Student Spotlight: Jim Elliott
Major: Mass Communications
When Jim Elliott was young, he would escort a friend with cerebral palsy to school to keep other kids from picking on him. Elliott’s father was a disabled veteran, while his Scout master had one arm.
“I grew up with this understanding of people with special needs and disabilities,” he said.
While working at WGN Radio, he learned about a blind ski group. So when his daughter, who is legally blind, turned 9, he taught her how to ski. All of these experiences resonated with Elliott, who would often wonder how else he could help out.
But he was excelling at his media career. In addition to WGN Radio, Elliott worked for the Chicago Tribune and CLTV News as part of a team that launched the news outlet.
When he realized the benefits of scuba diving for disabled people, Elliott decided to take the plunge – literally and figuratively – and leave his successful career to start Diveheart, a nonprofit organization that provides scuba diving programs for children, adults and veterans with disabilities. The goal is that participants, through scuba diving and experiencing zero gravity, receive physical and psychological benefits.
“Once my kids were grown, I took a deep breath and decided to go out and take a swing at this,” he said. “I wanted to unleash the unknown potential in people with disabilities and give them a purpose, because so many of them are told too often about what they cannot do. This is something they can do and the results are amazing.”
Since 2001, Elliott has devoted himself full-time to Diveheart as founder and president and does not draw a salary. Based in Downers Grove, Diveheart now has centers in Australia, China and the United Kingdom.
Interestingly enough, Elliott learned to scuba dive at College of DuPage. He initially came to COD because of its student newspaper.
“I was very independent and wanted to put myself through school while getting the awesome experience that I felt a student run newspaper would provide – and it did,” he said. “I took scuba as another arrow in my quiver as a journalist. Although I had no burning passion to learn to dive, I thought if I ever had to interview someone like Jacques Cousteau, I better know how to dive.
“Al Zamsky taught me to dive, and I had no idea that it would influence my life the way it did. Self-discovery was a huge part of what happened at COD for me.”
Elliott earned his Associate in Arts degree at COD and transferred to Northern Illinois University for his bachelor’s degree. In 2016, he was named one of COD’s Distinguished Alumni.
“College of DuPage gave me the foundation, experience and confidence to continue my future journey to NIU, the Chicago Tribune, WGN Radio, CLTV, and establishing and running Diveheart, which I believe is changing the world,” he said. “I’m always excited about the opportunity to promote COD and a community college path for people of all abilities.”
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