A Leader’s Journey Driven by Compassion and Purpose


More than 26 million people in the U.S. do not have health insurance. That is a staggering number, but thankfully, Champions for Health is doing their part to bridge the gap in health equity. In 2008, they founded Project Access, a network of volunteer physicians who offer pro bono services in 30 medical specialties. Since then, they have helped over 6,500 patients receive the treatment and procedures they need. Adama Dyoniziak, who serves as the non-profit’s Executive Director, is dedicated to keeping the people of San Diego healthy by getting physicians, nurses, hospitals and surgical centers involved in volunteerism.

What motivated you to serve and lead in the health and wellness industry?
Although I wanted to be a physician and a ballerina from a young age, the non-profit world was the perfect fit for me, offering challenges and opportunities for personal transformation. Diagnosing symptoms came full circle when my mom was ill and homebound. My sister and I both triaged health concerns and corresponded with nurses and physicians regularly. I ended up earning a Master’s Degree in Public Health at SDSU. HIV/AIDS prevention with at-risk teens was exactly the right combination of challenge and opportunity. From primary prevention, I shifted to activities of daily living and social skills training with blind and visually impaired youth and adults.

What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of my job is interacting with people – my coworkers, our board, our community partners, our volunteers and the people we serve. Getting to know people and working towards a common purpose is fun and invigorating. Making a difference together every day, no matter how small, is a palpable feeling. I especially love when you look into the eyes of a patient, or the parent of a child, or a family member, who received immunizations, or surgery or a specialist appointment at no cost. They cannot put it into words how happy and grateful they are for their health and well-being.

What makes volunteerism important?
The mission statement of Champions for Health is “improved community health and wellness, access to care for all and physician support through engaged volunteerism.” Those two words – “engaged volunteerism” – drew me to Champions for Health because they are so dynamic, genuine and vibrant. Volunteers are magnetically drawn to serve our community. Being engaged in volunteering creates anticipation and excitement for a healthy outcome. Connecting people to our cause, and organizations to each other, is in essence, volunteering the best of yourself and seeking the best in each other.

What inspires you to give back?
My parents lived through WWII in Poland. My mom and dad would tell us stories about how they and their parents overcame the indignities and horrors of war. They were proud of how they helped their own family as well as how they worked with neighbors in bartering goods and services for food in nearby villages, even with the imminent threat of imprisonment or death. They had a common purpose that was beyond survival – it was to thrive in spite of the country’s calamity. These values of honor, dedication, family and hard work are what inspire and guide me. It is all about community coming together to remove barriers to health.

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Esteban Villanueva