Small in population, big in heart

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There are more than a few lessons to be learned from the example set by the Grand Lodge of Elks and Warwick’s own Lodge 14 – not the least of which are how a little can add up to a lot, not just in terms of attendance numbers or financially, but in how we impact our society in ways that make a positive difference.

Last week, the Rhode Island State Elks Association held their third annual 365 Outing, a free picnic event that seeks to reach out to all of those in the community with special needs and welcomes them to enjoy food, dancing and entertainment.

The group’s efforts have expanded from a couple hundred partaking in the event to nearly 2,000 attendees this past week at the Masonic Park in Warwick. The explosion of popularity in such a short period of time tells us one thing for certain – the desire and the need for more events like this are great, while the availability of such outings are simply not apparent at this time.

What makes the 365 Outing special is the way in which it is financed. Every member of an Elks Lodge within the state has one penny taken out of their membership dues every day for the entire year in order to fund the picnic. It’s an effort that epitomizes the notion that a little bit adds up to a lot when you have widespread, consistent buy-in from people who understand and collaborate for a greater good.

Sure, $3.65 might not seem like a lot of money, but getting it from every member of all 10 Elks Lodges in the entire state of Rhode Island clearly amounts to much more – enough for an entire fun-filled day of thousands of hot dogs and hamburgers, soft drinks and entertainment for all.

More than money, however, the effort of the 365 Outing also showcases the best in our collective humanity when we see how many people volunteer time and services to make it happen. Many of the volunteers may have no experience or personal connection to someone with a disability or that has special needs of any kind, however this does not prevent them from joining in what is obviously a noble cause.

It is easy to take for granted things we eventually accept to become our reality in life. Everything from the ability to simply tie your own shoes to being capable of mentally dissecting a complex discussion involves a level of cognitive function that is simply unattainable by some of our neighbors, friends and family members.

In the past, these differences spurred strong reactions of misunderstanding, fear, shame and even hatred – all for no logical reason besides our unfortunate human tendency to retract from things that detract from the “norm” and make us uncomfortable. Thankfully, today, groups like the Elks are leading the way to a better understanding – that people with all array of disabilities, learning differences or physical handicaps are simply people who want to enjoy a hot dog, a dance in the grass and share a friendly smile, just like anyone else.

We applaud their efforts and the efforts of all who helped pull off such an inclusive, happy and inspiring event. It says something about the state of Rhode Island to be able to coordinate such an event. Other states may simply be too big to accomplish the cohesiveness we see in the Ocean State. Make no mistake, what Rhode Island lacks in geographical size, it makes up for in empathy and heart.

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