Elaijah Lapay: 2023 Recipient of the Lars Lyon Community Service Award

Duke Civic Engagement is delighted to announce Elaijah Lapay as the winner of this year’s Lars Lyon Volunteer Service Award. Elaijah is a rising senior in Program II where he has designed his own major around migrant health and healthcare access. He has been recognized for his unwavering commitment to service and his dedication to improving healthcare access for underrepresented communities.

Elaijah, a pre-med student, shares a personal interest in improving healthcare access especially for people in migrant populations. As a Filipino-American, he has witnessed first-hand the challenges that immigrants can face in accessing quality healthcare. In 2021, some years after moving to the United States from the Philippines, Elaijah’s grandmother needed healthcare first from a fall and then from COVID-19. In the hospital, no one spoke her native language of Bisaya. His mother became her sole interpreter which proved challenging over time. Elaijah became all the more interested in improving access to healthcare for the many other people who experience barriers after immigrating. You can read more about Elaijah’s reflections in this article from the Duke Global Health Institute.

In addition to his personal experiences, Elaijah has been involved in various extracurricular activities related to global health. He has collaboratively led Bass Connections research projects and contributed to the student-led Duke Medical Ethics Journal. Furthermore, he was instrumental in creating the Root Causes Undergraduate Coalition, the first formal body at Duke to support undergraduates in their work with and in Root Causes, a non-profit organization working on social determinants of health.

Elaijah’s nominators spoke highly of his long-term commitment to community efforts and celebrated his passion for organizing fellow Duke students. Willis Wong, co-founder and program supervisor at Root Causes Fresh Produce Program, commended Elaijah for his “unyielding dedication to community service, thoughtful impact, and partnership building.” Elaijah’s involvement with Root Causes started in his freshman year as a regular volunteer, and he soon became one of the program’s key leaders. Wong praised Elaijah’s role, which was far beyond the expectations of an undergraduate student and included bridging partnerships between Root Causes, Duke’s Spanish Learning courses and local organizations like El Centro Hispano. Classmate Axelle Miel, fellow member of the Duke Pamilya: The Filipino Students Association, also submitted a nomination of high praise. He stated, “I think every Duke student should strive to be like Elaijah when it comes to our relationship with the Durham community.”

Many voices joined in recommending Elaijah for the Lars Lyon award. Dr. Joan Clifford from Duke Service-Learning praised him for cultivating sustainable partnerships and challenging the status quo. She described the great asset that he was to service-learning courses through student training and engagement. Elaijah’s academic mentor, Dr. Emily Esmaili, lauded his ambition, ingenuity, and altruism in serving those most in need locally and noted his persistence in utilizing university resources to make tangible improvements in the vulnerable populations of refugee and immigrant children. Dr. Milani Patel from Lincoln Community Health Center spoke of his independence, willingness to take on any task, and drive to improve patient care. She stated, “I can say for sure that our patients and families leave Lincoln in a better place than when they came in because of Elaijah’s dedication to this work.”

As the winner of the Lars Lyon Volunteer Service Award, Elaijah will receive $15,000 towards his tuition for the following academic year. This award is a testament to his exceptional commitment to service and his dedication to improving healthcare access for underrepresented communities. We are confident that Elaijah will continue to make a significant impact in the Duke and Durham communities and beyond.

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