Reflections from the SAB President
By Kat Nakamura
2019 MVS Scholar
My journey began when I applied for the Elks Most Valuable Student scholarship, and little did I know it was just the beginning of a life-changing adventure. Months later, my mom encouraged me to apply to join the Scholar Advisory Board. Initially hesitant, I thought there was no chance of being accepted. Little did I realize that this decision would lead me to one of my most cherished experiences throughout college.
The Scholar Advisory Board are the representatives that advise the ENF on scholar relations. Apart from being on the board, members attend the Elks National Convention. I have loved being able to meet Elks from all around the world and listen to them talk about their local and state projects.
It has been so memorable to participate in service directly with the Elks. I have loved getting to know about the unique characteristics of their Lodges and hearing about their own stories. It was extremely bittersweet to leave the last Convention and say my “see you laters” to both the staff and the rest of the SAB. We have become such a close group of friends and truly an Elks family. It has been so much fun being able to reconnect at Convention and our annual board meeting in Chicago each winter to take action for how to best support the scholar community. Being on the SAB has not only honed my leadership skills and confidence in public speaking and decision-making, but it has also given me the privilege and platform of representing the most amazing group of individuals.
Similarly, being actively engaged with the scholars, I learned about the opportunity to go on service trips led by the Elks Scholar Fellow that happen each winter, spring, and summer at different locations. My first trip was to Seattle in the summer of 2022, which focused on the city’s commitment to serving those experiencing homelessness. I loved being able to directly work with the nonprofits and learn about their impact on serving their community. From exploring a new city at Pikes Place and seeing fish tossed in the air, reflecting on each day of service, and playing hours of board games, the connections made are genuine. I still talk to many of my fellow scholars and are meeting up with some of them on a trip soon!
More recently, I went to Tampa to serve with other scholars to help with disaster relief after Hurricane Ian. At Greater Pine Island, Fla., Lodge No. 2781, we helped sort donated clothes and cleaned up the damaged Lodge in the Florida sun. We also organized food for the food bank, Feeding Tampa, and worked at multiple facilities for families experiencing homelessness. At the service sites, I realized that we are always better together. Even after knowing each other only a few hours, we can come together in such a graceful way that proves we are connected more than time can explain. Although we had only known each other a few hours, the deep connections we made are unlike anything else as we coordinated wonderfully.
As someone who is San Diego born and raised, being able to travel and engage in new parts of the country to meet Elks, scholars, and the staff taught me how we can all come together with a common value of service. I learned being an Elk is engaging with an open heart and mind and with that comes amazing friendship and good in the world.
One of the greatest honors I received was being invited as a scholar leader to facilitate the 2023 Leadership Weekend with the Top 20 MVS scholars. Witnessing their bonding and first steps into becoming part of the Elks family was truly heartwarming and inspiring.
Throughout my journey, I have learned the importance of seizing every opportunity that comes our way, whether it be going on service trips, attending scholar meet-ups, applying for service grants, or engaging with our local or sponsoring Lodge. Engaging with diverse nonprofits, meeting Elks at various events, and hearing Elks tell their stories has redefined my understanding of community.
The Elks family has taught me the power of giving back, serving with dignity, and the strength that comes from uniting as a group. We may come from different backgrounds, but together, we become a tightly knit family. Each service trip and event has left an indelible mark on my heart, instilling a balance of leadership and teamwork.
My journey with the Elks has shown me that a community is not just defined by physical proximity, but by shared values, compassion, and a willingness to support one another. I encourage all Elks scholars to embrace the opportunities that come their way, as it is through these experiences that we discover the true power of community and the immensely positive change we can create together.
In 2023-24, the Elks National Foundation will award nearly $4.2 million in college scholarships, ensuring a bright future for our nation’s youth. As important members of the Elks family, Elks scholars receive many social and service opportunities with the Elks and one another. For more information about our scholarship programs and ways Lodges can get involved with Elks scholars, visit elks.org/scholars.