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Wednesday, May 15 2013 11:00 PM

DAVID COLLINS: Neighborhood cleanup drive is slowly making a real difference

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    David Collins

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During the dark end of 2009 when the Great Recession was slashing fresh cuts on my community, I launched the South Oswell Neighborhood Watch as a chance to ignite some hope. Since that time our members have wedged themselves against the blight of area vandals. When blunted by litter and graffiti, we have purged our area with "flash" cleanups. If confronted by problems too bold for our grip, support has come from Mayor Harvey Hall, Assemblyman Rudy Salas, the Bakersfield Police Department, Keep Bakersfield Beautiful, the city's Code Enforcement and Solid Waste divisions, and Kern County Animal Control. After laboring under the withered weight of more than three years, we have learned that government works best when churned from the bottom.

The calluses caked on our hands remind us that regular work is necessary to be effective. In order to cultivate change, a neighborhood must be irrigated daily with perspiration. While litter control and graffiti removal chisel a cleaner look, a vicinity only keeps improvement through consistent work. By constantly plowing streets with abatement techniques, vandalism shrinks and residents begin to build some confidence. From all appearances, our approach is working: We're seeing less litter and graffiti in our area, although it seems to have moved on to surrounding neighborhoods.

The results that have been achieved are powered by the involvement of both individuals and institutions. Our portion of the commitment includes 711 volunteer hours, 818 bags of litter picked up, 89 "flash" cleanups, 696 pieces of graffiti removed, 40 neighborhood watch meetings and 1,240 e-alerts sent regarding safety concerns. Also, we have completed a number of service events, such as recycling prescription eyeglasses, small batteries collections, as well as creating an anti-litter walking group.

Over the years, a wide number of personalities have helped us. Among them are retired teachers, policemen, construction workers, oil-field hands, health care professionals and a kaleidoscope of families. For example, one of our active members donates time to scale litter from our roads and drive around the neighborhood. You can feel his passion rumbling beneath a sandpaper rasp. A smile masks his intensity and his demeanor reminds me of childhood visits to a local cafe. The restaurant was planted on an antique corner south of town and always had a large morning herd that slowly grazed off of steaming plates. Despite the calm dinning room, the kitchen had a frantic cook who did battle with an angry gas altar, which would unexpectedly belch out black, twisted smoke. Meanwhile, the back of the building seemed on the verge of collapse from the chaos generated by a dishwasher who kept pounding pots against steel.

As with most service groups, our association cannot achieve its goals without volunteers. Based on the momentum built at the April 6 Great American Cleanup, I would like to recommend that we all try to find ways to make our city better. Two websites to consider are those of the Keep Bakersfield Beautiful committee and the Bakersfield Police Department. Both organizations have been recognized for their use of effective strategies, which create a cleaner and safer community. To participate in a cleanup, contact Jessica Felix, the Keep Bakersfield Clean coordinator, at jfelix@bakersfieldcity.us or 326-3539. To organize a Neighborhood Watch group, contact BPD's Tony Martinez at tmartine@bakersfieldpd.us or 326-3922.

A successful neighborhood program cannot be limited to occasionally scalping litter from sidewalks or spanking walls with paint. In order to make a difference, these duties must be performed year-round. Coordinated cleanup efforts help protect the flat-faced houses that squat beside an area's asphalt seams, strengthening the souls of those who call it home.

David Collins is an account executive with Commercial Trade Inc., a local collection agency, as well as the founder and director of the South Oswell Neighborhood Watch. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words. The Californian reserves the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.

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