By: Evan Wechman
Many philanthropic organizations and local charities find it harder to acquire good volunteers to perform their work. However, the local Elks Lodge in Wayne on Hinchman Avenue has been successfully dealing with such challenges for multiple decades now.
According to the House Manager of the Wayne Elks Lodge, Joyce Di Brigida, this service fraternity’s main purpose is to “raise money for charities.” Local residents might see many of the Elks’ members helping out any weekend at food pantries, raising money for drug awareness education in schools, or lending a hand to homeless veterans in their search for a permanent home.
Such work often goes unnoticed by many, but Di Brigida is “very proud of their dedication.” However, no one is more dedicated to service than Di Brigida. “It’s in my blood,” she states.
She recalls how she helped out local charities as a child when her parents would take her to their Elks lodge located in Totowa in 1973. She then became a Ladies Auxiliary member in 1977 and in 1981 became Auxiliary president.
Di Brigida who was brought up surrounded by Elks, knew she had a purpose in life to assist those that need it the most. She credits her parents for exposing her to the Elks and putting her where she is now. Though she is technically a volunteer, she is in love with what she does.
She recalls fondly the many times she put in long days organizing committees, publishing the newsletter, or just making sure the organization was running smoothly. She therefore admits that it is similar to a full time job. She has put in many long days over the last 20 years as house manager in Wayne, caring for an old lodge facility and a mostly senior population which makes up the Elks.
She also adds that she has had some terrific help from her fellow members. For example, Treasurer Elsie Dolan and Leading Knight Janice Cordato both go way beyond the “call of duty.” Though not an Elk, current Auxiliary President Terry Naklicki is also “supporting our lodge wherever she can help out.”
The Wayne Elks lodge which is about 220 members strong is always looking for men and women of good character and a caring heart to help the charities that are dear to them. Di Brigida admits that like her, many of the members are seniors who are afraid that volunteering will be lost on the younger generations.
She states that “volunteerism is becoming less and less,” but that just makes her work harder at both philanthropy and the recruitment of new members. She, however, remains optimistic that her lodge will carry out their charitable work with dignity and purpose.
Some of her favorite endeavors include being Chairman of the Cerebral Palsy Committee as well as head of the National Foundation Committee. As for the former, she helps organize some terrific fundraisers in which the proceeds go to the Elks Cerebral Palsy Center in nearby Clifton.
The National Foundation Committee is very important to Di Brigida “because it was closest to my Dad’s heart” whom she loved very much. The purpose of the foundation is to build strong communities by investing in children, veterans, and other charitable works which affect the quality of life for the local communities that the Elks serve.
By assisting the foundation, the Wayne lodge as well as other Elks lodges in New Jersey help assist with local and statewide charities, including the statewide initiative of assisting with the Elks Camp Moore. This camp which is nestled in the hills of the Ramapo Mountains offers an enjoyable experience away from home for children with a variety of special needs.
This statewide Elks initiative is something that Di Brigida and her friends at the lodge are extremely proud of. The camp offers approximately 20 modern, air-conditioned buildings which are wheel chair accessible as well as a heated pool that is accessible to those with special needs too.
Di Brigida is quick to point out that her fellow lodge members not only have a passion for helping children who need a little extra push but love volunteering in general. They believe that strength of character or grit which is a common word amongst the Elks, is a great predictor of success.
The Wayne lodge participates in the Elks Hoop Shoot which is a national free throw basketball tournament where the finals in 2020 will be held in Chicago, the site of the national headquarters.
This contest is a very touching tale with some science to back it up. According to the national Elks web site, “through the Hoop Shoot program, the Elks have been developing and reinforcing grit for nearly 50 years—long before researchers and experts concluded that grit is so important for our children.”
As for the science, the Elks give credit to “psychologist Angela Duckworth who studied people in challenging situations, including National Spelling Bee participants, rookie teachers in tough neighborhoods, and West Point cadets. Her research suggested that grit was a more accurate predictor of success than social intelligence, good looks, physical health, or IQ.”
There are a handful of winners in this contest each year. However, most kids go home empty handed, without a trophy, and a little upset that he or she was not the victor. The Elks are trying to teach the kids that after brushing off defeat, they could stay determined to keep trying for the next season. The Wayne Elks lodge definitely resembles this contest as Di Brigida insists that the members give all and do not quit in their charitable efforts.
Unfortunately, sometimes unfortunate circumstances require the members of the lodge to band together and face even the most dire of situations. This past May, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, Trustee Tom Margiotta passed away. This left many members distraught over losing such a great man.
Also, someone needed to step in, take charge, and keep the lodge moving forward. According to Di Brigida, Brian Hamilton, who just took over as Trustee has been making sure the Elks are pushing forward. She states that “he has been doing an outstanding job over and above what his job description entails, to maintain the beauty of our Lodge and keeping it up to snuff as inexpensively as possible. “
Though the passing of Margiotta was a big blow to the members of the Elks, there are other obstacles that stand in the way. For instance, since most of the lodge is comprised of senior citizens who have been volunteering most of their life, they are concerned about passing on the torch to those younger than them. However, they are constantly on the look out for prospective new members and talk with young adults often in an effort to educate them on the benefits of charity work.
Also, many of the members don’t have computers or tablets, making communication more difficult. To solve this issue, Di Brigida is the chief writer and editor of the monthly newsletter that is delivered to every member’s home. This way all the members have a calendar packed with great events which combine charity work and some social organization as well.
Di Brigida concludes that the members have been doing great service for others for so long, that lifelong friendships do occur. These friendships carry over to the fundraising for their local charities as the members often come together weekly for events. For example, one of their favorite activities is Paint Night where they get together to do art work and the small entry donations go to their Drug Awareness Education Committee. Also, there is often a night each summer when the members go to Wildwood and have a dinner on the beautiful New Jersey shore.
The members of the Wayne Elks lodge have had some setbacks over the past year but just like the Hoop Shoot contest, grit is what binds them together to keep doing the work that is in the hearts of Di Brigida and the other Elks. The house manager of the last twenty years realizes now more than ever that there are challenges ahead but she is both confident and persistent in meeting those challenges. She is constantly working to meet the goals of the lodge but acknowledges the service of her fellow members. She states that she is “proud of the dedication of the people who serve and what the Elks stand for.”