Volunteers are essential to nonprofit organizations. They donate their time and expertise, providing an invaluable resource that supplements paid staff and both informs and supports the mission. Without them, much of the work simply could not be done.
Sometimes, volunteers go above and beyond what anyone would expect of them. To them, the nonprofit is more than an organization worthy of their time and money; it represents an extension of themselves. Year after year, they can be counted on to do whatever is asked—and then some.
Polly Larned is one such volunteer.
Polly has supported Konbit Sante almost since the beginning. She and her husband, Stephen, joined the organization in 2002, one year after it was founded. Both have supported us in every conceivable fashion, from making sizable donations on an annual basis to serving on the board of directors, leading training sessions in Haiti, procuring medical supplies, and staffing fundraising events.
“There is something very special about Haiti: its natural beauty, its art, its music, and above all, its welcoming and resilient people,” she said.
Polly has an associate’s degree in arts from Briarcliff Junior College and an associate’s degree in nursing from Westbrook College of Nursing. Now retired, she worked as a community health nurse for the Visiting Nurse Association Home Health Hospice in Maine from 1990-96, and as a registered nurse in the Maine Medical Center Department of Pediatrics from 1984-91.
In 2002, she and Stephen were asked by Konbit Sante’s founders, Michael and Wendy Taylor, to serve on the board of directors. Two years later, they made their first trip to Cap-Haitien to familiarize themselves with our first healthcare partner, Justinien University Hospital.
Stephen, a doctor specializing in internal and emergency medicine, was tasked with strengthening the capacity of the hospital’s internal medicine service. Polly focused on developing relationships with JUH’s nursing staff so that Konbit Sante could determine how best to support the nursing program. It was the first of 15 trips the couple would make to Haiti on behalf of Konbit Sante.
“During my first trip in 2004, I was so taken with the sights and sounds of Haiti that I barely slept the first night,” Polly said. “… Over time, we realized that the cultural differences made our work and goals challenging. However, sensitivity to those differences has always been one of Konbit Sante’s strengths.”
Over the next decade, Stephen and Polly would participate in many Konbit Sante “firsts”: loading the first shipping container, organizing and staffing the first Maine Walks with Haiti fundraiser, launching the first of many training sessions at our healthcare partner facilities, and more. They fostered strong connections and friendships with our Haitian colleagues by hosting them in their Maine home, and participated in presentations to organizations and schools in the state.
Perhaps most importantly, the Larneds provided valuable advice and guidance honed from decades of working in the healthcare industry that helped set Konbit Sante on a steady course—a course that we have followed to this day.
“At home in Portland, volunteering with others to raise the funds needed to support our programs in Haiti brought many of us together with a common purpose—our own konbit (a Haitian tradition of working together to prepare the fields in a community for planting),” Polly said.
Polly and Stephen scaled back their involvement with Konbit Sante in 2014, but still serve as honorary advisors, and Polly is an active member of our communications and fundraising committee. She is always willing to take on whatever tasks are necessary to ensure that Konbit Sante can continue its work for years to come.
“It’s especially gratifying to look back over the last 20 years and reflect on the improvements in the delivery of care in Cap-Haitien,” she said. “It is a result of a great deal of effort by Konbit staff—both here and in Haiti—volunteers, and the support given to us by many generous donors.”