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Passports to paradise

People of all ages can obtain help with passports at the Oak Harbor Senior Center’s new passport acceptance office.

As of July 23, the Senior Center has joined the Oak Harbor Post Office in offering passport assistance on North Whidbey. Both places charge the same fee, but each application accepted at the Senior Center puts more than $20 into the facility’s budget.

Senior Center Director Mike McIntyre said he expects a lot of business in coming months. As early as Jan. 1, 2008, U.S. citizens traveling to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean by land or sea will be required for the first time to have a valid passport.

On Jan. 23 of this year, citizens were required to carry a passport if they flew to any of these locations.

Because of these changes in law, the U.S. State Department is scrambling to keep up with the number of applications.

“It takes three months to get a passport,” McIntyre said. “People need to apply now if they don’t have one.”

MacIntyre said three staff members went through training earlier this year at the Seattle passport office. With the help of Senior Center volunteers, they are getting the process down to a science.

“As we are doing more and more, we are getting better and better,” he said.

The first step for someone who wants a passport is to stop by the Senior Center, at 51 SE Jerome Street, and pick up the passport forms and helpful information.

People who meet certain criteria, such as having had a passport issued in the last 15 years, can renew passports on their own, and save $30. The Senior Center has the paperwork for folks in that position.

For everyone else, they can make an appointment at the Senior Center by calling 279-4580. The cost for those 15 years old and younger is $82; for people 16 and older, it’s $97.

Pat Gardner, program assistant at the Senior Center, said folks should be aware of a few points. First of all, the center can help people with information on obtaining a certified copy of a birth certificate — photocopies and hospital birth certificates are not acceptable.

The Senior Center doesn’t take passport photos, but they can be purchased in Oak Harbor at Kits Camera, Rite Aid and Oak Harbor Travel.

Also, both parents must be present for applicants 13 years old or younger, unless the parent who can’t appear submits a notarized statement. Often, the Navy can help with the paperwork when one parent is deployed, MacIntyre said.

He also pointed out that applications are shipped off everyday, so people’s personal information is not kept at the center.

A good Web site for passport information is at www.travel.state.gov.

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