Make a difference and have fun. This attitude has embodied several of the events and activities Western's membership has participated in over the years. As we look toward the future of Western, we anticipate that we will see more community engagement, giving, and friendship.
Young members, especially those involved in Western's Young Engaged Lodge Leaders (YELL!) groups, are helping define what Western will look like in the years to come. A good example is Michigan No. 225 (Bannister, MI), an active lodge with a strong YELL! group. No. 225 YELL! President Christy Sopocy observed, “I feel honored to be part of a group that helps out others, and takes time to put on fun activities for youth.”
In March of this year, eleven of No. 225's YELL! members and three friends enjoyed an overnight lock-in event at the lodge hall. Their evening began by making pillowcases for children in foster care. This was their fourth year making pillowcases, and each year the pillowcases have gone to a different foster care organization. This year's pillowcases went to the Gratiot County Chapter of the Foster Closet of Michigan. Organizations like this one provide foster care children with clothing and personal items. For some, these items may be the only things they can call their own. “The pillow case is just one small thing, but it represents the fact that someone else is thinking about them and wants to give them something to keep that was made especially for them,” No. 225 member Joanne Fornusek reflected.
"It is great working together. It's a fun bonding experience for us, but we're helping others too."
-- YELL! member Gary Andrews
Several stations were set up in the lodge hall with sewing machines and ironing boards where the youth made the pillowcases. YELL! member Gary Andrews commented, “It is great working together. It's a fun bonding experience for us, but we're helping others too.” This project kept everyone involved in the activity because there were several steps and jobs involved. Some of the YELL! kids knew how to sew, while others were involved in ironing, folding, packing, and adding the gift cards and cards they made.
|No. 225 YELL! members play a game at the lock-in event.|
|YELL! members use their sewing skills to make pillowcases.|
During the project, YELL! kids enjoyed pizza, snacks, and soft drinks. After the project, they were able to move on to active games and an ice cream bar. Games included group juggle, human knot, hand slap, eye tag, and dance round. Member Sarah Bradley, also a recreational therapist, was able to teach these games to focus on team-building, problem solving, and concentration in a fun way. YELL! member Christa Fornusek said, “Spending time with the other youth members is my favorite part. We enjoy just hanging out.
After games, the kids brought several movies to watch on a projector screen, but most were asleep on their inflatable mattresses by the time High School Musical was over. In the morning, they had a full breakfast of pancakes, bacon, eggs, and fruit before heading home.
No. 225 regularly opens its activities to non-members. In this case, they invited friends from school to participate in the fun. Member Diane Bradley commented, “This gets others interested in the lodge and sometimes they become members.” The lodge plans social activities like a baseball game, bowling party, dancing, and Christmas parties every year. YELL! President Christy Sopocy added, “We invite friends and it gets more youth involved in community service.”
"As the future leaders of No. 225, we want to keep them involved, help them develop leadership skills, and help them be knowledgeable of their ethnic roots."
-- Member Joanne Fornusek
Sopocy had this advice: “An activity like our lock-in needs to be in a place big enough for physical games and room for inflatable mattresses. We also set a few rules. Use of electronic devices was not permitted except for emergencies or contacting parents. Kids were expected to stay inside the building unless picked up by a parent. It was very helpful that the overnight chaperones were younger adults who could relate well with the kids. It was also important to have the kids plan the activities so they were invested in the success of the lock in.”
|No. 225 YELL! members show off the pillowcases made for foster care children.|
No. 225 YELL! also benefits from the active assistance of older lodge members. A special thank you goes out to all who helped plan and make the night run smoothly. Diane Bradley and Joanne Fornusek helped plan the event and assist with the pillowcase project. Marilyn Sopocy also helped guide the sewing. Lynn Schultz organized the greeting cards. Sarah and Mary Bradley and Amy Fornusek participated in the games with the kids. Donni Fornusek set up the projector and showed the movie and helped kids inflate and set up their air mattresses. Mary, Sarah, Amy, and Donni spent the night at the hall with the kids. “This is a great group of kids and we enjoy working with them and watching them grow in so many ways,” Joanne Fornusek stated, continuing, “As the future leaders of No. 225, we want to keep them involved, help them develop leadership skills, and help them be knowledgeable of their ethnic roots.”
Western hopes to foster more interest in YELL! groups. Member Programs Manager Kelsey Logan remarked, “YELL! is open to members under the age of 40. It's a great way for younger people to get actively engaged in their community while still working with the rest of the lodge. This is especially enticing for young families that want to keep their children interested. For young teens and adults, there are additional benefits to lead and organize while also making new friends.” Lodges interested in starting a YELL! group can learn more at www.wflains.org/member-benefits/yell/ or call 877-935-2467.
Call 877-935-2467 to speak with a Western Fraternal Life Representative.