Lake Elmo Jaycees beat adversity, named 1st in state

The last year has plagued the Lake Elmo Jaycees with disappointing setbacks. A former organization president pleaded guilty to taking more than $30,000 from Jaycee bank accounts, creating financial challenges and emotional wounds. Despite the loss, the group continued to serve the community and give to children and families in need. Their volunteer efforts, fundraising and event planning were honored at this year’s Minnesota Jaycees (JCI MN) Spring State Convention where the Lake Elmo chapter earned first place in the Parade of Chapters.

“This was the first time in our nearly 46-year history that we have won first place,” said Lake Elmo Jaycee president Casey Block. “We have come in the top 10 before, but never first.”

The Parade of Chapters recognizes chapters for their work and is based on points earned for completing various tasks geared toward helping a chapter be well-rounded in four areas: community, business, individual development and international. These four areas are known in the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce, or Jaycees, as the “Areas of Opportunity” to grow as local leaders for adults aged 18-40. The accomplishment of reaching the highest score in the state is made more
impressive by the group’s small size — there are less than 30 members in Lake Elmo.

“Of the 50 chapters in Minnesota, we are among the smallest,” Block said. “Some chapters have over 200 members.”

Some of activities the Jaycees completed this year included purchasing $20,000 of toys, clothing and other items for families staying in the Tubman Center, hosting free Halloween and Easter events for local children, and sending an entire grade at Lake Elmo Elementary on a field trip.

“We also will come and help with fundraisers and sponsorships — we try to help out with anything the community asks for,” Block said.

Jaycees members worked at a fundraiser for a service dog for a child in need, and are currently in the middle of planning the 40th annual Huff n’ Puff Days softball tournament Aug. 11-14. The four-day softball tournament is the largest softball tournament in the country.

But all of this work could have been canceled this year. On May 4, 2015, former president Sarah Carlson pocketed more than $11,000 in proceeds from charitable gaming pull-tabs, and that began an investigation into the Jaycees’ bank accounts. When completed, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office investigation uncovered $31,408.75 had been taken. Carlson pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft, and was sentenced May 18 to 10 years of probation, 240 hours of community work service and restitution of $31,408.75 to the Lake Elmo Jaycees.

While the group will see some money returned, the vast majority of the funds will not be returned in time for this year’s Huff n’ Puff Days.

“This time last year we thought we would have to cancel Huff n’ Puff,” Block said. “We canceled our popular Adult Flashlight Easter Egg Hunt because we felt we couldn’t have an event for adults if it meant taking away something for the kids.”

Dreams of seeing Huff n’ Puff Days turn into a greater community event seem out of reach, now that their savings have been drained. For the 40th year, organizers originally wanted to have fireworks, a live band and a parade.

“We are looking for a band, but they can cost $7,000 to $8,000,” Block said. “We are in the money raising business and not the money spending business.”

The tournament will continue this year with as many fun family activities as the Jaycees can manage with funds they have raised in the past year. With the first pitch of the softball tournament only two months away, Block said there is still time for people to donate or sign up to help.

“We are always looking for volunteers or donations for the silent auction,” Block said. “We are an organization for the whole St. Croix area, so you don’t have to be from Lake Elmo to join and participate.”

To find out more about the Lake Elmo Jaycees and this year’s Huff n’ Puff Days, visit lakeelmojaycees.org.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]