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Neighbors helping neighbors

Sept. 27 workday kicks off special citywide project
by: VERN UYETAKE, “Sign right up” is the message for the new Neighbors Helping Neighbors pilot project in Lake Oswego. From the left, Janine Dunphy, president of the 50-Plus Advisory Board of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center; Lilly Logan, Dylan D’Haeze and Dawn D’Haeze of the McVey-South Shore Neighborhood Association; and prospective volunteer Sally LaMoureux.

When Dawn D'Haeze was delivering Meals-on-Wheels in her Lake Oswego neighborhood, she noticed something that bothered her.

'I saw people who could barely walk to the door,' said D'Haeze. 'There were lots of people who were being poorly taken care of.'

D'Haeze had a solution. Herself. Plus the other members of the McVey-South Shore Neighborhood Association of which she is president.

The result is a program called Neighbors Helping Neighbors, which starts with a big workday on Sept. 27. Volunteers will be going out all over the McVey-South Shore Neighborhood doing yardwork, cleaning debris, removing junk, trimming trees and shrubs, cleaning out gutters, making repairs, helping with mobility issues; in general, doing anything possible to improve the homes and yards of senior citizens and disabled persons.

Spearheading the effort will be the 50-Plus Advisory Board of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center, which was actively seeking a project to assist Lake Oswego's senior citizens when D'Haeze brought her idea to former ACC executive director Brenda Suteu last January.

'Our board wanted to do something under the Meaningful Service directive that came out of the city dialogues,' said Janine Dunphy, board president. 'People like Dawn are critical for a project like this. When she approached us, everything came together.'

'When Dawn came in, we said, 'Let's put our heads together and come up with a project,'' said Kim Gilmer, director of the city of Lake Oswego Parks and Recreation Dept., which supervises the ACC. 'What we're hoping is to use this as a test project to see if this is of interest for the entire community.'

That is a good question, because there is a common idea that Lake Oswego is such an upscale community that its senior citizens don't need such help. Not so, says Dunphy.

'There is a misconception that everyone in Lake Oswego is wealthy,' Dunphy said. 'That is not true. There are a lot of seniors who need help.'

'Many of the 660 residents in our neighborhood are over 60 years old or have limited mobility,' D'Haeze said. 'I saw a lot of things that needed to be done, but people couldn't do them.'

At first the plan was to have just a one-day event, but D'Haeze was more ambitious.

'I said, 'No, no, no, no. Let's make this an ongoing thing.'

Now, starting on Sept. 27, the plan is to begin with the McVey-South Shore group and get Neighbors Helping Neighbors running smoothly. Dunphy, D'Haeze and Gilmer believe that can be accomplished by spring of 2009; then they hope the idea catches on like wildfire with the 18 other neighborhood associations in Lake Oswego.

Gilmer said, 'We're hoping to debrief and see if we can expand this to the broader community in the spring. This needs to be something our city sees as valuable.'

One key to success is that senior citizens believe it is OK to be helped.

'People shouldn't be embarrassed to ask for help,' Dunphy said. 'This is for everyone's benefit. We have a nice community and it's close-knit in many respects.'

'We're saying to older people, 'Don't feel embarrassed to let us help you,' ' D'Haeze said. ' 'That helps us and that helps our community.'

'Everyone wants to live in a neighborhood where neighbors help each other. That's how I grew up. This is community building and it should always be happening.'

D'Haeze expects a strong turnout of volunteers on Sept. 27. Fifteen are already on board, and she expects more to sign up at her Saturday morning recruiting efforts at Palisades Lamb's Thriftway market on McVey.

Partners in NHN include the city of Lake Oswego and Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church of Lake Oswego. The Lake Oswego Fire Department has volunteered to test fire alarms on the Sept. 27 workday.

Persons interested in volunteering or in receiving help can call the LOACC at 503-675-3758. The sign-up deadline is Sept. 19.