When Mark Alvarado was thirteen, his father told him to sign a paper.
“Minutes later, an older fella and two teenagers came over to talk to me,” he recalls.
Mark’s father was a Mason, and in signing the paper, he had just become a member of DeMolay. This Masonic youth leadership organization was named after Jacques de Molay, the legendary Grand Master of the Knights Templar.
While that was happening, his father made some more calls, and four more kids came to talk to him.
“I still have the friendships,” he says.
Masonic fraternities have a common goal of “making good men better,” so it follows that the organization’s website DeMolay.org articulates its goal as “striving to shape young men into leaders of character.” Alvarado is now the Chairman of the Advisory Council for the Mohawk Valley DeMolay.
“DeMolay improved my public speaking, planning, reading, memory skills, along with having lifelong friendships,” Alvarado says. “It brought the Masonic ideals that my dad was instilling in my life to me and my friends all while having fun activities.”
The website describes the group members as “accepting the challenges of leadership-both of character and of action [and] transform[ing] themselves into citizens of the highest caliber” by embracing “timeless values.”
Those values have guided young men since the early twentieth century. DeMolay is just finishing its centennial year after having been founded in 1919 in Kansas City, Missouri. It began with nine members and has grown to over 15,000 across every continent except Antarctica.
“The best part of being a member,” Mark says, “was that the members planned the activities.”
He recalls his time as a youth in DeMolay and told me about district bowling leagues, meeting astronaut Vance Brand and a unique celebrity who, like Brand, was inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame.
“He was the guy that they photoshopped Tom Hanks’ face onto for the scene in Forrest Gump when he gets the Congressional Medal of Honor,” Mark added that he also got to hold the medal as well.
DeMolay groups usually have a state gathering held on a college campus where they get to stay in the dorms and experience life on a college campus. Mark told me about the years they rented a Velcro wall, or a dunk tank, and had fun activities like shaving cream wars and dances with Masonic organizations for girls.
Those activities and any possible one hundred anniversary international session have to take place virtually because of COVID-19, just as they are for the Masonic lodges.
“Our youth groups are staying in touch,” CEO of the Grand Lodge of New York of Free and Accepted Masons wrote in the most recently published issue of The Empire State Mason, “[they] are having distant gaming nights, distant movie nights, and leadership nights.”
Grand Master Sardone describes meetings all the Masonic meetings taking place virtually as having “the essence of Masonry clear and present.”
Adam Junod is a member of the Roman-Hathaway Lodge. They held a virtual lodge meeting online this past week. During that meeting, the brothers talked about their lodges plans to support their community through donations to the Rome Rescue Mission, CNY Veterans Outreach, Masonic Youth Organization, and high school scholarships.
“Lodges are doing stuff all over the area,” he says. “We just have to get creative with how we meet during the pandemic. And, while it isn’t the same; it is trying to make the best out of the situation to help our communities and stay in touch with our members.”
Frank Fancher is a Mason who also serves as a DeMolay Advisor. I asked him why a young man might want to join the organization.
“To help you grow and have a brotherhood around you that only wants to help you succeed in life but will help you get there,” he said. “Whether that be getting over your fear of public speaking or as simple as learning how to plan an event effectively while working with others who have different backgrounds, religions, or ideals.”
Mark said that anyone interested in learning more could email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find more information on the website at www.DeMolay.org
Ron Klopfanstein is a member of the Clinton-Hampton Masonic Lodge in Westmoreland. Like him at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and follow him at Twitter.com/RonKlopfanstein