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See you at the Julebukking

by Jim O'Kelley
Director, Elks National Foundation
(Earlier this week, I started a series of posts on the need for Lodges to stay relevant during this time of isolation. This is the second post in the series—technically, the series became a series when I posted this. Anyway, read the first post here. To find all posts in the series, click here: #StaySafeBeRelevant.)

Humans have a fundamental need to connect. Scientists, psychologists, therapists, they’ll all tell you the same thing. Our culture may celebrate individualism, but we are wired to be around other people.

How else can you explain the existence of organizations like the Elks? It’s certainly not the dated titles or the jewels of office that go along with them. It’s not the many meetings that demand so much of our time if we want to rise through the ranks. It’s not even the desire to serve our communities.

The Elks have been around for 152 years because people need other people in our lives. Local Lodges satisfy that need.

Ben Braden and a team of Ballard Elk volunteers are checking in on every member during this crisis.
Ben Braden had been living in Ballard, Wash., for 15 years when he joined Lodge No. 827 in January 2013. That’s when he finally started meeting his neighbors.

“My wife and I had been in our house for six years, he says, but we met more people from our block just by sitting in the Lodge lounge or by helping with an event.”  

At Ballard Lodge these days, there are a ton of people to meet. The Lodge gained 61 members in 2011-12 and hasn’t stopped growing since. Between April 1, 2001, and March 31, 2019, the Lodge more than tripled its membership, growing from 502 to 1,828 members.

How did the Ballard Elks do it? Many Lodges would kill for Ballard’s two competitive advantages. The Lodge building has a beautiful location right on the water of Shilshole Bay in the Puget Sound.

In fact, Ben lived on a sailboat in Shilshole Marina just a long cast from the Lodge prior to moving onto terra firma and eventually joining the Elks. (Interesting aside: When Meghan and I were in Honolulu recently, we dropped by Lodge No. 616 for a couple of drinks. At the bar there, we met another Ballard Elk who currently lives on a boat in the marina. Can’t remember his name, but he shattered our illusion that only people like Noah Hunter live on boats.)

The Lodge’s second advantage is the neighborhood itself. Ballard is booming.

Until recently, Ballard was a sleepy old fisherman’s village dominated by people of Norwegian descent. Then the Hipsters discovered it. With its proximity to downtown Seattle (a short bus ride) and affordable single-family housing, the neighborhood couldn’t stay sleepy forever. Younger people came in droves, and Ballard began to change. Although the neighborhood still claims to hold the largest Norwegian parade outside of Oslo.

A prime location and changing demographics didn’t automatically translate into success for the Lodge, however. The Ballard Elks had to adapt, and that started with the officer corps committing to a cultural change.

“We learned how to say ‘Yes,’” says Ben, who was nominated to be the Loyal Knight shortly after joining the Lodge.

To make the newcomers feel welcome, the Lodge needed to embrace their ideas, not just their wallets. And boy, did they have a lot of ideas. The officers said yes even when it pained them to do so.
  • Zumba class? “Sounds good.”
  • Frock exchange? “Why not?”
  • Paddle board club? “Use this template for the by-laws.”
  • Ugly sweater bingo? “There’s gotta be one in my closet.”
“Some ideas were a bit off the wall,” Ben says, “but our job as officers was to knock down the barriers for them so they could do the things they wanted to do.”

The new members were full of energy and enthusiasm, and the Lodge calendar started filling up with activities. Best of all, the officers weren’t the ones running the events.

“Think about that!” Ben says. “The officers got to enjoy the events.”

All that action brought in more new members.

“We used to ask, ‘Do you want to join the Elks?” Ben says. “Now, we were asking, “Why aren’t you an Elk?”

By the summer of 2016, membership had doubled. The Ballard Elks were having a ton of fun and doing a lot of good work in the community, but one of the newer members started wondering whether the Lodge should be doing more for some of their own.

