our community who have given us so much,” writes Conrad, the ENF Scholarships Manager.    

Thanks to Elks everywhere for the continued inspiration and commitment to serving veterans and communities.  

Welcome Home and Farewell

My name is Brianna Bueltmann, and I am an Elks Scholar Fellow. For the last two years, I’ve had the privilege of working for the Elks National Veterans Service Commission to serve veterans through the Welcome Home program. I was drawn to work for the ENVSC specifically because of the Elks’ commitment to help end veteran homelessness. 

Brianna Bueltmann (left) and ENVSC Programs Assistant Hannah Graber at an event celebrating the end of veteran veteran homelessless (aka functional zero) in Lake County, Illinois, just north of Chicago.

Since I started with the Elks in June 2018, we’ve helped fulfill over 1600 requests for emergency assistance in 8 cities across the country, and 175 Lodges have provided kits of home supplies for more than 3185 newly housed veterans. 

It’s been incredible to see the passion of our volunteers as they get involved in the Welcome Home program, specifically through Welcome Home Kits. Elks build relationships with veterans as they shop for basic household supplies to help newly housed veterans turn an empty apartment into a home. For many, the experience is eye-opening and transformative. Elks jump into action to involve the whole community and find out how else they help their local veterans in need. 

By far one of our most popular programs,  Welcome Home Kit program has grown over 100% in the last two years. Even through the COVID-19 pandemic, our volunteers have adapted and found ways to make sure veterans are still receiving home supplies so they don’t have to quarantine in an empty house. Whether that’s shopping online to deliver supplies to the veteran’s door or FaceTiming a veteran to watch them unpack their new gifts with excitement, Elks find a way to get the job done. The hardest part of my job is convincing Elks when they have to say “no.” 

This is where a veteran was sleeping before Vancouver, Wash., Lodge No. 823 arrived with a bed and supplies.

One of the very exciting additions to our program this past year has been being able to reimburse additional funds to buy veterans beds. We’ve seen too many photos from veterans’ homes of coffee tables pushed together to form a makeshift bed. Every veteran deserves a place to lay their head. 

For millions of Americans, especially those on a fixed income or living paycheck to paycheck, it only takes one unexpected life event for a family to find themselves on the brink of homelessness. But it often takes only a small amount of assistance to make a huge difference. 

Although eligible veterans can apply for up to $2500 through the Elks Emergency Assistance Fund, the average amount requested to secure housing is only $1570. In the last two years, we’ve been able to prevent homelessness for hundreds of veterans by assisting with crucial needs like security deposits and overdue utility bills. 

Having read hundreds of applications for assistance, I can tell you that the majority of our veterans at greatest risk of homelessness are elderly and/or disabled. An extremely limited, fixed income doesn’t leave a lot of room for things to go wrong. And for veterans already dealing with health conditions, the stress of a looming eviction can trigger both psychological and physical symptoms, from PTSD to Crohn’s disease. 

“It wasn’t just a load off my mind,” said former Marine Thomas, explaining how he felt when he received Elks assistance. “It actually made a physical difference in how I felt. It was a very big deal.”

We’ve been able to help families like Phil and Amy’s, whose lives turned upside down after being hit with a medical emergency, a car accident, and the loss of two full-time jobs all at the same time. More than just money, Elks assistance gave them peace of mind and wellbeing, a heavy burden lifted off their relationship. For the first time in five years, they were able to get caught up on their bills by Christmastime and finally give their children the gifts they deserved.

We’ve gotten to help people like Daniel, a Marine Corps veteran and single father of 6, who works 60 hours a week to provide for his family and still finds time to help his kids with their homework.

Or Rose, another former Marine and single parent, raising twin 11-year-old girls, coping with PTSD and fibromyalgia while working as an entrepreneur to empower other women to overcome obstacles and build careers that are right for their families and their lives.

“I would say that you have a chance to be a catalyst in somebody’s life,” Rose said, about Elks whose gifts make the Emergency Assistance Fund possible. “It’s a butterfly effect. Why wouldn’t you want to be that catalyst or that spark?”Now, through the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been able to help veterans keep their homes and keep the lights turned on in spite of widespread job loss and financial insecurity.

