As you drive, ride, jog or walk around Santa Maria neighborhoods this week, you may notice things are looking kind of spiffy. You can thank Serve Santa Maria and its army of volunteers for that.

Local Pastor Carl Nielsen was again overseer to a weekend cleanup effort that began with a gathering of the work force Saturday morning at Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center, then spread across town to accomplish a list of good deeds.

The work didn’t even last the day, as hundreds of volunteers kicked it into high gear and finished some projects that need to be finished.

One of the prime targets was a home that had been red-tagged by the city’s Code Enforcement Division crew, because of an accumulation of unsightly debris that had been in the making for the past decade or so.

It took a volunteer group of about 30 workers to load some of the junk into dump trucks, while salvaging the rest. Thus cleared of detritus, the crew turned to lawn mowing and generally making the property whole and pleasing to look at again.

Other crews planted, painted, swept and cleaned up other areas around the city in this latest Serve Santa Maria effort.

Rick Haydon was on hand to help, his last Serve Santa Maria appearance as city manager, although Haydon insists this is not his final appearance as a volunteer: “I’ll be back.”

Haydon punctuated his I’ll-be-back comment by explaining why Serve Santa Maria and programs like it are so important to a community:

“Because at the end of the day, you see what you’re capable of doing.”

We couldn’t have said it better. Too often we get out and about, thinking to ourselves, why is that neighborhood so cluttered with junk? Why doesn’t someone clean it up?

Well, that “someone” happens to be us. And there are thousands of reasons why more of us could and should get involved in making our neighborhoods — and America, while we’re at it — beautiful again.

For one thing, group cleanup events such as the Serve Santa Maria series get a lot of work done in a short period of time. So, for those who like instant gratification, a morning of cleanup work is just the ticket.

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Another advantage is the communal approach, allowing local residents of all ages to participate. Saturday’s efforts included kids who seemed to have a great time, which tells us they’ll be regular volunteers, perhaps throughout their lives.

Think of the tremendous value to the community of getting teens engaged in keeping the place clean and orderly. This could be part of the city’s anti-youth-gang initiative.

Everything that transpires in a community cleanup increases the overall value of our commercial and residential properties. Clean neighborhoods are among the selling points when city officials go out seeking new businesses to locate here. In some ways, a nice-looking community can be as much of an attraction to business owners as the presence of good schools.

Research points toward clean neighborhoods contributing to better behavior. In other words, if our nest looks good, scofflaws will be less likely to deface it.

Most of all, events such as the one Serve Santa Maria served up last Saturday help build community spirit, fostering pride in neighborhoods that may have been leaking pride for years. Helping to clean things up can cement the attachment between the community and the people who live and work here.

And the really cool thing is, with a sufficient number of volunteers, it only takes a few hours a week.

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