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Heeding the call to help

Tag "-- we're it.

I see the need every week when I roll through my Food & Friends (Meals on Wheels) route. Like hundreds of other volunteers in this Rogue Valley Council of Governments program (www.rvcog.org), once a week I bring meal boxes to about a dozen aging people. They live alone or in pairs, often in homes that need substantial maintenance and repair. In many instances they are unwell; in all instances they are increasingly worried about what will happen next.

This is what I think. When we're younger (and, lately, I'm considering that to be under age 70) and times are tough, we buckle down, tighten our belts and work harder. We figure it out. But if you're 80-something and a wheelchair user, and you need a paid caregiver that you cannot afford — someone who will come in each day and help you get to the bathroom — it's a completely different story.

We have a new president who is forthrightly articulating a service agenda. I am an aging social worker and it resonates with me. Now what.

I'm having trouble writing this column because I have something to say that's probably too close to my heart. I was a hands-on caregiver for decades for aged family members and I've always volunteered in some way — ever since I was a teenager. I feel a passionate need to be community-involved and am always encouraging others to join me. But these times are unique and, perhaps, we need to tackle all this from a different angle.

I have an idea that's so simple it might just work. What if we did this: what if each of us, individually, identified one needy elder that we agree to personally support and assist. You say you're "already doing that?" If that's true, you have my complete acknowledgement and high regard. Take on one more. I'm not suggesting you subsidize them financially or ask them to move into your home (although you could, I suppose"¦) but I am suggesting that you "break trail" in helping them meet their own needs.

It could be almost anything — organizing a Saturday work crew for home repairs, mobilizing a group from your church to take on in-home care. In some cases maybe it's simply calling a lonely 85-year-old on a daily basis. A regular phone call — always made. You could do that.

It's true you know, people who volunteer are 42 percent more likely than people who don't to say they are "very happy." Some people refer to it as "getting back to giving back."

Here are a few ways to "get back" to being happier. Think local. We have area agencies ready to embrace any and all service commitments. Jackson County United Way is a portal for many of them (www.unitedwayofjacksoncounty.org). Other Web sites include www.volunteermatch.org or the new www.USAservice.org. It's a "This is America" Web site that's really just getting started, but it has grand possibilities.

Think global. Log on to www.volunteerabroad.com.

I could go on and on — but for the moment, I'll just hand this off to you. Tag, you're it.

Run strong.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.