I recently returned from the Elks Scholar Service Trip in Chicago, where I had the opportunity to engage in community service alongside nine other Elks scholars. While I had taken part in several other service experiences in the past, including a past Elks Scholar Service Trip, my time on this trip was unparalleled.
Since being awarded the Most Valuable Student Scholarship during my senior year of high school, I have recognized the Elks as an organization dedicated to service. Shortly after receiving the scholarship, I had the opportunity to take part in the Elks 150 for 150 weekend in San Antonio, Texas. There, I was constantly engaged in dialogue about the communities we aim to serve and was encouraged to honestly reflect on the broader impact of our work. This initial experience laid the foundation for the service experiences I sought to take part in during my time in college, and ultimately led me to apply for the Elks Scholar Service Trip in Chicago this year!
While I hoped to take part in service trips earlier in my college experience, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented those plans from being possible. However, I found new avenues to become involved with the Elks family remotely. Through the Elks scholar virtual programming, I was able to lead events such as the Voting & Wellness Support session and meet other scholars through speed friending and holiday celebrations. After rekindling connections with other Elks scholars through the programming, I was increasingly excited to participate in in-person activities whenever they became available.
When I first arrived in Chicago, I was immediately greeted with excitement from fellow scholars on the trip. As we made our way from one volunteer site to the next, their passion for service was unmistakable. Our group had the opportunity to take part in a variety of experiences at Humble Design, Care for Friends, The Night Ministry and Lincoln Park Community Services—we even made a trip to the BPOE and Elks National Foundation headquarters!
Across organizing furniture donations, cooking meals in the kitchen, and interacting directly with members of the community that we had the pleasure of serving, the enthusiasm shared by everyone on the trip was tremendous. While our schedule was tightly packed, I vividly recall scholars who would take the initiative to find ways to stay active in service, even during downtime at our volunteer sites. These instances of selfless work throughout the trip made it clear to me that I was working alongside a truly passionate group of people.
Outside of our service activities, we also took some time to explore Chicago! From eating deep dish pizza at Giordano’s and walking around Millennium Park, to embarking on a river cruise and taking selfies at The Bean, we got a good glimpse of the city. Some of us even went on a bike ride along Lake Michigan!
By the end of it all, I found myself incredibly close to a group of people I had met just 72 hours ago. We spent our last night reminiscing on the trip and our interactions with each other as if we had known each other for a lifetime. This camaraderie is something I will cherish for years to come, and hope that other Elks scholars will take advantage of such a unique opportunity to engage with the Elks community as well.
Now that I have begun medical school at Northwestern, I look forward to staying involved in service activities, both with the Elks and in my local community. My time on the trip has taught me the value and intention of volunteering, and I hope to carry this personal growth with me as I pursue a profession dedicated to helping others in need. As word of advice to any Elks scholars who may be interested in future service trips, I can undoubtedly acknowledge it as one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences I have had the opportunity to partake in and would encourage every other scholar to see for yourself.
While visiting the Elks Headquarters, Shiv took some time to chat with ENF Director Jim O'Kelley and Assistant Director Debbie Doles for the Midday Minute. Watch the episode here to get a behind-the-scenes look at the Chicago service trip and hear more from Shiv.