I know our members don’t get to meet all the veterans we help or hear how their donations affect veterans’ lives, but as someone who does get to see behind the scenes, I can tell you that the impact is huge. Even though I won’t be working for the Elks anymore, I’ll be donating, participating, and rooting for the success of this program. After seeing how the Elks have been able to address a seemingly insurmountable problem like veteran homelessness, I can’t wait to see what the Elks take on next. 

Brianna posing with a very exciting delivery of food at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center food pantry.

Wheeling Right Along

One silver lining of the pandemic seems to be the recognition of Elks volunteers. Now that many members are unable to get out into the community and serve like usual, people are starting to realize just how much Elks do for veterans.

For example, we recently learned that Robert Wheeler, member of Bath, N.Y., Lodge No. 1547, was named the 2020 Volunteer of the Year at the Bath VA Medical Center!

Wheeler has been volunteering at the Bath VA for more than 30 years, and has more than 2,162 volunteer hours.

“This year our volunteer of the year is no stranger to any of us,” writes the Bath VA Staff. “Bob has helped in various locations. He is instrumental in coordinating the annual Elks Carnival, is a Patriot Guard Captain, volunteers as a volunteer driver, museum docent, patient activities and coordinates many picnics and functions here at the Bath VA.”

Clearly, Wheeler keeps busy. But his work at the VA is only part of his service. And despite his humility, the accolades are piling up.

Bob was also recently honored as the Central Southern Tier Chamber of Commerce Veteran of the Year. And, he was named the New York State Senior Volunteer of the Year for Steuben County.

“I’m grateful for the recognition,” shares Wheeler. “It inspires me to continue.”

Wheeler found time in his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.

On his inspiration for volunteering:

I’m an Army Veteran, having enlisted in 1968. I was very fortunate to have been stationed, as a Lab Tech at Walter Reed Army MC for almost eighteen months. There I witnessed firsthand the rehabilitation of wounded warriors and the incredible influence that volunteer groups and individuals had on veterans’ recoveries.

I was honored to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Bath NY for almost 30 years. As an over 40-year member of the Elks, on a regular basis I saw the positive effect that Elk Volunteers had on the lives of the patients residing at the facility.

Bob Wheeler (left), Bath VA Volunteer of the year, accepts his award from Kenneth Piazza, the Associate Director of the VA Finger Lakes Healthcare System.

On changing and adapting:

Volunteering for Veterans has changed over the past few decades.  We have become accustomed to working with long-term residents in the Domiciliary and Nursing Home. We strived to provide entertainment and recreational support to meet their ever-changing needs.

We work with Voluntary Service and Recreation staff to meet the needs of a younger, more diverse group of Veterans to include the increased needs of female Veterans. Elks do this while providing for the ongoing needs of veterans in long term care.

I see a need to focus support on the Suicide Prevention Initiative and Homeless tragedy that faces our veterans.

On his favorite part of volunteering:

There is still no substitute for face-to-face interaction between dedicated Elks Volunteers and our veterans. There is nothing, in my opinion, more important to veterans’ quality of life than knowing that Elks have not forgotten them.

“There is nothing, in my opinion, more important to veterans’ quality of life than knowing that Elks have not forgotten them.”

On his motivation:

If you believe in “paying it forward,” I can think of no better way than volunteering for veterans.

As the VAVS Representative, I can’t thank the Elks enough for their continued fiscal support during these very trying times. The funds received from the ENF/ENVSC and the New York State Major Project allow us to assist the Homeless Coordinator and staff to meet the needs of veterans in our area.

Serving Veterans: Just DO IT

As Lodge Veterans Chair for Cynthiana, Ky., Lodge No. 438 and Voluntary Service Representative at the Lexington VA Medical Center, Brian Kinney is normally a very busy man.

Every month, Kinney coordinates support for the veterans at the VA by arranging special meals, bringing musicians into the hospital for entertainment, hosting VA residents at the Lodge for dinner as well as buying needed supplies like reading glasses, coffee and snacks, and more.

Kinney posing with boxes of sweatsuits he delivered to the VA.

He also spends hours each week escorting veterans to their appointments, offering directions around the VA campus, and sitting with veterans while they wait for appointments.

Kinney, who normally visits the VA Medical Center anywhere between 8 and 12 times each month, has had to stay home the past few months and wait until volunteers are cleared to visit the facility again.

Now that he has some extra time on his hands, we reached out to Kinney to ask him what makes a successful volunteer.

