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David Collins

As the manager of my local community group, the South Oswell Neighborhood Watch, I hear from members during all hours of the day. A number of times, my cellphone has even been triggered during the middle of the night, needling its way into my sleep. Over the years, a wide range of issues have been hurled in my direction. Most of the calls I receive are haunted by voices piping about suspicious characters, residential burglaries or vehicles being cracked open like eggs. Many of the emails that are planted in my inbox are stamped with worries about wild lawns, vehicles welded to the asphalt or thundering skateboards. Once a conversation ends or an email has been read, similar problems from the past begin to rumble back through my mind like distant thunder.

My day can start very early by reading emails that have been whipped up during the night. After my responses have been rocketed back, the morning rituals grind into motion as dawn starts to rage over the eastern rim. The sun's potency quietly explodes as it savagely shakes the horizon and attacks the bellies of clouds hanging below the herd.

In contrast, it is not uncommon for me to receive additional messages in the evening after darkness has curled up and settled down for the night. Even the moon seems to float lazily among the stars, which have been strewn about over a landscape that appears covered in ash. Late night complaints tend to trumpet a kaleidoscope of issues that include music blasting for blocks or people drinking in the park.

Throughout its history, my neighborhood watch has always been spiced with a thick mixture of cultures and personalities, but our variety has proved to be a positive phenomenon. Our success is ensured by focusing on our primary goal, which is the security of our families. I am most often reminded of the advantages of our differences by the image of sunlight slicing through a prism.

Even though our volunteers are self-directed, they are also part of the same human fabric that blankets our area. Just as the colors of the rainbow are spliced into one arc, we are fused together for the purpose of promoting our safety. Our association is soldiering in the same direction as the mentors who assist us. These include Mayor Harvey Hall, Councilman Rudy Salas, Bakersfield Police Department community relations specialist Tony Martinez, Keep Bakersfield Beautiful coordinator Jessica Felix, graffiti supervisor Guy Bowers and the Solid Waste Division's Robert Manuel.

Additionally, our work gives us a sense of purpose. The removal of one scab of litter from our streets or a strain of graffiti eating our walls helps to create a halo effect. Each reconstructive act changes the environment and encourages more improvement. Not only will the physical terrain be a little less cluttered but so will the mental topography.

By the end of some weeks, many members of the South Oswell Neighborhood Watch begin to feel as if they have been trudging through an endless pilgrimage that has made their hope brittle. However, as a new week begins to unravel, our volunteers are reminded of the results that have been achieved and are once again touched by a spirit of cooperation. As we approach Saturday, Oct. 6, which is our local Make A Difference Day, let's try to build a stronger sense of community by performing a few acts to improve our neighborhoods. On that day, my own group will be holding an area cleanup and we would like to encourage the people of our diverse city to make a difference where they live, too.

David Collins of Bakersfield 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.