COLUMBIA, SC — Hayley Elia’s resume of service began when she was a young child tagging along with a neighbor to help provide meals, clothing and toys for area residents in need. As the years passed, her passion for helping others lived on as she devoted efforts to such things as Lutheran Hospice.
The University of South Carolina senior and A.C. Flora High School graduate has been named USC’s Outstanding Woman of the Year. The award is presented annually to an undergraduate student who demonstrates exemplary academic achievement, service and leadership.
Elia, a public health major in the South Carolina Honors College, has a 3.9 grade-point average and is director of international alternative spring break trips and vice president of the Carolina Service Council.
She talked recently about her drive for serving others and how that has formed who she is.
Why is community service so important to you?
Elia: “I view community service experiences as lessons that teach us about the beauty of humanity. Through volunteering, we are able to capture glimpses of the diverse backgrounds of those that surround us in our community. Community service allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the life struggles that others face and to play a role in relieving those struggles, even if the role we play is small. By working with others to serve in our community, we are able to connect to make a positive impact on the lives of those that surround us. By participating in service, I am able to stay grounded and to remember that giving back is as much a gift to me as it is to others.”
What has been one of your most meaningful charitable outreaches and why?
Elia: “... An international community service trip to the Dominican Republic, which I planned on behalf of USC’s Carolina Service Council, in conjunction with the nonprofit Sister Island Project. As Carolina Service Council’s director for the trip, I was responsible for a number of tasks, including everything from creating budgets for the trip to recruiting student volunteers for the trip to making travel arrangements for the trip. After months of planning, I, along with a university staff advisor, led 11 students to participate in a week of service in the rural community Cruz Verde, Dominican Republic. While in Cruz Verde, we built homes for families, helped reconstruct a community center, and participated in various activities with the children of the community. It was incredible to be rewarded with the opportunity to serve in this beautiful community and to engage in international service with my fellow peers.”
We understand you once actively served with (the late humanitarian) John Fling. What things did you learn from working alongside him?
Elia: “John always made it his personal mission to alleviate the struggles of others in any way that he could. John paid electric bills, provided food, and even purchased presents for families at Christmas for those with very little money, even though he had very little himself. John’s acts of kindness and tireless work for others taught me the true meaning of humility, compassion, and the power of community. Each time I think of his selfless and altruistic character, I am inspired to strive to make a difference in the lives of those who surround me.”
Ok, so what are some of the things you do just for Hayley?
Elia: “In my free time, I enjoy running and engaging in other exercise activities. Staying active helps me to relieve stress and to set aside a part of my life that is all to myself. I also enjoy spending time with friends and family, which I view as a very important aspect of my life.”
What was your reaction to being named the university’s Outstanding Woman of the Year?
Elia: “I was completely shocked and humbled to be named the USC Outstanding Woman of the Year. After being named, all I could think about was how blessed I am to have been given the opportunities I have been given and to have encountered so many incredible people along the way. As I have said to others, receiving the award was a testament to the wonderful support and guidance that my mentors, peers, family, and friends have provided me throughout my undergraduate years and throughout my life. I also felt so honored to be standing amongst so many other inspiring finalists, nominees, and fellow women as I was named.”
What is your dream job and why?
Elia: “My ultimate dream job would be to work for an organization that promotes global health, such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF, or Doctors Without Borders. I feel that a job with this type of organization would allow me to combine my passions for global health and for giving back to others in a way that would allow me to make an impact on the lives of others throughout the world. There is such a great need for help in so many impoverished areas in our world, and I would love to be a part of the work that addresses this need.”
So what’s next for you?
Elia: “Next year, I plan to attend graduate school in pursuit of a master of public health degree. By seeking this degree, I hope to further pursue my interest in global health issues. After graduate school, I hope to attend medical school in pursuit of a doctor of medicine degree. By combining these degrees, I hope to diversify and expand my knowledge of medicine and health in order to provide the best care possible for those I serve.”