Consider your strengths:

“The reason I volunteer at a VA is because I have a lot in common with the patients coming in for appointments. I understand what they might be going through and they feel comfortable talking to a fellow veteran.”

“They like telling some of their stories and it makes them happy because they don’t have to explain what they are talking about while sharing.”

Do what you love:

“I think the most important thing about volunteering is you have to enjoy what you are doing and who you are helping. I enjoy volunteering at the Lexington VA Medical Center because it gives me a purpose and something to do after I retired from the service and a civilian job.”

Kinney delivering gift boxes and visiting with patients this past Christmas.

Why he knows it is worth it:

“We help the veterans feel that someone cares by providing help to their appointments, the information they need to get there, or just being a listening ear to their stories. It makes them feel that someone cares and appreciates what they have done for their country.”

What he gets from the experience:

“We always get THANK YOUS from both veterans and the VA staff which gives me a warm feeling and makes me feel that I am making a difference in their lives.”

Recommendations to other Elks:

“I would volunteer no matter what, but I am glad to get help from the Elks in providing for my fellow veterans.”

“If you want to volunteer, you need to decide what you enjoy doing and then DO IT.”

Life Lessons on Giving Back

Many of us are dreaming of getting back to things like weekend barbecues, concerts or our favorite restaurant. Carl Oken, the Voluntary Service Representative at the Castle Point VA in New York, is dreaming of getting back to his regular volunteer duties.

Carl Oken, at left, delivering supplies to the VA last year.

The Castle Point VA Medical Center is currently closed to volunteers, to help protect the veterans there. Oken is still finding ways to help though, by coordinating with recreation staff and the Volunteer Services department.  He’s still making sure the newspaper is delivered, canteen books are distributed, and veterans have the hygiene supplies they need. He’s not forgetting about other essentials like coffee and supplies for ice cream socials.

Impressed by his passion and ability to adapt, we followed up to ask why he does this work for veterans. Here’s what he said.

As a young man I would ask my parents about their volunteer activities, which included things like den mother, Little League umpire , volunteer firefighter, cooking at our house of worship or simply helping a friend going through a tough time. The answer I received was, “You need to help those who need it and thank God you don’t need it”. That’s how I learned to give back.

My “give back” is through our nation’s veterans. My dad served in the Army during the Korean War and my uncle was at Normandy and Northern Africa during WWII.

I volunteer for veterans because of the feeling you receive when a homeless Veteran is eating a hot meal, or when you sit down to share a meal with other people who don’t have a dining room table. I love being welcomed with smiles and thanks when organizing Bingo games at the VA, and being asked “Are you coming back next month?.

We have veterans throughout our communities who just need a little smile, a hello or some conversation. One hour a month can bring a veteran some cheer, relief and pleasure.

Please get out there and give back, just an hour a month for Veterans. It is so rewarding, and they need you so much.

Thank you and remember, “So long as there are veterans, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks will never forget them”.

Want to learn more about the Voluntary Service program? Visit our webpage.

The Service Continues

Richard Ellis Hill

Did you know that more than 40% of Elks members are veterans?

Take a look at the results of a recent survey done by the Elks magazine for more information.

To highlight some of these members, we’re starting a new series called The Service Continues.

The first veteran and Elk to be featured is Richard Ellis Hill, currently the Exalted Ruler of Coalinga, Calif., Lodge No. 1613.

Hill volunteered for the Marine Corp in May 1967.

He was in the 1st Battalion, 5th marines, 81 mortars. After boot camp he was sent to Vietnam Quang Tri  in September 1967. In November 1967 he was moved to Phu Bai.

On February 10, 1968 he was sent to Hue city and fought in the bloodiest battle of the Tet Offensive and was wounded.  He was hit with shrapnel in both legs on February 16, 1968 and wasn’t evacuated out until a day later February 17, 1968.

The photo below of a Patton tank carrying wounded U.S. Marines would become emblematic of the Battle of Huế—one of the most famous photographs from the Vietnam War and one of the great images in the annals of combat photography.

In this photo, Richard Hill is the the farthest to the right.

The photograph would appear on March 8 in Life magazine, part of a six-page color portfolio of powerful images from Huế. The photographer John Olson would go on to win the Robert Capa Award for these photographs.

Hill was medevacked to Japan. In addition to his wounds he also had malaria, trichinosis and hook worms. 

