From Volunteer to Hospital Sponsor: An Interview with the Smith's

Stuart Smith’s daughter, Alla Smith, volunteered at ASRI in 2013 while a medical student at Yale. After learning more about the organization through her experience, Stuart and his wife Cynthia Smith were inspired to begin donating, and in 2014 decided to sponsor the laboratory in the Community Hospital and Training Center.

Photo: Erick Danzer

Photo: Erick Danzer

HIH: How did you feel about Alla volunteering?

Stuart: We were really proud. Our impression was one of amazement that she would travel so far to somewhere so remote, but knowing her, it was not a surprise. She has always been bold and not easily intimidated. We had a lot of anticipation about what she would learn and experience.

Cynthia: We were a little nervous that she was going so far to somewhere so remote and doing something very hands-on; she was not just going to observe. But at the same time, we were very excited and knew this would be a fabulous experience where she would learn a lot and gain a great perspective.

 

HIH: What were some of your favorite stories you heard while she was gone?

Stuart: What was staggering was the remoteness and the logistics of just getting to the place. I remember her telling us about the boats and roads. It was incredible how far away it was from the type of urban centers we are accustomed to.

Hearing about the living environment and the simple conditions was interesting too. You know people live that way, but it is hard to get your head around people living in a physical environment that is so different from here.

Cynthia: She also sent beautiful pictures and talked about the warmth of the people – she was really overcome by that. I also remember her giving a description of how much of an impact one could have there and about the experience of being able to bring care to a place with so much need.

 

HIH: What inspired you about her experience to give to Health In Harmony?

Stuart: That experience of impact is really why we have been so enthusiastic about giving. Health In Harmony seems to be so well organized and focused on delivering care in an effective manner.

Cynthia: I also like the philosophy that the environment is a critical part of providing medical care. It is a unique focus, and it is essential.

 

HIH: Is there a connection for you both to Health In Harmony outside of Alla’s time volunteering?

Stuart: It is important to give back and when doing so, it is important to do so in a way as impactful as possible. This organization is really focused and really effective.

Cynthia: It is hard to find comparable opportunities to know the impact of a gift. This is a smaller organization; we know the people who manage it. Kinari and Hotlin came and met with us personally and knew exactly what the organization would be doing with our money and could explain the impact our gift would have. Other bigger charities can sometimes feel like a big black hole.

Our connection started with Alla’s trip, but didn’t end there. We keep giving because of the continued connection.

 

HIH: Why did you choose to sponsor the lab?

Stuart: There are two answers. First the dollar amount seemed right to us. But second, we are interested in the diagnostic side of health care. Neither of us are in that field, but my finance work is in health care and diagnostics are an important part of where health care is and where it is going.

 

HIH: What most excites you about the work Health In Harmony does?

Stuart: For students in medical school, this is an exceptional way to ground them in a broader perspective. These are invariably bright people, engaged in their community, and they get this eye-opening awareness at a formative part of their career.

Cynthia: While we give relatively modestly, we can have an outsized impact, which is gratifying as a donor. I agree with Stuart that medical students have to be focused in their own world, but this allows them the opportunity to gain a different perspective.

And again, the philosophy of connecting environment with health transfers so well to any situation and any environment. A volunteer can bring that back to their practice, wherever that is. It is an important lesson even when not working in a remote place. This is a global world; it’s all connected, and we can’t ignore that.

 

HIH: Why would you encourage others to give to Health In Harmony?

Cynthia: If you have the ability to give time or money, this is a much more personal way to contribute that matters, that people notice and that can really make a difference to them. And the people behind the organization know who you are. Plus, it is a young organization with fresh ideas and energy.

Stuart: You have the duality between environment and health, but what’s not talked about as much is this investing in young people and creating an openness and awareness that is hard to measure but very important. Alla is almost done with her residency in Boston, and I have talked to her about this, her work at the hospital she is at has been really influenced by her time volunteering. You can measure the day-to-day impacts on the forest and on the people, but how do you measure that impact on volunteers?


 

The Smith's sponsorship of the CHTC's laboratory is making it possible for communities to access high-quality and affordable health care. There are rooms still available for sponsorship. Interested in sponsoring a room? Contact Michelle at michelle@www.healthinharmony.org or call 503.688.5579.

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About Trina Noonan | View all posts by Trina Noonan

Trina is the Managing Director at Health In Harmony, based in Portland, OR.