Of all the benefits that manager Kileen Jones has organized at the FOE Eagles Lodge in the Heights, the one that sticks with her is the first.
Three years ago, the 27-year-old Billings woman met lodge members Bill Berg and his wife, Cyndee.
“Cyndee was on oxygen,” she said. “I didn’t know them at the time, but I fell in love instantly with who she was.”
Lung cancer, the disease that killed her own father, was wearing Cyndee down.
“I had to do something,” Jones said.
So she organized a series of pool tournaments to help the Bergs cover costs related to Cyndee’s treatment. Jones doesn’t remember how much was raised, but the Bergs repaid her kindness in many ways. Bill still helps out at the club when things get busy.
And Cyndee, a few days before her death, helped Jones come to terms with the anger and grief that had wracked her life since her father died.
“She was the one who helped me have my breakthrough,” Jones said.
Working on the fundraisers proved both exhilarating and habit-forming.
“You get this whole feeling of goodness and you never get over it,” the West High grad said.
Once she and her loyal staff got their first taste, they knew they had to keep going. They’ve planned and hosted benefits for everything from cancer victims to the Wounded Warriors Project.
It’s all part of Eagles tradition, she said.
“Our motto is ‘People helping people,’ and that’s what we do.”
Jones explained that throughout its history the lodge has made fundraising for a charity a regular part of daily activity.
But Jones has taken it to a new level. Sometimes people come to her asking for help. Sometimes the staff springs into action after seeing a news headline that moves them to find a way to help. Right now, they are working on a benefit to raise money for the children of four people who died in a Lockwood fire last month.
She put together auctions, dinners and even a car show. The car show presented a steep learning curve for the staff and lodge members since they had no experience with such an enterprise. In the end, it came off better than they dreamed, raising more than $5,000 for the project.
Although she’s been nicknamed the “Energizer Bunny” and the “Benefit Girl,” Jones insists that she couldn’t do it without lodge members and her staff.
“We do a lot of fundraising up here, but it’s not just me,” she said. “What we have going on here is really, really great. We definitely have fun around here.”
She and the rest of the staff – Becky Smith, Sacha Helm, Mandie Castro, Kati Jensen, Garrett Stone and Patti Parsons – have become like family, Jones said.
Family is something she knows a lot about.
“I’m blessed with six kids in my life,” she said of her blended family. “They are the light of my life – my motivation.”
The kids range in age from 5 months to 11 years. When she started as a janitor at the Eagles Lodge seven years ago, the kids came with her to work the morning cleanup.
“I had to make a living and the kids were too young to be in school,” she said. “As I grew up in this place, things got better and better.”
Her day starts at 5 a.m. She works mornings at the lodge and drives back and forth from her West End home several times during the day to tend to her children and work at the lodge.
“She spends way too much time up here,” said lodge interim president Jim Philhower, who with his wife, Jeanie, volunteer many hours at the club on Laurie Lane.
“A lot of people tell me ‘You need to take time off for yourself,’ ” she said.
Jones said she keeps going because a lot of people have her back.
“I could not do this without the support of my Mom and my boyfriend,” Jones said.
She envisions more for the lodge, which is open to the public -- more benefits, more lodge members and more volunteers.
“I keep going because of everybody up here and my kids,” she said. “I want to be the best person I can be so I can show them how to be when they grow up. I want them to see how the world is. So many people need a little help and we need more people to give it.”
Her example seems to be working. Her daughters Emma, 7, and Remi, 6, love to serve at the benefits.