The first time Tammy Denbo had a chance to go to Haiti after the earthquake, it didn't quite work out.
After years as a prosecutor and law firm associate, Denbo was now knee deep in work as an owner and partner of her own law firm.
Factor in an already ramped up schedule of various volunteer efforts and Denbo, a Waterchase resident, realized she wouldn't be able to make the trip that her church was planning.
"There just wasn't time," said Denbo, who attends Generations Christian Church.
A 7.0 scale earthquake struck Haiti in January of 2010, devastating the already weakened country.
Months went by and Denbo figured her chance to help had passed. That was until she attended a dinner at a family friend's home last fall.
Those friends, Dr. Leo Vieira and Dr. Robert Ferreira, and other doctors had led a medical mission to Haiti. They told recounts of their experience during the dinner Denbo attended.
"This grown man was in tears," Denbo recalled of that evening.
When the earthquake hit Port Au Prince, Vieira and his wife, Guiga knew they wanted to do something. The couple had done medical mission work between 1999-2002, when Dr. Vieira was doing his residency training. They'd traveled to Honduras, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti.
"We realized how helpful we could be to so many people in need," said Vieira of his decision to help in Haiti. "And how gratifying this kind of work could be."
The doctor and his wife began pooling their network of resources from physicians, to lawyers to soccer moms.
The group People for Haiti was born.
The non profit is made up of volunteers who travel to Haiti frequently throughout the year providing medical care and delivering much needed supplies like tents and water.
After learning about the organization, Denbo wasted no time getting involved. This would be her second chance to make it to Haiti and she was determined to seize it.
"The calling came around the first time and I felt guilty," Denbo said. "Haiti isn't something presented everyday."
She made her first trip in Jan. 2011. To prepare she spoke with everyone who had made the trip and stocked up on non-perishables like tuna snack packs, cheese and crackers, and Oreos.
The dangers of a country on the brink didn't much concern her.
"I was just so excited to get there and help that I didn't have a problem doing it," Denbo said.
The news reports of Haiti's trash lined streets and extreme poverty didn't lie.
Once on the ground, Denbo saw hunger and sickness like never before.
The People for Haiti volunteers were stationed at the Cabaret Baptist Children’s' Home, a orphanage about an hour outside of the capital city of Port Au Prince.
Its residents were a mix of children whose parents had surrendered their rights and others whose parents were lost in the earthquake. Their ages ranged from six months to 18.
After seeing miles of ravaged country, Denbo was shocked to see the smiling faces of the children who greeted the volunteers when they arrived.
"The children were amazing," she said. "Their smiles... they seemed so happy."
The greeting would be the first of many gifts Denbo says the experience granted her.
Denbo worked with other volunteers at a makeshift clinic in a neighboring town. On the first morning at the clinic, 400 people showed up -- all through word of mouth.
Some came in with simple problems like headaches and common colds. Others more severe like meningitis and high risk pregnancies. Medicines so easily available in the States were hard to come by in Haiti.
Denbo recalled an eight year old boy who came in completely lethargic. He had meningitis. Within a couple hours of receiving treatment he was up and talking. Within three days Denbo and the others had seen 1,000 patients.
In the evenings, she and the others spent quality time with the children at the orphanage building close relationships that made it difficult to leave the country when her volunteer effort was over.
After that first trip, Denbo returned to Haiti on two more missions. She plans to return in November.
"The only thing that helped me when I was leaving was knowing I'd be back," she said.
Denbo sees her work in Haiti as a convergence of many years of professional and volunteer work.
The 36 year old's civic volunteer work is extensive, including the Hope Children's Home, Make a Wish Foundation, The Toby Hall Foundation and the Junior League.
Denbo, a former Tampa Bay Bucs Cheerleader, serves as the alumni coordinator for the group. A graduate of the FBI's Tampa Bay Citizens Academy, she was recently named as the National Citizens Academy Alumni Association Director.
"Each organization has meant a lot to me at some point in my life," she said. "When you spend a large part of your life giving back you have a constant flow of energy."
There's no doubt that Denbo and volunteers with People for Haiti are a valuable help to the people of that country, who continue to struggle. But Denbo maintains it's them who have helped her.
"Being there (in Haiti) allowed me to let go of stress in my life," Denbo said. "I have a collage over my desk of pictures from there. I look at it and think, 'I have a house, I have water -- it's going to be OK.'"
Want to donate to People for Haiti:
The organization is currently accepting monetary donations, clothing, reading glasses, non-prescription drugs, toys, and big bulk items. For more information go to www.peopleforhaiti.com or call 727-457-7272.