As I write this message I am in the midst of spending a week at the most amazing place, the Florida Elks Youth Camp! In my new role as COO I thought it appropriate to spend a week shadowing the activities of the camp to obtain an outsider’s perspective on how our camp operates. From camp check-in to laundry, from the camp kitchen to nighttime chaperone, from the cabins to the maintenance barn, from infirmary to campfire, it has been a view of our camp unprecedented until now and an experience I won’t soon forget! Suffice it to say, wow, wow and more wow! What a well-oiled machine we operate and what an impact we are making on our youth! Our entire staff is second to none!
Our newly named Director, Nick Miller, has taken his 10 years of experience with our camp and turned it into a gold mine of opportunity. Nick manages with the finesse of a seasoned professional and is constantly commending his staff while never missing a moment to high-five a camper! The love and care that the camp staff puts into the camp experience for the kids is nothing short of incredible. Just last night, I had the opportunity to witness an incident with a homesick camper. It was shortly after 10 p.m. and lights out when a young man finally slowed down enough to realize he missed his mom, dad and sisters. The child was inconsolable and I would have bet anything that this young man was not going back into that cabin that night but home to the comfort of his family. This is when the magic began. The child’s counselor and a senior staff member worked with the boy for about 40 minutes and much to my amazement, the young man headed back into his cabin for some sleep, ready to face the next day of fun and activity! More wows than can be written on this page, what I had just witnessed was the essence of what this camp is about and was but just one example of the amazing things we do for kids! The training, experience and compassion of the staff was the reason this child went back to bed and not home to his parents, and imagine the sense of accomplishment that the counselors and chaperones must have felt! As a parent my reaction would have been to suck it up and let these good people get back to bed! How wrong would that have been? Rather, it was the interaction of the young people, their ways of working things out, the building of the bonds of trust and reliance, the experience you cannot script but that must be created! This became another save, but there is still much to do. On to the next opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child! Making that difference we are and the many talented individuals behind the scenes who make it all happen can never be thanked enough. In relating my thanks to each of those I pass, they stop me and say the thanks are not necessary as their reward is seen each day in the eyes of the children they have the honor to be entrusted with. They go on to say that the thanks belong to the Elks for providing this wonderful camp and for having as our mission the desire to help children and the less fortunate! Be proud, Florida Elks! We have built it and they are coming and we are making a difference! The Elks of Florida owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Lynn Warburton for his many years of work in developing our camp into what it has become. As our Camp Director, it was through his vision and never-ending work that our camp has grown to the size that it is and that the staff has been developed into what they have become. Lynn’s dedication to quality will live on in our camp for many years to come! Lynn has taken a well-earned step back now and is letting the camp happen. His legacy is deeply rooted in the camp, in the staff and in the experience that each camper takes away from their time at camp, Thank you, Lynn, and thank you, Summer Camp 2016, for an amazing week! Don’t ever stop caring about each other, our youth and our world!
In July we attended another great national convention, this year in Houston. Once again the Florida Elks were there in number and regaled in their Florida orange. We were, as Past Grand Mike Smith likes to say, loud, proud and visible! Rumor has it that we had the best hospitality room of all the states and the fun seemed to never end! Many thanks to all but most importantly to Bob & Donna Coker for their coordination of the Florida hospitality room, to Faye Bryant and her crew for the Florida Ladies Coffee, to John Harris’ team for the events in the president’s suite, to Len & Kathy Wenzel and Tom & Pat Johnson for the Florida drawings, to all the volunteers who helped us in the hospitality room and at the Florida major projects booth, and to all who attended the convention and contributed in their own ways! We are back to Reno next year so mark your calendars for mid-July and watch for more information after the first of the year.
Finally, here are some thoughts to ponder on our perception as a fraternal organization and how it is affecting our ability to grow our membership. The mere use of the word fraternal to describe our organization is confusing at best as it incites thoughts of brotherhood. Laughingly, we refer to our female members as brothers and have changed our rituals to just call everyone a member, but since becoming a coed organization over 20 years ago, we have done little as an organization to rebrand ourselves in a new light! Think about it, we still argue over if women should wear slacks and a jacket when representing the lodge with other men or a skirt and blouse! We still have members who shout “to our absent brothers” at the end of the 11th hour toast instead of absent members. It has been 20 years now. Isn’t it time to move on?
I tell others we are today a patriotic social organization! I don’t even use the words fraternal organization when describing the Elks as we are no more fraternal than we are sororal. Perhaps we have let our ambitions to stay rooted too heavily to our past get in the way of our need to come to terms with the present. We cannot let this need to be fraternal get in our way of sustaining our order and the goodness of what we do! As much as we might think that younger people today want to be a part of our rituals and history, can we not look around and see that this isn’t happening? I say let’s recruit for today, get them active and then work on a deeper commitment. It is said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The problem with this thinking is that what we are experiencing today in our membership decline is unprecedented! It did not even start until 1990 and has not subsided. We must create a new path for our success.
It is our patriotism that binds us, not fraternalism! The pool of American citizens who love our country is much larger than the pool we are pulling from today. In light of the recent occurrences in Orlando and in Dallas involving our first responders, has it become time for us to treat them the same way we are our military and reservists? Is not the battle being fought right here on the home front by a whole new set of soldiers? Perhaps it is time to expand our Army of Hope to first responders and those fighting our new battles! In your communities, adopt your firefighters, police officers and other first responders. Become known in your community as the volunteer organization supporting them in their daily trials and tribulations. Don’t push membership on them but let it happen naturally; it will! Become known as the club where people volunteer to serve their community! Partner with those who demonstrate their patriotism and others will want to become a part of it! Put less emphasis on the bar, restaurant and dancing and more on dues-paying members who will contribute toward the overhead of the facility in order to have a comfortable place to gather and stage your many community support activities. When we rebrand ourselves in the light of community support and volunteerism, many more people will see themselves in that light and our pool of new members will grow exponentially!
My goal is to open discussion and dialogue about our great patriotic social organization! Let me know what you think! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.