Bogged down with business obligations, like crunching numbers and focusing on financing, Kamal Elliot realized she was losing her focus.
Elliot has owned her own practice, A&E Audiology & Hearing Center, in Lancaster County since 2000, providing hearing aids and additional services to people in the midstate.
Based in Manheim Township, A&E Audiology also has offices in Lancaster and Willow Street.
Elliot doesn’t have a background in business – what drives her is her passion to help people hear again. So, when she realized she was losing touch with that passion, she decided to get back to leading with her heart, not her head.
"I always felt like what your heart is telling you is important. Business might be business, but people are people," Elliot said.
'Once you see a hearing smile, you get hooked'
Kamal Elliot will be launching her nonprofit in March. - (Amy Spangler)
In 2003, Elliot signed up to go on a trip to Mexico through an Indiana-based organization called Entheos Audiology Cooperative, which sends audiologists all over the world to give underserved populations hearing aids.
"You never know what kind of impact these services will have on people," Elliot said. "Once you see a hearing smile, you get hooked."
It was that first taste of humanitarian work that changed everything for Elliot – it recharged her to continue caring for patients in her private practice, and it has now led her to open a nonprofit to help underserved populations get hearing aids in Central Pennsylvania.
The nonprofit, A&E Hearing Connection, is slated to open in March in Manheim Township at 235 Bloomfield Drive.
A&E Hearing will care for low income adults – people making at least 2.5 times below the federal poverty level – and underserved children, by providing them with hearing aids and ongoing maintenance.
Hearing aids and services won’t be free: Prices will be based on a sliding-fee scale, Elliot explained. Depending on their income, patients will pay anywhere from $45 to $400 per hearing device.
The average cost of hearing aids is about $2,400, Elliot said.
A&E Hearing already has about 50 patients lined up who need hearing aids but can’t afford them.
Patients will also be asked to do a certain amount of volunteer work in the community. The idea is that the nonprofit is giving people a hand up, not a hand out, Elliot said. Her hope is that the patients will find a love for helping people, too.
For her, humanitarian work is instant inspiration and gratification, she said.
Roots in India
Today Elliot still takes two or three volunteer trips a year to places in India, Brazil, Jordan, Haiti Africa and Guatemala, among others.
Elliot’s desire to help people in other countries stems, in part, from the fact that she lived in India with her grandparents from when she was 5 until she turned 18.
Although she is originally from Minnesota, her father was born in India, so she went there to learn about the language and the culture.
Wanting to share her experience with others, she takes some of her employees on volunteer trips too. When they return to work in Lancaster County, "I feel like we bond for life, you know," Elliot said.
Her travels have impacted her leadership style in that it has given everyone in her practice a purpose – "It's renewed our energy, and it's sort of our why – why we come to work – because we want to help people."
She's also taken her family with her – she has a husband and two sons – Andrew and Eric, whose initials form the name of her practice and nonprofit, A&E.
Her son Eric serves as managing director at A&E Audiology. He has been instrumental in helping his mother start the nonprofit.
There's a lot of changes happening in the hearing care industry – manufactures are opening stores that compete with private practices, and people can order hearing aids on the internet, Elliot said.
The issue, according to Eliot, is that additional services and maintenance for hearing aids is critical, and it's not always happening. She used eyes and teeth as an example – it's common to get those checked annually – but when it comes to hearing health, people don’t always realize how important it is.
That's why being able to reach out to people of all walks of life, and teach them and show them hearing health care, keeps her going.
"Being able to do my humanitarian work, being able to do my nonprofit work, just constantly every day reminds me that I'm in this profession for the right reasons," Elliot said. "I want to help people, and when you do that, you go to bed happy."