SELMA – Wearing a neon yellow vest, gardening gloves and Selma Bears T-shirt, Leslie Nelson makes quick work of picking up paper, water bottles and wrappers lining Second Avenue on the early Saturday morning of July 21.
Nelson doesn’t work for the city of Selma’s code enforcement or public works departments. Instead, it’s a sense of community pride that’s motivated her to start the volunteer Clean Up Selma campaign.
Nelson volunteers with the Selma Beautification Committee, but it was the sight of a heap of discarded trash on the sidewalk on Rose Avenue that made her realize an ongoing clean-up effort was needed immediately.
“It seemed to me things were getting lackadaisical. When we drove by [the trash], we said, ‘oh.’ We’re all busy, but when we realized it was still there, we just decided to make a difference. That’s where it started.”
Nelson and other Beautification Committee members, friends and family first started the effort this past fall. They’ve cleaned up trash in alleys, along canal banks and along major entry ways into town. Residents have notified her of trash on neighboring properties and they’ve picked that up as well.
“We started picking up furniture and all kinds of things people were throwing out. We thought we needed to do something to get people to come out and be aware.”
Recently, the trailer they used to haul off larger items was stolen. A report has been filed with the Selma Police Department, she said.
“We’re just going to keep doing what we can do with our buckets and the truck and our friends and our grandkids. Hopefully, the police will find [our stolen trailer]. I told my husband I hope whoever took it needed it as bad as we needed it.”
Selman Connie Hernandez joined in that morning and was taking advantage of her summer vacation time to help out. Hernandez works for Selma Unified and said she’s glad when her students see her helping with the clean-up effort during the school year.
“The kids will see me and they’ll say, ‘Miss Hernandez, did we see you picking up trash?’ And I say, ‘yes, so tell your friends to come join us.’ We’re trying to get something started here in Selma. I figured if somebody sees me out here, maybe more people will come out and slowly, but surely, we’ll get a good crowd out here every week.”
So far, the community pride seems to be spreading as Nelson said she sees more residents spontaneously pitching in around their neighborhoods and posting photos on social media.
“It is contagious because we see other people posting pictures picking up couches and tires around town. She’s doing something in this city and it’s working,” Hernandez said.
Jennifer Earle serves on the Beautification Committee and is another of the frequent volunteers who were out that day. She’s retired from being a school administrator in Selma and Woodlake and encourages other retirees to take part.
As they picked up loose papers and wrappers on what is now a dirt lot on Second Street near Sylvia Street, Earle said her grandparents, Anna and Walter Staley, used to live there. Now as a fourth-generation Selman, she wants to be part of the effort to improve the community, one trash bag at a time.
“I just feel pride in my community and I want to make it better,” she said. “People don’t have to wait until Leslie posts something. Just take a bag and if everybody does a little, it gets better.”
Nelson brought one of her grandchildren to help out. Even though Eila Nelson doesn’t live in Selma, she notices the difference in town when she comes to visit.
“My parents would always say how it looks kind of dirty. But now when we pull up, it looks a lot cleaner. I’m glad that my grandma started this.”
Eila thinks even young residents can make a difference and that they could start in the own neighborhoods if they can’t drive over to City Hall on a Saturday morning.
“I’d say start with your own house. Take out the trash and do things like that. If you do have a chance to get involved in a community project, then do that.”
Nelson said anyone can help with the effort at any time and she encourages them to share their clean-ups with the community. If residents wish to join them, be prepared by wearing enclosed shoes, gloves, sunscreen and a hat. Nelson has some trash-picking sticks to share and a local hardware store has provided trash bags and buckets.
“The best thing to do is to bring a big smile on your face. We had a big group cleaning up the old highway and when they were finished, they said they had so much fun. We laughed and laughed and when we looked back you could see how clean it was and it’s just great.”
Nelson said even though Selma is not her hometown, she’s lived here for the past four decades and it’s home. So while others may complain about the problem, she’s deciding to do something about it.
“Selma is a great town, but the world’s changing. If we don’t go out and make a difference and show this is how we want it to be, then you can’t sit back and complain. People ask why we go out here and do this, or they say they’re not going to go pick up somebody else’s trash. If we all have that attitude, then our town’s going to keep looking the way it was. It’s looking a lot better. Now, if we can just get the other issues in town going in the right direction.”