Health Care Consumers honoring UI senior
CHAMPAIGN — Whether she's practicing moves in the basement of Krannert Center for her contemporary dance classes or helping Medicare beneficiaries access vital health resources, Ellie Fujimoto has one end goal in mind: wellness.
For some, achieving that doesn't come so easy, she learned last semester while volunteering with the Champaign County Health Care Consumers. There, she focused mostly on developing a resource guide to help low-income people get access to hearing aid services.
"Right now, with people on Medicare, most plans don't cover hearing aids, but Medicare is designed for older people and older people tend to have problems with their hearing," she said. "It's a really big problem."
For making it her cause — while at the same time working toward a double undergraduate degree alongside her master's in public health — the University of Illinois senior will be honored Friday night as one of the CCHCC's two Volunteers of the Year.
She says she didn't put in all the hours just to meet the criteria of her senior internship; she did it because she's passionate about the group's mission — to help people gain access to affordable health care.
"Being able to have an impact locally in the community I'm in right now was fulfilling, but it was also really frustrating for me. Looking for the hearing aid resources and finding there weren't many options out there was difficult, but it also showed the need for future steps we can take as an organization to help lessen this disparity," she said.
Her internship's over but Fujimoto's CCHCC volunteer work continues. These days, she's helping on a project related to the Mahomet Aquifer.
Calling "time management" her key to success, the Honolulu-born and suburban Chicago-raised Fujimoto said she makes time for volunteering in part because many college students don't branch out into their local communities while attending school.
"It's so important because when we graduate, we're going to be part of a community. There's so many opportunities out there, especially here," she said.
"My boss at health care consumers once told me 'Don't let school get in the way of your education' and what she means by that is you learn so much outside of the classroom in the community and volunteering. That's why it's important. It makes you a more well-rounded person and it prepares you for life outside of school."
Fujimoto began her time at the UI hoping to study dance movement therapy, but soon realized her real passion was public health. But, since she's been dancing since age 10, she wasn't quite ready to give up that dream, either.
So she signed up for one of the dance department's modern dance courses, and soon after decided to pursue a dual-track degree — in dance and interdisciplinary health.
Hopefully, she says, she can hang on to both passions past college.
"Even though I'm graduating soon, I'm not sure if I have an ultimate career goal just yet. I'm interested in public health right now and I'm thinking something with non-profits or epidemiology would be interesting," she said. "Unfortunately, I don't know that I can make dancing into a career, but I definitely want to have it in my life, no matter what."
Among the award winners to be saluted during Friday's Champaign County Health Care Consumers dinner:
Henrietta DeBoer Volunteer of the Year: Ellie Fujimoto and Serena Hou.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Janet Anderson.
Lester Pritchard Citizen Leadership Award: Jennifer Knapp, executive director and founder of Community Choices.
Harry J. Baker Community Service Award: Champaign-Urbana Canteen Run.
John Lee Johnson Social Justice Award: 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign leaders MD Pelmore, Ebbie Cook, Magnolia Cook, Eileen Oldham, Sandra Jackson and Jerry "JB" Lewis.