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The Giver

Gresham's Art Israelson will be honored at governor's volunteer awards luncheon for his tireless efforts to improve and enrich his community
by: Carole Archer, After retiring as a firefighter, Art Israelson has volunteered countless hours building and installing birdhouses, building a public outhouse, teaching first aid and championing river rights. He will be honored Oct. 6 as “Outstanding Senior Volunteer.”

Art Israelson knows all about karma.

The retired firefighter wouldn't put it this way, of course. He'd say 'what comes around, goes around,' but it's karma nonetheless.

Here's how it works: Israelson spends decades volunteering for everything under the sun, and, in return, when he needs help, it magically appears.

Take, for example, the day Israelson's house burnt down.

He and his wife, Kathryn, barely made it outside alive, but when they did, help had already arrived.

'It was a Sunday morning, early, and when we came out, this front yard looked like an ant hill, there were so many people - people we didn't even know - waiting to help,' Israelson says.

What comes around goes around.

And, for Israelson, it's going around again.

On Friday, Oct. 6, Gov. Ted Kulongoski will name Israelson the 2006 regional 'Outstanding Senior Volunteer,' at a banquet honoring Oregon's best volunteers.

Larry Beaver nominated Israelson for the award.

'I am amazed and really blown away with all the volunteer work he does and has done over many years,' Beaver says of Israelson.

The list of Israelson's volunteer projects is almost overwhelming. He's worked with the Mt. Hood ski patrol as a mountain rescue volunteer; taught Red Cross first aid classes for 25 years; spent hundreds of hours working for Oregon Fish and Wildlife as a member of the Oregon Bass and Panfish Club; is the director of river rights for the Association of Northwest Steelheaders; and once raised money to build an outhouse at Salish Ponds by selling handmade birdhouses.

Working with children comes naturally for this volunteer, and Israelson has spent countless hours teaching children how to fish; working at the annual Camp Agape fishing camp in Corbett catering to cancer-stricken children; and conducting birdhouse-building seminars with local students.

'Art has done so much, for so many of us, that it is hard to know where to begin,' says Jennell Hoehne, volunteer program manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

'Art is just one of those outstanding volunteers we can always depend on to be there and do his best … no job is too big or too small or too dirty that we cannot call Art and almost always get a 'Yes!' ' Hoehne says.

For his part, Israelson is quick to dismiss the fuss over his volunteer efforts.

'I owe my success as a volunteer to the support of my wife and the other volunteers I've worked with,' Israelson says. 'I couldn't do this without their support.'

Volunteering isn't just something that came with retirement for this East County native. Israelson was a volunteer fireman with Fire District 10 long before he got a full-time gig as a firefighter/paramedic. And he's always used his medical training to help others.

'Art will not pass an accident without offering assistance,' Beaver says.

People who have worked with Israelson describe him as selfless, energetic and skilled.

'Art has been a tireless advocate for the public's interest … relating to the public's rights to use Oregon's rivers,' says John Lilly of the Oregon Department of State Lands.

Others, like the people at Salish Ponds, where Israelson raised $1,600 selling birdhouses to build an outhouse, say Israelson is 'a master scrounger.'

Israelson once built more than 700 birdhouses out of a wooden fence that had blown over near his house. When he asked the owners what they were going to do with the fence, they gladly let Israelson take it off their hands.

'I've always been good at scrounging for things,' Israelson says. 'My dad always said, 'If you want to get something for free, you have to ask for it.' '

Israelson will be honored at the governor's volunteer awards luncheon in Salem on Friday, Oct. 6. Oregon's First Lady, Mary Oberst, will present the awards. Oregon Secretary Bill Bradbury will open the awards ceremony with a speech, and Steve Bass, president of Oregon Public Broadcasting, is the master of ceremonies.

Volunteering in East County

Art Israelson, the recipient of Gov. Kulongoski's 2006 Regional 'Outstanding Senior Volunteer,' says groups are having a hard time finding volunteers these days.

'Young people have to work during the week, they have to work for a living, and there's so much for people to do these days, and they're so involved with their kids, they aren't volunteering as much as people used to,' Israelson says.

Volunteering doesn't have to be a huge time commitment. It could be as simple as volunteering to read to local children once a week for an hour or pitching in with a local stream clean up once a month.

Don't know where to start?

Following are a few immediate volunteer opportunities: To see more, visit East County One Stop's Web site at www.eastcountyonestop.org and click on the 'Volunteer Connection' link, then click on the 'Community Connections' link to bring up a community volunteer opportunity bulletin board.

• Encourage readers at Glenfair Elementary School - The non-profit literacy group HEART (Help Encourage a Reader Today) is seeking volunteers to tutor remedial elementary students for 30 minutes or more each week. This program serves first- through fourth-graders and volunteer shifts are available from 8 to 11 a.m. and from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Glenfair Elementary School is near the intersection of Glisan Street and 153rd Avenue. For more information, call the Matt Ferro, HEART instructional assistant, at 503-252-3479, ext. 8929.

• Teach beginning English classes at Mt. Hood Community College - Mt. Hood needs volunteers to help with its second language program, held at several sites throughout Gresham. Volunteers will teach beginning and intermediate English to classes of one to 15 students. The majority of these students are Spanish speaking and all are eager to learn. Volunteers who can teach from 10 a.m. to noon on Mondays and Thursdays are especially needed. The program begins Monday, Oct. 2 and runs through Dec. 8.

Training and materials are provided. Some college credit may be available. Teaching experience and/or a second language is helpful but not required. Final volunteer training for this term is being held from 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 30, at the Rockwood Library at 179th Avenue and Stark Street. For more information, call Christine Fadden at 503-491-6948.

• Maintain hiking trails (on the 'other' side of the river) - A week of trail work parties at Beacon Rock State Park, Sept. 30 through Oct. 6. The Washington Trails Association will host seven straight days of trail maintenance on the new trail at Beacon Rock State Park. Join the crew for one day or all seven. For more information, call 206-625-1368 or visit www.wta.org.