Storm can’t stop Elks fun day for 900 special need individuals

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“I couldn’t have cancelled this event even if I wanted to,” Mark Eaton, a past exalted ruler of Elks Tri-City Lodge #14, said about last Thursday’s 365 Outing at the Masonic Youth Center.

After last Tuesday’s storm, Eaton said, “It was a little nerve-wracking trying to get everything all together.”

The Masonic Youth Center in Buttonwoods, where the event was planned, was closed due to fallen trees. Ice couldn’t be found anywhere because none of the machines were working, but Eaton found it all came together just in time.

Roads were cleared. There was power, and ice was procured all in time for Thursday.

“It actually worked in our favor,” Eaton said. “Normally, we would have had to share this park with 200 other kids, but they opened this area just for us.”

Without other park patrons the Elks were able to utilize all of the parking spaces and picnic tables and really reap the rewards.

The 365 Outing was open and free for children and adults with special needs throughout the state.

Eaton, chairman for the 365 Outing, said he really wanted to see the event grow and sent invitations to nearly every healthcare and human services organizations for special needs individuals. Altogether, more than 900 people attended. Not even halfway through the event, the count was at 855 not counting the nearly 70 volunteers from Elks Lodges across the state.

The outing is funded through all Elks members donating a penny a day for a total of $3.65. The event cost approximately $10,000 to stage this year.

The event featured a DJ, Irish Step dancers, magicians and the Shriners clowns. Inflatable guitars, bracelets, beaded necklaces and other goodies were distributed to all the guests, even Elroy the Elk made an appearance.

“Just look at everyone. The weather is perfect and everyone is smiling and dancing. It’s just a day to be able to enjoy themselves,” Eaton said.

Gina Kingsborough, Rhode Island State Elks West district chairman, said everyone deserves a day to know they are safe to just relax and have a good time.

“This is a memorable day,” she said. “They will be talking about today for a while.”

The Special Elks Deputy for Rhode Island, Leo Blanchette, said that it was important to the organization to not only extend the initiation to children but also special needs adults.

“We strive to give them the best day possible,” he said. “Even the adults need a fun day here and there.”

He noted that a lot of the facilities that attended have slowly lost funding over the years, and they all look for something

Fun to do that won’t “break the bank.”

The 365 Outing had been going on for more than 20 years, according to Eaton, and started because the Elks realized that no other organization was “gearing up” for the special needs community.

Now, all 10 lodges collaborate on putting the event together every year.

Eaton said that over the last few years Elks lodges across the country, “but especially in Rhode Island,” are trying to get back to their “charitable roots.”

Nationally, the Elks are the number one largest drug awareness organization and the second largest scholarship program behind the American government.

“People don’t realize all the charity we do,” he said. “Each lodge does whatever it takes to make a difference in those lives that need it most. They develop initiatives in their own communities for those most in need.”

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