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Volunteers 'Do Unto Others' by helping elderly, disabled in Davis County

Published: Sunday, Sept. 2 2012 5:46 p.m. MDT

Ray Andrus checks out overgrown tree branches at the home of a 94-year-old woman in Kaysville on Friday, Aug. 31, 2012. Andrus, 69, is a volunteer with the program who has committed to provide 20 hours each week to help elderly and disabled homeowners fix things around their homes. He's a retired construction worker.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

BOUNTIFUL — A couple months ago, Ray Andrus retired from decades of working for big names in construction. Now he's doing smaller projects for people he's never met and it may be some of the most rewarding work he's ever done.

"We all need to help each other and perhaps the best help we can give is to those who need the help the most," he said.

Andrus, 69, recently responded to a newspaper article asking for volunteers to perform odd jobs at the homes of the elderly and disabled in Davis County. Despite the miles he has to drive from his home in Draper, he has committed 20 hours each week to fixing minor electrical problems or leaky faucets, digging up broken sprinklers, replacing light bulbs and getting caught up in a friendly conversation or two.

"They like chatting with me," he said. "I have to admit that it takes me a little longer to do a job than it would if I was just there to do the job."

Andrus' commitment was a huge boon to the Do Unto Others program that launched under the Rocky Mountain Care Foundation banner Aug. 1. An earlier countywide assessment had revealed large gaps in the services available to the two populations and Rocky Mountain's Dede Fluette was excited to get something started.

She had previously worked for similar programs in neighboring counties and continues to be shocked that "someone pays me to do this — we just do good deeds and nice things for people."

"The feedback you get from clients just makes you feel wonderful," she said. But in addition to the warm fuzzies, Fluette feels the elderly generation deserves star treatment.

"They are the most vulnerable and the most deserving population," she said. "It's not like you can say to an 85-year-old woman 'go get a job.' They've kind of put in their time and if we can help them, then that's great."

The same is true for the disabled population the program assists, Fluette said.

"I don't think that just because they can't get up on the roof and fix a swamp cooler that they can't live independently in their own home," she said.

The Do Unto Others program in Davis County has a few requirements. Beneficiaries must be living at 150 percent of the federal poverty level, be 60 or older or living with a disability, own their home and live within the boundaries of Davis County. The program teams up carefully screened and experienced volunteers to help with minor home repairs and limited seasonal yard maintenance.

"For an 85-year-old woman, something as simple as changing a light bulb on the ceiling could be really dangerous," Fluette said, adding that many of their clients don't necessarily have family nearby to help. "It's our goal to let them live in their homes for as long as possible."

Many repairs end up being a simple fix and those that aren't are referred to partnering organizations or local companies that sometimes also offer a trade for services or some kind of deal to help the homeowner save money.

Volunteer fix-it people are also trained to go the extra mile, performing tasks on a checklist to keep appliances working efficiently and the household running smoothly. They check batteries in smoke detectors, inspect outlets to prevent fire hazards, change old furnace filters and if the homeowner has difficulty getting around in the home, volunteers help maintain a clear pathway in between the most frequented areas in the home.

"Instead of blaming them for their circumstance, just help them, that's all," Andrus said. "Maybe they're poor because of mistakes they've made in their life; maybe they have a disability because of some health mistakes they've made in previous years; maybe their circumstance is preventable. So what? We've all made mistakes and because some of these people created their own hardship is not an excuse for not helping them."

The program advertises at senior centers and with home care companies in the area, but also gets the word out about its service with the local Meals on Wheels campaign. It relies on donations garnered at an annual golf tournament and 5K, as well as supplies from various participants, including home improvement stores in the area.

For more information or to volunteer, visit www.rockymountaincarefoundation.org or call 801-397-4160.

"We've been able to do this for a very minimal amount of money," Fluette said. "It is amazing that we're able to help a lot of people with very little resources."

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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