BARSTOW - Some people who give back to the community keep the reason for their service private. Jeff Eason Sr. has his motivation embossed on the back of his business cards.

"I've learned that a lonely place in your heart can be filled by volunteer work," reads the slogan on Eason's cards. The Barstow Senior Citizens Center director was honored on Saturday at the 2007 Community Recognition Banquet as the 2007 Up & Coming Volunteer of the Year.

Eason said he puts in an average of 35 to 50 volunteer hours each week in the nearly five years he's been the center's director. He said he donates his time because he likes working with his fellow volunteers and the center's members.

After his wife died in 2000, Eason turned to volunteering to fill his time. After 33 years working in the Barstow and Victorville area as a driver and driver-instructor for UPS, Eason retired and needed something to do.

"I've seen so many people who retire and aren't doing much, and now they aren't around any more," he said. "You have to stay active, you need to do something with your time to keep your mind sharp."

Eason's mind has had plenty to think about in recent years as he has worked to expand the activities the center offers its members including computer, photography, dancing and woodcarving lessons.

It has been a year of growth and expanding service for the center. In May, the center took over for Hi Desert Meals on Wheels and assumed the duties of the formerly county-run nutrition program at the center.

"They left us hanging," Eason said. "We've had to learn and adapt as we go."

He said that by bringing in a new cook and revamping the center's menu the program has greatly expanded the number of seniors it serves. The center also hopes to begin bringing holiday meals to the homebound on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, filling a void left by the Mojave Valley Volunteer Hospice when the organization was unable to deliver.

Eason said he thinks that with rising prices and a declining economy more seniors are in need of the center's meal services.

"With the utility prices and everything going up, people just can't make it," he said.
He said that the expansion has strained the budget of the nutrition program because the county reimburses the center for 53 meals, an outdated figure calculated in June, but the center now serves more than 100 diners each day.

Despite growth in demand for the organization's increasing the workload for the more-than-100 volunteers and employees of the center, the members say they respect the dedication of Eason to keeping the facility running smoothly.

"His door is always open," said Jackie Pierce, a longtime member and receptionist at the center. "He is always willing to listen to us."

For his volunteer efforts, Eason was recognized by the community on Saturday, an experience he called very gratifying.

"To be recognized for a a job you enjoy doing is something really special," he said.

In February he expects to complete over 5,000 volunteer hours in service to the center, an accomplishment he will receive a Presidential Service Award for. Eason said he has no plans to stop volunteering in the near future.

"I won't stop until they don't want me here any more or I can't do it any longer," he said.

Contact the writer: (760) 256-4126 or jason_smith@link.freedom.com