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Mi Town : Patty Taylor Dutcher

These beautiful autumn days are beginning to fly by, and the calendar tells us that Old Man Winter is hiding just around the corner. Walking around the Western Oregon University campus, I noticed the trees are beginning to wear their fall colors, and it's only a matter of time before those gorgeous leaves cover our lawns and sidewalks (and become not so gorgeous when we have to deal with them).

One good thing can all do in this season of renewal, when students are beginning a new school year and we are all preparing for the upcoming changes, is to take the time to do something for somebody else.

Not so easy, perhaps, as we have busy schedules and demands upon our time increase with every passing day. It seems that whatever our jobs and interests and responsibilities, our economic and social situations, we are all working harder and doing more all the time.

Speaking just for me for a moment, there are days I feel nearly overwhelmed -- and I'm supposed to be semi-retired, with a very understanding husband and grown children. It is hard to say "yes" to yet another volunteer task when we're already stretched with job and family responsibilities and not enough hours to do the things we need to do, much less what we want to do.

So we can't all step in to save the world -- but there are so many little things we can do to make our communities better and happier places to be.

Not everybody can write a generous check to support their favorite charity, but volunteering at the library or food bank or your nearby school is always appreciated. Can you spend an hour reading to someone in a nursing home or at the hospital?

Our cities need volunteers to serve on committees and to help with various programs. Crisis intervention and children's assistance programs always need help, and there are training programs available. Helping our new neighbors from other countries with literacy programs is always a good idea. Even if you're homebound or have no transportation, are you able to make handcrafted items to sell at the senior center (and receive a portion of the sales price)?

Can you share homemade jams and jellies and baked items with a local church or community group? Can you help with telephone calls for a school event?

What we can all do -- even if we don't have any extra time or money -- is to brighten somebody's day with a smile or a few kind words of encouragement. We've all had moments when everything is going utterly and completely wrong, and it feels like nothing will ever be right again, but a warm and friendly smile from someone has made the day much better.

Sometimes that is just enough to help us pick up our burdens and face the future with more courage and hope than we had before.

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