Like Ben, Sharon Goochey joined the Lodge in 2013 and jumped in headfirst. But by that summer of 2016, for all the fun she was having, she couldn’t help thinking about the members who weren’t able to participate. The ones who were at home caring for a loved one, or were sick themselves, or were dealing with employment challenges. So, she pitched an idea for a new outreach committee to serve sick, distressed or otherwise homebound members. The idea was to make a member’s day easier by delivering a meal, running an errand, helping around the house, or offering a ride to a doctor’s appointment.

Naturally, the officers said yes, so Sharon set out to organize a couple of fundraisers. The Lodge’s new Share’n is Care’n Committee needed seed money. Her first event was a Julebukking at the Lodge. (Google it. I had to.)

“We set up a neighborhood in the Lodge for people to enjoy Julebukking,” Ben says. “It was a huge amount of fun.”

It was also a fantastic example of Ballard’s blending of old and new.

And that brings us to the present day. As I said above, Ballard is in Seattle, and as you probably know, Seattle was our country’s first epicenter of the Coronavirus pandemic. Since most of the Lodge is currently homebound (self-isolating, but still), the Share’n is Care’n Committee decided last week to launch an ambitious project. The committee tasked Ben with organizing an effort to call every single Ballard Elk—more than 2,000 at this point—to ask if they need help.

Fortunately, over the past seven years in the Lodge, Ben has made a lot of friends. He rallied a team of volunteers to make calls, and they got to work. 

Twenty-five Ballard Elks are now working their phones. One of them is Lisa Miller, who joined the Lodge in 2016. She checked in with the team yesterday to remind everyone that a lot of people these days won’t answer phone calls from numbers they don’t recognize. (Which is why I don’t trust poll results, by the way.)

“I’m following up with an email,” she told the team. She also shared her email template to make it easier for the rest of the team to do the same.

Other volunteers took it upon themselves to mail birthday cards to the members on their contact list with March birthdays. Another delivered homemade soup.

Some of the folks who have been contacted have volunteered to help with the project. Others just jumped at the chance to talk with someone. Only a few so far have needed actual help.

Meanwhile, other Ballard Elks are busily sewing masks for the medical community. On Wednesday, the Lodge amplified the need for more masks. One member quickly responded to say she’d have 15 ready to go by the end of the night. Another asked her for her template so she could start sewing. 

Ballard Lodge isn’t hopping these days, but its members are. The Elks of Ballard are already doing their part by staying home, but they’re lining up to do even more.

Lisa Cole, who joined in 2017, was on the receiving end of a call last night from one of Ben’s volunteers. The experience moved her to take to Facebook, where she acknowledged that some of her friends think it’s funny that she’s an Elk.

“I don’t fit the Howard Cunningham stereotype,” she wrote. “And while it’s true that the club is near a marina, and the views are as great as the social events, it is also an organization with a long history of support and financial contributions to local charities.”

The phone call brought something else into focus.

“The Elks look out for each other,” she continued. “A person I’ve never met just checked in to make sure I’m ok and to see if they could do anything for me—groceries, prescriptions, someone to talk to ... anything at all. I’m feeling pretty proud to be an Elk right now.”

Try finding a review like that on Yelp. And all because one Elk reached out to another Elk during a crisis.

You can help fight this pandemic from the comfort of your home. People have a fundamental need to connect. Phone calls and video chats are better than email, but email is better than nothing. Reach out to a member who may need to hear from someone.

If you can sew, check this link out.

And if you’re here because you stumbled down a Google hole and don’t really know who we are, why aren’t you an Elk?

Has your Lodge found a way to stay relevant to the membership during this crisis? Tell us how in the comments below, and maybe we’ll feature you in the series.


  1. Great write-up Jim, thank you - you can find our latest committee report here -

  2. Albany Elks Lodge #49 started an ElksLodge49 Members Only Facebook Group to allow members to communicate with each other during these difficult times. If any members aren't online we have people check in on them and send updates to the group. If any member needs anything who is under quarantine all they have to do is send a message to the Group and someone will always step up to help. #AlbanyLodge49STRONG!!!

  3. Would love to have the email template that Lisa Miller used.


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