Several years ago, a chapter of Freemasons was discussing how to send one of their officers to an upcoming ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Among those at the Florida meeting was Jon Temple, owner of Tempool Inc., a pool plastering, surfacing and repair company based in Jacksonville, Fla.   

Temple had amassed hundreds of thousands of airline miles on his American Express card — thanks largely to an agreement he’d made years earlier with a manufacturer. So he offered to donate the miles. A fellow attendee, however, had a better idea.

“The guy was one of the head Shriners,” recalls Temple, himself a member of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. “And he says to me, ‘Jon, the guy you’re going to hand your miles to has a job. Don’t give him something for free. Why not donate those miles to me, and let’s fly some burned and crippled kids to the hospital — that’s where we need the money.’

“So the next day I went to the Shriners and gave them a million airline miles.”

Over the next four years, Temple and his associates would contribute upwards of 6 million miles to the Shriners transportation fund, which brings children to one of 22 pediatric hospitals across North America for specialty care of a variety of afflictions including burns, spinal cord injuries, orthopedics, skin conditions and facial clefts.

The effort extended beyond Temple to his employees, as well as about 25 local pool companies. Even Tempool’s primary manufacturer, CL Industries, got involved.

“It’s our whole industry,” Temple says. “When you see that type of stewardship, and you see the people around you fall in line with it — that really makes you happy.”

Sadly, Florida’s recent economic hardships have slowed the crusade over the past few years. But the program is still very much in effect today, Temple says.

Oddly enough, the effort may never have taken shape were it not for a chance encounter in Honduras in the early 1990s.

A young Temple was serving in the Peace Corps there from 1991-93, teaching local kids mathematics, as well as wood shop and metal shop.

Just across the border in El Salvador, a 12-year civil war was reaching its climax. And Honduran children, whose parents would fight in order to support their families, often got caught in the crossfire.

Temple recalls one victim in particular, a young girl whose legs were badly damaged after she stepped on a landmine. While she was being fitted for prosthetics, an aid worker told Temple about the work that Shriners did back in the United States on behalf of injured and disabled children.

It struck a chord. But his plans would have to wait, because after his term of service ended, Temple remained in Honduras for four years. He ran a construction company there, met his wife and had a child before moving to Florida for economic reasons, he says.

Back stateside, he then set about becoming a Shriner, which means first becoming a Freemason.

In fact, the Shriners were established in 1870 as an affiliated organization to Freemasonry. Today, their members number approximately 340,000 from nearly 200 chapters in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Europe and Australia.

The Tampa, Fla.-based society is perhaps best known for the children’s hospitals it supports, as well as the red fezzes its members often wear. And though its dress and full name at times invokes Arabic themes, the Shrine is not affiliated with Islam, or any religious group.

It is, generally speaking, a men’s fraternity above all else.

For Temple, the Shriners represent an opportunity to give to those less fortunate: “I don’t think we were put here to get rich,” he says. “I think we were put here to help everybody. If you can’t help someone else, you can’t help yourself.”

Thus far, his efforts have been funneled into the Shriners transportation needs. But Temple hopes to develop a program with a credit card company where, instead of offering airline miles, a portion of each payment is rebated back for donation to one of the Shriners hospitals.

“Prosthetics, skin grafts — all that technology has come from the Shriners, and they’ve passed it on,” Temple says. “The technical advancements and the studies they do are incredible. I would like to be able to come up with funding to help the hospitals directly, so the kids can get even better treatment