Community service and camaraderie are the driving forces behind the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks, according to Paul Ryan, national president of the organization.

Ryan is in Jamestown this weekend for the North Dakota state convention of the Elks.

"Our local lodges and all the way up to the grand lodge are all member driven," he said. "They are out there striving in the community, we are giving back to the community and hopefully people notice the involvement of the Elks want to become members."

The big project for the Elks in North Dakota is Camp Grassick located on Lake Isabella near Dawson, North Dakota, said Larry Doyle, state president from Valley City.

Normally, Camp Grassick serves children and adults with various special needs through six different summer camp sessions. This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, operations at Camp Grassick were suspended.

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The North Dakota Elks are also involved with veterans, sports and other programs, Doyle said.

Ryan said that while membership in fraternal orders has declined for several years, Elks clubs are trying to turn that trend around.

"I hope we're getting stronger and stronger," he said. "... two years ago we had the first increase in membership in 39 years."

The sense of camaraderie and service helps bind people together and encourage membership, Ryan said.

"Even with COVID happening, we are hoping to break even or even have an increase in membership this year," he said.

Doyle said they expect between 75 and 100 people to participate in the state convention in Jamestown this year. That number is reduced from normal levels due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Overall, the North Dakota membership in the Elks of about 6,500 is about what would be expected in the region, Ryan said.

"North Dakota is comparable to the other Midwest states," he said. "There are higher memberships on the coasts."