August 12, 2001 11:00 pm

It has been 26 years since the federal government sent us back part of our taxes. The refund, rebate or whatever you call it is going to put

$42 million in the wallets of Oregon taxpayers. The average Oregon check amount is $422.

Before you go on a wild spending spree, or put the money in your childs education fund or your own retirement account, all good causes assuredly, think about this: consider putting part of the free money aside for a good cause.

That may be any of the good causes that spawn ubiquitous fund-raisers every weekend throughout Union and Wallowa counties. They might be the fund for Carsyn Roberts, the girl hurt in a mutton-busting accident at the Catherine Creek Rodeo. Or other families with health needs or who have suffered from fires. Or the Blue Mountain Humane Association, the scholarship funds for Soroptimists or AAUW, or whatever.

One good cause we have a vested interest in here at The Observer is Tee Off for United Way, a golf tournament the paper is sponsoring Sept. 21 at Buffalo Peak Golf Course in Union. All money raised above what is hoped to be limited expenses will go to United Way, which benefits all kinds of good causes right in our neighborhood. They include organizations that help the young like the Boy Scouts of America Blue Mountain Council, the Silver Sage Girl Scout Council, Kids Club and Health Network for Rural Schools.

United Way also benefits organizations that help people put back together shattered lives like Shelter From the Storm, Union County Court Appointed Special Advocates and the Mount Emily Safe Center. Organizations devoted to solving health emergencies like the American Red Cross. Organizations that feed the hungry like the Elgin Food Bank. Organizations from which volunteers turn out to find the lost night and day in good weather and usually bad, like Union County Search and Rescue. Organizations that benefit people in need like Neighbor to Neighbor ministries and the Salvation Army.

When you get your tax rebate in the mail, consider using some of it to help build the community. Help United Way by getting a foursome together to play in the tournament. Or let us match you up with a team. Or as a businessperson or individual, be a hole/tee sponsor. Or provide a prize. Whatever.

You can pick up a tournament brochure at area golf courses or at The Observer. Youll have fun and at the same time make an important investment in our community.

Dont drink and drive

The story of an off-duty New York City police officer who is accused of killing three family members while driving drunk is a reminder of the importance of being vigilant about drunken

driving. Drinking and driving dont mix. Find a designated driver. Take the keys away from a friend who is threatening to drive while drunk. The step may save you a lifetime of grief and