Joshua Gray - East District Chairman - CEA Public Relations

Chocolate is something Brenda Williams (Manchester, Lodge No. 1893) is known for.  Over the past ten years Brenda has made and sold chocolate to raise funds for projects at her local lodge, for the Newtown shooting victims the day after the event, and for the Joplin Missouri Lodge which was destroyed by a tornado.  Her chocolate sales have also supported the CT State Major Project, the Safe Kids program supported by the Connecticut Children's Medical Center; this past June she presented the Exalted Ruler of Manchester with $500 to support Safe Kids.  Together with Pete Nelson, PDD (Manchester, Lodge No. 1893) Brenda has been involved with the Safe Kids program since 2000, nearly 25 years ago.  When current CT Elks State President Donna Wallace was first elected as Vice President four years ago, Brenda made her a promise, saying, "When you're State President, we're going to create a state booth for you at the National Convention."  Together with Phil Stender Sr., PDD and Dawn Stender (Manchester Lodge), they delivered on the promise: the booth won top national recognition, earning five stars in the State Booth Competition, a remarkable success for its first year. 

The Manchester Elks have a long-standing association with Safe Kids, holding an annual bike rodeo each June where they check bicycles for safety and hand out bicycle helmets, fire and carbon monoxide safety equipment.  As the Major Project for the CT Elks Association, local lodges throughout the state raise funds for the Safe Kids program, having donated over $1.2 million since 1999.  In turn, the Safe Kids program provides lodges in Connecticut with the equipment to give away.  Having 31 lodges throughout the state and an army of volunteers at each Elks lodge allows Safe Kids to reach many people in many communities throughout the state.  You can read all about Safe Kids at their website, 
At the state convention in Rocky Hill, the CT Elks Association presented Luis Rivera, CT Safe Kids Coordinator, with a check for $100,000, something the CT Elks have done for a number of years.  At a later meeting, the Booth Committee proposed that Luis attend the national meeting and man the booth at the convention.  Luis took the idea to the Connecticut Children's Medical Center which provided giveaways and demonstrations for the booth, which brimmed with pins, wrist bands, heat-activated pencils, reflector pads, and most importantly stickers for the attendees' official credentials.  Luis also brought smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, bicycle helmets, car booster seats, and some of the other things that Safe Kids provides.  A blinco game could be played for a dollar, winning a small giveaway, and a raffle was held to give away the TV displaying a Safe Kids video which played all week.  Many volunteers, including James Coley, PDD (Bristol Lodge), Mike Johnson PDD and Denise Johnson PER (Southington Lodge), Donna Wallace PDD (Willimantic Lodge), Phil Stender PDD (Manchester Lodge), and Brenda and Pete cheerfully manned the booth, meeting and greeting state and national dignitaries, including PGER Dave Carr and his wife Penny, Bob Hansen GLTC, and the ENF scholarship winners. Luis himself had so much fun in the company of Elks that he decided to join our organization!
State President Donna Wallace was thrilled when she learned that the CT Major Projects booth earned the prestigious Five Stars from the Grand Lodge.  "It was really exciting to see the progression of this idea materialize to reality. The committee and I spent many hours having meetings and discussions of how to best represent our State Major Project.  It was quite an accomplishment to witness our volunteers enjoying sharing information regarding Safe Kids Connecticut with other Elks from all over the USA.  Words cannot express the pride I felt when we were presented with a Five Star Award."  Donna added, "I hope this inspires other committees to not be afraid to try something new." 
"My experience at the national convention in Reno brings me to believe that all States should have a booth showcasing their Major Projects.  It's a great way to make your state shine.  I felt proud in being an Elk and in seeing all the good work that we do throughout the country," said Brenda, reflecting on the team's accomplishments with the CT Major Projects Booth.  So what's in store for next year for the CT Elks in San Antonio?  When asked whether the CT Elks would have a booth again next year, Pete quickly responded with a hearty "Yes!"  "So how are you going to improve on the booth for next year," I asked.  And with a smile and a wink, Pete simply said, "You're going to have to wait and see."