There is an old saying “If you want something done right, do it yourself.”

Ronnie Mayer strolls across the bridge at Brookhaven Park where he and his neighbors spent a recent Saturday doing cleanup chores.

There is another saying that likely is not famous, but probably should be when talking about local governments. “If you are waiting for government to fix or improve something, you probably need to do it yourself if you want to get it done at all.

One of the things that has impressed me about the Brookhaven community is that just about every weekend folk are out taking the bull by the horns and taking care of projects that need attention righting wrongs in the community.

There are those who will say that Ronnie Mayer and his wife Debbie Leonard Mayer might be a bit of publicity hounds and seek the limelight every once in a while. That might be true; but who cares if they see to it that things get done and, at the same time, put up their money to fund projects they believe in.

Over Thanksgiving, I was in Massachusetts visiting with my son, daughter and grandson when I got a call on my cell phone from Debbie Mayer. She said Ronnie wanted me to know there would be a group of people at Brookhaven Park doing a massive cleanup on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

For us, that was a photo opportunity. But for the Brookhaven community, it was a great deal more. It was testament to the dedication of Brookhaven residents—maybe just a small group for now—who believe the only way they are going to get things done in their community is to do it themselves.

The Mayers are not the only Brookhaven residents who shed some sweat weekend after weekend to improve the appearance of their community. But they, and a close circle of their friends, have done at least their share if not more.

They were instrumental in getting Ashford Park cleaned up, and redeveloped into a to a real neighborhood asset, including a new clubhouse.

Ronnie and his friends regularly clean up the trash from the triangle entrance to Brookhaven where North Druid Hills and Roxboro roads intersect. They also clean up along Peachtree Road and replant trees when motorist go astray and wipe out one or more.

They blew the whistle on the owner of the commercial building on Dresden Drive who cut down all of the trees in the county right-of-way in front of his building and kept the heat on until DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader and county officials made the building owner pay to replace the trees and provide recompense that provided trees in Ashford Park and elsewhere.

One of the sites that benefitted was the Clack’s Corner Park, a sliver of land at a neighborhood intersection just off of Dresden Drive that provides a peaceful repose for neighbors to meet and rest from the hustle of daily urban life.

Why do they do it? Because the county hasn’t traditionally stepped forward and now cannot afford to do so. There is no magical cash box to pay for these improvements. So, residents find themselves having to step forward and provide the sweat as well as the cash to see that this work is done.

We have another example of just that type of grit in this newspaper today.

Carolyn Kenny and her neighbor Sally Perez are trying to do something nice for their little Historic Brookhaven Neighborhood green space. They’re raising money to have the triangle at Club and Davidson drives fixed up and landscaped.

So far, they have raised a little less than half of the $15,000 Kenny thinks they’ll need for the project. They plan to seek contributions from their neighbors.

The triangle is one of a number of little pocket parks around the Historic Brookhaven Neighborhood. Kenney says there may be as many as 10 of the so-called “micro-parks.”

The triangle park is owned by the city of Atlanta, but we all know Atlanta has no money to spend on park maintenance. So, it becomes the responsibility of the neighbors to chip in and dig in for the sake of improving their community and its quality of life.

After all, other residents of Brookhaven have done it and have set a standard for commitment.

Those are things that make a maze of streets and homes—and the people who live there—into a community. I think Brookhaven is on the right track, but it takes more than just one or two leaders to make it work and be sustainable.

Next on the agenda might be getting the businesses in Brookhaven to both offer to support—financially and with manpower—beautification projects in the community.

They might even consider organizing a community improvement district (CID) where they would tax their commercial properties an extra amount in order to provide funding for community projects.

If it takes a village to raise a child, one can certainly imagine that it takes village of committed residents to also create a real community.

John Schaffner

John Schaffner was founding editor of Reporter Newspapers.