Instead of taking the short “puddle jumper” flight between resort areas of Montego Bay and Negril, like most tourists do while vacationing in Jamaica, Diane Pollard decided instead to have her family take the two-hour drive. She expected to give her son a glimpse of how other people live, but she did not expect that the short journey would change the way that she lived from that day forth.

“You drive through some of the towns and there are people just standing in the streets,” Pollard said. “It’s not that they’re lazy or that they don’t want to work. There just aren’t enough jobs. There’s so much assistance here, with unemployment and places to go to get free medical care, but if somebody loses their job in Jamaica, they’re out on the street.”

When Pollard’s driver took a detour off the main road, she saw unclothed children and shacks with no windows, doors or plumbing. Seeing impoverished people who lacked some of the basic necessities made a profound impact on her. In a letter she wrote about that experience, she described a moment that particularly made her heart ache.

“During a stop, there was a 4-year-old boy standing in his underwear,” she wrote. “He was curious and came up to our van and stood close to my window and stared at me. He had the biggest grin and smile I had ever seen.…I smiled back and he smiled back with tears in his eyes. I place my hand on the window and he placed his small little hand near mine.…”  Pollard said this moment was like a sign to her, telling her that she had to do whatever she could to help. At the time, she didn’t know exactly how she would assist the underprivileged children of Jamaica, but she knew that she was “forever changed.” She had worked to raise money for charities in the Des Moines area for many years, and after seeing people in Jamaica who truly had nothing, she could not turn her back on them, either.

“I just felt that I could make more of an impact there, and I just fell in love with the people,” she said. “They are very kind, hard-working people.”  Now, four years later, Pollard is planning for her fifth visit to Jamaica this October, when she and a Clive physician, Dale Grunewald, intend to visit a hospital, a medical clinic and a home for young girls. Leading up to this trip, Pollard is aggressively raising money to aid medical and education centers in Jamaica, which are in dire need of teaching materials.

“I found out when I visited a couple of schools there while I was on vacation that some of the school books are 100 years old, which I could not believe,” Pollard said.

When she returned to the United States after that particular trip, she secured some better textbooks for the Jamaica schools by getting possession of ones that the Urbandale Community School District was preparing to throw away.   “Their (Urbandale schools) garbage was their (Jamaica schools) gold,” Pollard said. With help from attorney Roxanne Conlin, who paid for shipping, approximately 10 boxes of used books were sent to Jamaica.

Because books were almost non-existent in some aspects of the education system, Pollard knew that computers were rare, too. This time, she looked to her employer, Principal Financial Group Inc., to donate some of its used machines. What used to be an empty room at the Swift-Purcell School and Boys’ Home is now a computer lab with nine computers.   Not only did Pollard get the computers donated, but she persuaded UPS to ship the computers to Jamaica free of charge, and on her trip there in March, she helped get the computers ready for the residents of the boys’ home, which houses 45 youths who don’t have anywhere else to go. This home is a “lifesaver” to those it serves, she said.

“This is a safe place for them to go, to be educated and to sleep,” Pollard said. “They are lucky to have the facility.”      Pollard found out about the boys’ home through Couples Ocho Rios Resort, where she and her family vacationed. She says the management staff at the resort has been instrumental in helping to bridge the gap between her and the impoverished people in Jamaica whom she wants to help. The resort has provided security and transportation for Pollard when she has traveled alone on her trips.

Though she has been able to make connections and deliver money and supplies on her own, Pollard said she is looking forward to traveling this time with Dr. Grunewald and his wife, who is a nurse. She sees this as an opportunity to further her efforts to improve the quality of life in Jamaica.

“With his experience, I would look to him to say, ‘If they had this equipment and this equipment, they could do so much more,’” she said. “And through his contacts and my contacts, maybe we can get the equipment they need over there to them.”

Grunewald, who has been Pollard’s family physician for 20 years, has donated medical supplies to be sent to Jamaica, and when she asked him to take his commitment to the next level by going there, the choice was an easy one for him to make.

“Once we get down there and can see what their needs are, that opens the doors to get some other physicians to maybe come down there and set up some clinics later on,” Grunewald said.

For Pollard, setting up a medical clinics in Jamaica would be a dream come true, and she hopes to see more Iowans get involved as visiting doctors once Grunewald has helped assess the situation.

“We as U.S. people, sometimes we take a lot and we don’t give back,” Pollard said. “It puts things in perspective for you when you see these kids who don’t have shoes or pants, and they are dying because they don’t have enough materials like diabetes testing equipment. We can really make a difference here.”

In the past few months, Pollard has raised $9,000, which will be used to help medical centers and schools, and she is hoping to raise much more by the time of her departure in October. If anyone would like more information or wants to donate to her efforts, they can reach her by e-mail at dbpollard@mchsi.com.