Eryk Mejia and his family literally jumped up and down with excitement when they found out he was a finalist for the 2019 Oticon “Focus on People Awards.” Mejia, who graduated from Marana High School earlier this year, is one of three finalists for the Student Category of the Oticon awards, which aim to support "exceptional people with hearing loss."
“It’s cool being able to represent students with hearing loss locally, but getting to represent hard of hearing students nationwide? That’s a big deal,” Mejia said.
Winners in each of the Oticon awards’ four categories receive a $1,000 cash prize, a $1,000 donation to a charity of their choice and a pair of specialized hearing aids. But to win in their categories, the finalists must receive the most public votes by Thursday, Sept. 26. Mejia already has plans for what to do with all of those awards if he wins.
“As a kid, I didn’t know I would be helping those with special needs,” Mejia said. “It’s one of those things where you don’t know it would be rewarding for you or if you’d like it unless you tried it.”
For Mejia, being selected as a finalist is just the latest step in supporting those with special needs. He has lived with hearing loss since he was 5 years old, and now wears cochlear implants. He came to terms with his hearing loss in his early teens, and sought to meet others with similar conditions. This led him to Lions Camp Tatiyee in eastern Arizona.
“It’s a camp that serves to promote self-esteem, confidence, and a sense of belonging within a mutual community,” Mejia said. “Now, they not only have a week for deaf people like me, but they also have weeks for orthopedically challenged, intellectually challenged, and multi-challenged school age kids and adults.”
After participating as a camper at Lions Camp Tatiyee for three years, Mejia became a counselor once he was old enough to apply for the position. He loved being around similar people, and always left the camp feeling refreshed, with a better perspective on life. He wanted to pass this onto others within the special needs community, and he plans to support the camp even more, by listing Lions Camp as his $1,000 charity recipient, should he win the Oticon awards.
As for the $1,000 personal cash prize, Mejia plans to spend it on tuition for ASU, where he will attend this Fall. He plans to pursue a degree in psychology from the Barrett Honors College before going on to medical school, all while continuing to work at Lions Camp for as long as he can.
“I want to be a psychiatrist with an emphasis in implementing elements of therapy in my practice, but what makes my path different from others that want to be in the same profession is that I want to be open to not only hearing patients, but also deaf patients,” Mejia said. “It’s surprising, but a good amount of deaf people are shut out of communication with their healthcare professionals because of a language barrier and because of interpreters that fail to capture the meaning that their deaf client is trying to convey.”
Oticon is an international hearing aid company, and provides their high tech hearing aids for free to the winners of the Oticon awards. While Mejia can’t keep the awarded hearing aids because he already wears cochlear implants, he plans on donating them to a friend whose outdated hearing aids are malfunctioning.
“Winning the Oticon Awards could help me reach my future goals by contributing towards my college education, keeping Lions Camp Tatiyee running strong, and having something I can put on my resume for medical school and future jobs,” Mejia said. “I’ve had some struggles along the way concerning equal opportunities for me as a student with hearing loss and allowing myself to express my hearing loss to others, but over time I’ve learned to be an advocate for myself and others because there’s not enough of those out there.”
To view all finalists and to vote for the Oticon Focus on People Awards, visit oticon.com/fop