The hard work of about 100 people is setting up an effort the community can keep building upon.
Denver Avenue, Lansing Street, and Nashville, Madison and Frankfort courts received their version of an extreme makeover last Saturday and many hope the community cleanup will spark renewed pride in the sometimes-blighted and crime-ridden neighborhoods.
Brandi De Los Reyes is the property manager for the 68-unit Briarwood Apartments complex on Denver Avenue. She saw many community residents roll up their sleeves during the four-hour weekend cleanup and believes those efforts must be continuous.
Days later, she can still see a marked difference in the alleyways behind the duplexes and apartment complexes.
City code enforcement specialist Roberta Medina coordinated the community cleanup; she says the neighborhood looked a lot better this week and thinks it will be the catalyst for developing a sense of community pride.
"It went pretty well. Overall it was a success. Two alleys are completely clean and we hauled a lot of garbage out of there. Even the youngsters were busy hauling stuff for the cleanup," Medina said.
Two 30-yard rolloff containers were delivered to the area Friday afternoon. By 11 a.m. Saturday, they were already taking the first bin to the landfill and by day's end four container loads had been removed. Another pickup load of castoff televisions and computers were taken to the hazardous waste site at the landfill.
Merced Police Department Officer Frank Bazzar and new Officer Dana De Jong first were assigned to stand by and answer residents' questions.
They quickly rolled up their sleeves, donned gloves and joined in the cleanup. For about three hours Bazzar joined neighborhood residents in the cleanup effort.
"I drove by today and the place was cleaner than I've ever seen it in five years. A lot of trash went to the dump that day. It was a nice project and we were more than willing to help them do that," Bazzar said.
Bazzar said working hand-in-hand with area residents gave them a chance to see another side of officers who routinely respond to crime calls.
"It was nice to get out there and meet the people we work for. I heard comments from a lot of people that they are also tired of the dirt and trash. If you have help from the people, it (neighborhood) can be a nice place," he said.
De Los Reyes said the 68 units in the Briarwood Apartments are the nicest on the street and apartment dwellers there take pride in their surroundings.
She said her tenants include a good mix of people, with UC Merced students and working class people.
"If people make the effort, it would help the area. It was nice to see the community cleanup taking place. It cannot be just once every five years," De Los Reyes said.
Code enforcement specialist Kelly Roseman said the Saturday detail started out a little slow but built momentum in short order. Between Merced College volunteers earning community service credit and a number of 10- to 12-year-olds living in the area, more and more people came out and pitched in, she said.
"I thought it went pretty well. Two little girls, 10 or 11 years old who are best friends, wanted to help. They got out the garbage bags and started sweeping," Roseman said.
Detective Rod Court was taking part in a Merced College small group communications class which had a community service requirement.
He spent six hours of his own time with the cleanup and said it was a good experience.
"Hopefully it will stay nice for a while. You don't have to be rich to keep a neighborhood halfway decent," Court said.
As a young officer, Court said he learned about the "broken window" theory.
If a problem isn't fixed promptly, it will slowly get worse and this can be applied to neighborhoods, too.
Medina, the cleanup coordinator, said area residents may only have small cars and no trucks to haul away discarded washers and dryers or no money for dump fees.
She hopes another cleanup effort can be held in the area.
Another man filled a half-ton pickup with trash he had collected from Conestoga Drive and worked hard all day. A shopping cart retrieval company had a full pickup load of carts to be returned to area stores, Medina said.
Bazzar said the Denver Avenue area is no better or worse than other parts of town. He said five percent of the people spoil it for the 95 percent who do good.
Lt. Andre Matthews said the cleanup was a big success and represented the first step in people taking back their neighborhood. It shows a commitment of people living in the area to fight crime.
Around noon, about 100 lunches of hot dogs, chips, sodas and water were served to cleanup volunteers.
Members of the "Lion of Judah" motorcycle group served the lunches, with cooking and setup done by code enforcement specialists and their families. The city's Parks and Community Services Division set up bounce houses and other activities for youngsters not tired out from helping with the cleanup.
Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or firstname.lastname@example.org.