After he recovered from all his wounds and various ailments he returned to Vietnam for another tour.

In 1969 while fighting in A Shau Valley in Vietnam he was hit by shrap metal from a rocket which penetrated his stomach, arms, eye. He was medevacked to Da Nang, Vietnam and then to Okinawa, Japan for surgery and then was sent back to the United States.

He was assigned as the sergeant of the honor guard and placed on burial detail. He suffered a severe skin condition from exposure to agent orange and was honorably discharged in December 1970.

Hill’s boots, pictured above, were displayed as part of The Marines and Tet exhibit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C..

Sgt. Richard Ellis Hill received two purple hearts and several other medals during his distinguished service in Vietnam.

Today, he keeps busy as Exalted Ruler of his Lodge. In May he will join the National Veterans Service Committee team as the California-Hawaii Elks Association East Central District Chair, continuing his service to country and community.

Advice From a State Chair

We reached out to Minnesota State Veterans Chair, Thomas Kramin, to find out how he and other Minnesota volunteers accomplish so much. Kramin helps oversee 20 volunteers at 13 Voluntary Service facilities, along with dozens of local and state projects. He shared his thoughts about managing projects, and recruiting and supporting volunteers.

ENVSC:  How have you or your Lodge initiated partnerships?

Thomas Kramin: When it comes to getting the community involved, my experience is: If you don’t ask, the answer will always be “NO!” When we have an idea for a community event for our veterans, we find the local Service Clubs and ask for their assistance.  Offering them name recognition in the advertising of it and turning it into a joint event always makes the program more successful.

Ronald Reagan once said, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit!” Minnesota is proof that this quote is truth. Elks are Doers, not Talkers!”

ENVSC: What do you do to get more Lodge members involved in veterans’ events or fundraisers?

TK: First of all, approach the members with a project that you have a heartfelt passion for. Passion creates Passion.

Also, make sure you have a fluid plan on how to accomplish the project. When you ask for help, you open the door for outside opinions on how to do it. Reply kindly, with something like , “I’ll take that under advisement!”. Some ideas are much better than what you came up with, which will alter your plan and make it that much more successful.

ENVSC: How do you encourage or motivate the volunteers in your state to keep up with reporting or other requirements they may be reluctant to complete?

TK: First off, as a State Rep, appoint those who have a passion to serve our veterans. You have the power to replace those who are not. This is 95% of the battle of keeping good representation at facilities. The other 5% is the threat of losing the funds that support their passion.

You must also realize that your representatives are volunteers, working on a volunteer income. Life gets in the way sometimes and you must remember the volunteers have families and bills to take care of first. Gentle nudges for reminders work better than dropping the hammer on them for being late in the reporting.  If it gets to the point that you need to continually remind them to complete their requirements, they may not be the best fit for the role at that time.  

ENVSC: How would you describe the planning process someone who is interested in organizing a large event for the first time?

TK: You cannot do it alone. Find quality people to help with the project, lay out the fluid plan to them, and delegate tasks to them without micromanaging them. Present a task that needs to be accomplished and let them do the rest. This does two things; it sparks their imagination on how to accomplish the task, and gives them a sense of ownership in the project.

ENVSC: Do you have any favorite memories from the past year to encourage volunteers in their work with veterans?

TK: We did a Welcome Home Kit for a veteran a few months ago. As we walked into his empty apartment with the supplies, the Veteran started to shake a little with wet eyes. He said the contacted every service organization requesting help and the only ones who stepped up were the Elks. He said, “The Elks only asked one question, ‘What do I need to make life better?’ and here you are!”

At our Veterans Outdoor Program, where we offer a few days away from the veterans home to hunt on a National Guard Training Facility, a 75 year old Army Veteran approached me and shook my hand for an extended amount of time, choked up and said, “You have no idea how important this event is to us! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” 

You tend to lose sight on the impact after doing it for 12 years, but comments like that relight a fire to continue the work!

ENVSC: Is there anything else you’d like to share with Elks who are considering volunteering for veteran projects?

TK: Helping veterans is more addictive than any drug available on the market. The sense of life accomplishment and self-worth you feel in your soul afterwards is so overpowering that you want to do more. You search for things to expand on, and you realize that volunteering pays more than any paycheck you will ever receive in your work career.