Four years after Emblem Club No. 350 began in Homer, the following notice ran in the two-month-old Homer News in March 1964: “The Emblem Club is now running the Bingo at the Elks on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. $2 a card with two jackpots. Public invited.”
More than 50 years later, the Homer club is still going strong, including the Wednesday night Bingo games that help fund the club’s scholarship effort.
“We do anything we can to come up with dollars to fund scholarships,” said member Shari Daugherty of Bingo, craft fairs and other activities the club turns into financial aid for students from Ninilchik to the end of the Kenai Peninsula who want to continue their education. “The end of it all is that we’d like to fund at least $4,000 in scholarships every year. Two $2,000 scholarships, eight $500 or some combination thereof.”
Emblem Club dates back to 1917, when a small group of Rhode Island women with family members in the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, known simply as the Elks, got together to wrap bandages for World War I. That group inspired a national organization that today numbers 500 clubs, including 11 in Alaska.
Although once an auxiliary of the Elks, Emblem Club is now an independent organization that maintains a close relationship with the Elks. The club’s name signifies the U.S. flag. It is dedicated to charitable acts, uniting all Emblem clubs, and promoting and protecting the clubs’ interests and bearing allegiance to the U.S. constitution and flag. The Emblem Club’s motto: “Truth, justice and charity.”
Serving the community with a literacy focus, which includes scholarships, ranks at the top of the Homer club’s priority list.
“It’s up to every club to see what their community needs are and go out there and meet that need,” said Daugherty.
Another approach to literacy has been Club No. 350’s involvement with Alaska’s Battle of the Books, an event organized in state by the Alaska Association of School Librarians to motivate reading and comprehension. More than 10 years ago, when the West Homer Elementary School teacher of Daugherty’s daughter mentioned the activity needed a sponsor, the Emblem Club jumped in and, as the program has grown, found other groups to help with that sponsorship.
“We were glad to get it going. There are years and years of kids in the school system that have benefited,” said Daugherty.
Sometimes the club’s support of literacy is as general as providing backpacks for students. Sometimes it focuses on individuals, like one young person that, “family-wise, was out on the street, so we paid his rent to get him through graduation and then he went into the Navy,” said Daugherty. The club also provided dishes, bedding and firewood.
In another situation, the Emblem Club assisted a group of students that “were all of a sudden not homeless, but parentless and trying to finish school and we helped them out,” said Daugherty. “We bought food, blankets, clothes. We gave them instructions on how to use a crock pot and do laundry. The basic stuff. You name it.”
One member sews and sends clothes to people in need. The club sends boxes of treats to military personnel deployed outside the United States. They provide lunch at the end of the annual Special Olympics Torch Run. The list of charitable acts is long and impressive.
“We could talk forever because there’s so much this group does,” said member Fran Van Sandt.
Hours volunteered, miles driven and dollars spent in community work are documented. Homer’s efforts have earned the Emblem Club Community Service Award six times in the 20 years since the award was established.
It was that high level of community involvement that attracted Julie Parizek to the Emblem Club a year or two after she and her husband, Steve, moved to Homer seven years ago. She is now the club president.
“We volunteered with Share the Spirit for four or five years. The first year we volunteered, the event was wrapping up and Fran Van Sandt came up to me and said, ‘You know, you really ought to join Emblem Club if you like to volunteer.’ And here I am,” said Parizek, drawn to “the community service, the opportunity to give back to the community and this great group.”
Van Sandt’s route to Emblem Club had a similar “community service” focus.
“I watched this group and kept working with them and someone said, ‘Why haven’t you joined?’ I said no one had asked me,” said Van Sandt, who was promptly invited to become a member. Van Sandt is now surrounded by a close-knit group whose members share a common goal.
“We love our community and doing good works,” said Van Sandt.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EMBLEM CLUB NO. 350, HOMER
Julie Parizek, president
Cinda Martin, recording secretary
Dee Dee Shoultz, correspondeing secretary
Second Thursday of the month, business; fourth Thursday, social
Signifies the United States flag
Truth, justice and charity