The golden age
We look to them for wisdom, guidance, and sometimes entertaining stories of a time we can't even imagine.
We even have a day dedicated to them — Tuesday, Aug. 21, known as National Senior Citizen Day.
In the Sandy and Mount Hood area, we are fortunate to have not only a plethora of support systems for the senior citizen population, but quite a few seniors who just aren't ready to fully retire, and seek every volunteer opportunity possible.
At the Sandy Senior and Community Center, staff and volunteers help the older demographic with everything from energy assistance to fitness classes.
Senior Services Manager for the center, Melissa Thompson, noted that "the socialization aspect" for seniors is also huge.
"Loneliness and depression are really prevalent among seniors as they lose their independence," Thompson said.
"Given where we live — in a more rural, spread out area — that's an even bigger issue," added Community Services Director Tanya Richardson. "When we deliver Meals on Wheels, some of the places we visit are pretty isolated."
A two-way benefit
Many seniors in the community, like longtime volunteer Marian Bartlett, see the senior center like a second home.
"I don't think volunteering was my intention when I came in," she admitted. "I'd been alone a long time, (and) I got so lonely. I thought 'I've got to do something to make my life a little more exciting.' The first day I came here Iris met me at the door. I met a lot of nice people and felt very welcome. The senior center became my spot."
Bartlett is just one of several senior volunteers at the center. She comes to the center for fitness classes and the occasional day trip to the beach, but she also helps with projects like the annual pie sale fundraiser, Breakfast with Santa and "then I just offer to help in any way I can."
"I got involved in just about everything they do here," she said. "It's meant a lot to me. I've always had that kind of spirit and wanted to help in any capacity I can."
Bartlett sees how her actions fill a need for others, but volunteering has benefitted her as well.
"When my family grew up on me, I became a friend to anyone I could," Bartlett noted. "(Volunteering) fulfilled an area in my life. I needed to be needed. This center offers so much to every senior, in so many ways."
Taking a closer look at what the center offers, here's a list:
Meals on Wheels
Meals for $2.50 every Monday through Wednesday at noon at the center
Potluck meals every other Thursday
Transportation to medical appointments and for shopping as needed
Functional fitness classes to help with strength building and fall prevention
Energy assistance through Clackamas County
Connections to lawyers for advice on wills and advance directives
Pain management classes
The center offers something for everyone.
"I have aging parents, (and) I personally was happy to hear about the resources the center offers (when I applied for the job)," Richardson noted. "As a child of an aging parent, you don't know where to start, so it's good for people to know these resources exist."
Feeding a community
For those in need of help obtaining sustenance, the Sandy Community Action Center is another source for people of all ages. At the action center, seniors have three opportunities a month to acquire boxes of food.
"We have so many seniors living on a limited income," said Kirsten Pitzer, action center executive director. "Food shouldn't be one of those things that's optional, but it ends up coming last. You have to pay rent, your light bill, pay for gas, so food sometimes comes last."
The action center also offers help finding energy assistance, operates a thrift store and a food pantry and welcomes people to volunteer.
"A large part of the workforce is retired people," Pitzer noted. "Most of them want to give back to the community. For a lot of them, we're not the only place they volunteer at."
Joan Ragan, who's helped as a cashier at the action center for six years, has made a career of volunteering.
"I was a stay-at-home mom, so I've really volunteered for about 48 years," she said. The now 81-year-old has given her time to a variety of causes, including the schools while her son was a student, the Wy'East Artisans Guild and the Sandy Community Center. Until she came to the action center, Ragan led hikes on Mount Hood and in the Gorge for the center.
"When I couldn't hike anymore, I came here," she noted. "I really like working with people. I like to do my part in whatever group, so I always carry responsibility."
Though she is an expert-level volunteer, Ragan said the action center "was way out of my usual" realm.
"This is helping a community of people I wouldn't know otherwise," Ragan explained. "Those places I was helping people who could help themselves. Here, I'm helping people who have difficulty helping themselves."
Like Bartlett, Ragan admitted her role at the center isn't purely altruistic. She finds benefits from being there as well.
"This has been a really positive experience," she noted. "People are so welcoming. I can be helpful in more ways than I thought. Every volunteer job I've had, I really liked. And I love this one. This center serves so many people."
A mountain of need
Dan Wolf, like Ragan, started volunteering earlier in life than most. Before he officially retired from his job as a police officer, Wolf was up at the Hoodland Senior Center's congregant lunches socializing and answering questions for seniors.
He's remained so active, and enjoyed volunteering so much, he almost didn't notice when he became a senior himself.
"I retired in 1993," Wolf told The Post. "Within two months, I was volunteering with the Hoodland Fire Department."
He's been unofficially volunteering with the senior center for more than 30 years.
"I just thoroughly enjoy this group of people," he said. "Everything I do in the community seems to rub shoulders with the seniors."
Wolf is also a past governor of the Lions Club and was integral in launching the annual community Thanksgiving Day Dinner.
"It's gratifying to help," Wolf noted. "Everything in my life has been around helping. The senior center is just one more vehicle for me to help people through."
As a Mt. Hood Lions Club member, Wolf has access to numerous resources to aid people with sight and hearing impairments. He brings that network knowledge to the center, linking those who need assistance with professionals that can help. Wolf also helps cook for the annual huckleberry pancake breakfast fundraiser.
"And I do really anything Ella calls and says she needs help with," he added. "It's important because in any place you can always find seniors in need, but up here is a bedroom community for seniors."
"People need so much, and we're so far out," Center Director Ella Vogel noted. "There are so many people who are homebound, and some are coming home from surgery and some permanently can't drive or afford to."
Vogel, her assistant Lita Bibler, and others will often drive seniors to doctors appointments, the grocery store, even on field trips as far away as Spirit Mountain Casino or The Dalles.
The services the center offers are numerous, but to name a few:
Congregant lunches at the Zigzag Inn on Mondays and at the Barlow Trail Roadhouse on Thursdays
Free of charge loans of wheelchairs, canes, walkers and other equipment
A lending library of books and DVDs
Besides the services the center offers in-house, Vogel also connects a great deal of people to outside resources when needed, such as loans for home repair, food stamp information, mental health services, and more.
"Just about anything they need, they'll call," Vogel explained. "And I love helping people. There's nothing we won't do."
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