On Sept. 8, Sebring Lodge donated its $3,500 Elks National Foundation Beacon Grant to Nu-Hope, a private not-for-profit organization that provides services to those over 60 years of age. The services come in many forms including nutritional (home-delivered meals, etc.), in-home (personal care, etc.), caregiver services (education and training, etc.), exercise/health and transportation. Their goal is "to promote the well-being of seniors and to reduce nursing home placement.” This year more than any other year, the needs of seniors have greatly increased due to the pandemic. One of Nu-Hope's sources of income is its annual golf tournament which has been cancelled, so the Sebring Elks are proud to assist them in this dire time. Pictured are Wainetta Holmes, Exalted Ruler; Ingra Gardner, executive director of Nu-Hope; and Tony Faverio, Loyal Knight.
During this time of being shut in and closed down due to the pandemic, Brandon Elks Lodge’s Veterans Chair, Robin Rutzke, and Southwest Central District Vice President, Sharon Hammersla, spearheaded an event to support local veterans as well as the Nativity Church Food Pantry in Brandon, Florida. This pantry supports three nearby locations. Rutzke contacted Kim Peatee, recreation therapist at James A. Haley Veterans Hospital, to inquire about their needs and Peatee asked if the members could help with donations of magazines. Lodge members were craving more ways to be involved again in community service, and Hammersla felt a food drive would also fit that need. Rutzke believed the lodge could do both. The word was spread via email chains and Facebook. On Aug. 1, the drive-thru drop-off event took place, and Rutzke and Hammersla volunteered from 8 a.m. to noon. During this time, lodge members dropped by with food donations for the food drive and magazines for the veterans. Social distancing was enforced; members didn’t even have to leave their cars. Rutzke and Hammersla gathered the donations right from the vehicle trunks or from the back of their SUVs. Because of all the positive feedback from the members, Rutzke hopes to turn this into a quarterly event. This event had 29 donors—21 Elks and eight non-Elks. The lodge collected over 1,200 pounds of food which Hammersla delivered that following Monday to the Nativity Food Bank’s warehouse. Rutzke had a vehicle full of more than 300 pounds of recycled magazines, one of the few selected items that James A. Haley Veterans Hospital could accept during the pandemic. As requested by the hospital, she isolated the magazines for two weeks before delivering. In addition, a $2,000 donation was received from an anonymous member and will be used for veterans or the food bank. Pictured are Rutzke, seated, and Hammersla during the food and magazine drive.
Utilizing the $2,000 Elks National Foundation Gratitude Grant, Sebring Elks Lodge #1529 continues to proudly sponsor the Highlands Lakeside Summer Theatre Institute. With this grant, the lodge was able to cover various expenses such as wardrobe and makeup for the institute’s end-of-camp play. There were 67 students ranging from ages 8 to 18. With the coronavirus pandemic, this year presented a unique play opportunity as the students and other volunteers were asked to write a musical play with the theme of quarantine. The Highland Lakeside Summer Theatre Institute promotes the arts and theatre as it trains the students in acting, dancing, voice lessons and prop construction. The camp ran June 15-July 11.
This year, Lakeland Elks Lodge #1291 awarded scholarships totaling $14,600 to 11 high school seniors from the Lakeland, Florida, area. These awards are based on the students’ academic performance, community service contributions, extracurricular involvement, demonstrated leadership abilities and financial need. The awards dinner that had been scheduled for April was not held due to the pandemic. The recipients are as follows: Tre’Lyssa J. Bivens, $1,000, Harrison School for the Arts; Dania R. Flood, $1,000, Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School; Olivia L. Milam, $1,000, International Baccalaureate at Bartow High School; Lorienne J. Pezzani, $1,000, George W. Jenkins Senior High School; Gabriela Rosario Shamblin, $1,000, Kathleen Senior High School; Haleigh A. Brannen, $1,400, Lakeland Christian School; Rachel E. Williams, $1,400, Winter Haven Senior High School; Caroline F. Chambers, $1,400, Lakeland Senior High School; Marie Crosby, $1,400, Harrison School for the Arts; Knox D. Gibson, $2,000, Lakeland Christian School; and Rodrigo I. Salinas, $2,000, Harrison School for the Arts. Salinas is also receiving a $4,000 Most Valuable Student Scholarship from the Elks National Foundation. Over the past seven years, Lakeland Lodge has awarded 77 scholarships to area high school seniors totaling $81,350.
On June 19, Marissa Ciesla, a 2009 Brandon Elks Lodge $1,000 scholarship recipient, successfully defended her thesis to obtain her doctorate. She will graduate in August with her doctorate in biomedical sciences with a focus on neuroscience. Each year the lodge hosts a banquet recognizing outstanding high school seniors in their area and awards students with scholarships. Usually the lodge receives thank-you letters and never hears from these students again. Ciesla was the exception. In 2011 upon turning 21, she joined Brandon Lodge and became the youngest member of the lodge at that time. She is also the only scholarship recipient to have ever joined the lodge. She graduated from Brandon Senior High School in 2009 where she was president of her senior class. In 2012 she received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of South Florida in biomedical sciences with minors in psychology and biomedical physics. In 2014 she continued her education at the University of South Florida obtaining a Master of Science degree in medical sciences with a concentration in neuroscience. In 2015 she entered the College of Medicine’s graduate program in biomedical sciences at the University of Florida. During her doctorate research, she studied therapies to enhance serotonergic reinnervation of motor nuclei after cervical spinal cord injury which is a way of improving the breathing ability of people with a damaged spinal cord in their neck. She also authored and published five papers in support of her research. Other achievements include the McKnight Brain Institute Fellowship, the Bryan Robinson Endowment, the Toffler Leadership Award, the Caroline tum Suden Opportunity Award, the International Symposium on Neural Regeneration Travel Award and the Respiration Section Trainee Poster Presentation Award. Her father is an officer and is on the lodge board and her mother was last year’s and is this year’s president of the Brandon Ladies organization. Her father notes, “Terri and I (Ed) became members of the lodge because of the scholarship. When we walked into the event hall for the scholarship banquet, it just felt like home to us. So we asked PER Kim Martinez about membership and she sponsored us. The scholarship program is the whole reason we are involved as Elks.”
On Jan. 25, Plant City Elks Lodge volunteers partnered with The Wooden Spoon, Universal Tire and Auto Repair, the Plant City Police Department, and the community for a barbecue lunch to raise funds for the Plant City Police Department to participate in the Police Unity Tour. The Police Unity Tour is a yearly event that starts 250 miles outside Washington, D.C., in Virginia and ends at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. There is a fee to ride in this tour. The primary purpose of the tour is to raise awareness of law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty; the secondary purpose is to raise funds for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. The event raised over $5,000 which will be used to cover the $2,000 entry fee for each of the two Plant City officers riding, and $1,000 will be donated to maintain and enlarge the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Two of the four barbecue organizers were lodge members George Domedian and Judy Wise, and 15 lodge volunteers participated. With the help of off-duty officers, the “drive-through” pickup of a barbecue lunch at The Wooden Spoon restaurant went smoothly. The giant law enforcement flag was displayed by Brewington Towing.
Plant City Lodge Americanism chairman, Ed Wise, and member J.J. Calhoun keep watch for torn or faded American flags flying at homes around Plant City, Fla. When one is found, they meet with the owner or leave a letter written on lodge letterhead informing them of an offer to replace the worn flag with a new one. When the offer has been accepted, they make the replacement. They offer this service to veterans, the elderly and low-income folks.
Calhoun is pictured.