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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 28, 2008

Community support can soften hard times

Illustration by Forest Byrd

Sometimes surveys can crystallize our feelings. We’ve all been feeling the pinch of rising fuel prices. Weekly, at The Enterprise, we get releases on the need for donations to food pantries and to organizations like the Salvation Army that help the poor.

This week, we read the results of a survey conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons that put those feelings, those vague suspicions of hard times, into columns of precise numbers, charting the dilemma of middle-aged and older Americans during the current economic slowdown.

Its author, Jeffrey Love, doesn’t mince words. “As the economy slows and prices rise,” he writes, “most middle-aged and older persons are having difficulty paying for food, gas, utilities and medicine.” They are cutting luxuries and postponing major purchases and travel.

Over a quarter are having trouble paying their mortgage or rent, a third have stopped putting money into their retirement accounts, and more than a quarter of all workers over 45 have postponed plans to retire. Some are raiding their 401(k)s or curtailing contributions to pension plans.

“Overall,” writes Dr. Love, “the poll shows that there is a sense of shared pain and common concerns among boomers and older generations...Eighty-one percent say the economy is in fairly bad or very bad condition and 75 percent think it’s getting worse. Almost three-quarters say their elected officials are not doing enough to help people caught in the economic squeeze.”

What should we do, besides wallow in pessimism?

If we page through our newspaper on any given week, we can read about active groups of elderly residents gathering together for shared meals and excursions. The AARP report says nearly half are postponing travel and well over half are eating out less and doing less for entertainment as two-thirds find it hard to pay for essentials like fuel, food, and medicine. But those in our towns, according to our senior correspondents, are finding ways, with the help of community support, to avoid isolation and entertain themselves.

Libraries are known to thrive in recessions as patrons seek inexpensive ways to pass the time and improve themselves. Our library columnists each week detail ways young and old can learn and have fun. A series at the Guilderland library, for example, features a scholar-led discussion on Jewish Adventures in the Graphic Novel. And we’re running a story this week on two programs at the Voorheesville library that address both ends of the age spectrum — caring for toddlers or for the elderly with chronic diseases. People with different chronic ailments will attend workshops together to learn techniques to deal with common problems such as frustration, fatigue, pain, and isolation. And it’s not just talk — the library has purchased a Wii, a Nintendo game that offers interactive exercises for the elderly.

We urge you to make use of and support your libraries. They help keep all of us healthy.

Transportation can be vital to the elderly, especially in rural areas. Citizens in Rensselaerville this year spearheaded a drive that raised enough money to buy a bus to take young and old on trips. The town of Berne just acquired a van to transport the elderly, and Susan Kidder, New Scotland’s senior liaison, started the Yellow Bus program, which uses a school bus to take New Scotland seniors to all sorts of local events. New Scotland is now looking to buy a used bus from a neighboring town since, Kidder told the town board, this year she has gotten 33 calls from seniors who need rides to physical therapy or to visit spouses in the hospital. And they often need a lift to groceries stores as well.

We’re fortunate to have in our midst not-for-profit organizations like the Hilltowns Community Resource Center and the Community Caregivers that fill some of those gaps. It’s no accident that both have the word “community” in their names. As they work to fill individual needs, they build community. Right now, the resource center is holding a drive to equip children with backpacks filled with school supplies; at Christmas time, it focuses on bringing cheer to the elderly.

The Community Caregivers year-round harnesses the energy, skill, and good will of volunteers to help the elderly and the needy to live independently in their own homes. This involves everything from driving clients to doctors to literally cleaning house. In recent years, the Caregivers have added an educational component to its mission, offering workshops to the community.

Organizations like these can easily turn our gloomy outlook to one of optimism about our future.

Any of us can make a difference by becoming involved in one of these groups or others like them. Meaningful efforts can also be individual. On July 24, we published a letter to the editor, in the midst of pages of commentary on conflict, that struck us as almost magical. Donald Csaposs of Guilderland wrote to urge our readers to put aside bitterness and help those in need instead.

“Whether or not we know the reasons, most of us have recently experienced that sensation of the world tightening up on us as we fill our gas tanks, buy our groceries, and engage in all the little events of ordinary life,” he wrote.

He decided to overcome that feeling of powerlessness by trying to help those worse off than himself. This included sharing produce from his garden, picking up groceries for someone else, and sending going-out-to-dinner money to the Regional Food Bank or Community Caregivers.

“It’s all about the little things, really,” he wrote.

That’s true; it is.

Each week, as we read John Williams’s report on the Old Men of the Mountain’s Tuesday breakfast, we think, “We want to be like these Old Goats.” Never a hint of self-pity. A good deal of humor and the insight that comes from living close to the land. No precious sentimentalism. Just a clear-eyed view of what came before and what lies ahead. The old men still get together because being in the company of one another matters.

After a good dose of the OMOTM, we say: Recession or not, we’re ready for old age — bring it on!

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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