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Although the Serve Santa Maria event was rained out April 7, that didn't dampen organizer Pastor Carl Nielsen's spirits. On Saturday, he rallied 300 volunteers to go out into the community to clean and beautify the city and paint an entire church.

"It's just such an awesome feeling seeing all these volunteers come out and making sure all of our projects get accomplished," said Nielsen, who heads the congregation at Bethel Lutheran Church.

Held twice a year, in April and August, Serve Santa Maria is a communitywide day of service that beautifies and renovates parts of the city. Past projects have included cleaning out people's yards, neighborhoods, planting trees and azaleas in city parks and painting over graffiti at the Santa Maria River Bridge.

On the 15th Serve Santa Maria, volunteers took on painting and landscaping projects around several Santa Maria-Bonita district schools.

Two new features were added this year, which Nielsen called "a big, hairy, audacious goal": cleaning up the Tanglewood community and painting the First Mexican Baptist Church in one day. 

"This is a first-time challenge working on an unincorporated area outside the city," said Greg Nims, Serve Santa Maria veteran and Bethel Lutheran Church member. Volunteers were asked to bring mowers, edgers, blowers, brooms, rakes, shovels and any gardening tools to do yard maintenance. 

It's the third time Serve Santa Maria attempted to cover an entire region or several blocks of homes in the city. A previous project included beautifying Mary Street through Benwiley Avenue, "which went so well," Nims said. 

Three dumpsters, once again donated by Hugh Bedford of Bedford Enterprises, were used for trash or junk to be taken to the Santa Maria landfill.

Cleaning up the Tanglewood community, which has close to 450 homes, became a goal for Serve Santa Maria after the neighborhood's beautification association, headed by Noris Bentivegna and Mick Robinson, reached out to 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann's office, which put the pair in touch with Nielsen. 

"Supervisor Hartmann and her team are actually out here today, working with the volunteers to clean up about 28 homes who signed up for help," Nims said. "We just hope to hit all 28 homes by the end of the day."

Robinson said he and Bentivegna walked around the community a few weeks before Saturday's event and posted about 447 flyers, inviting residents to apply to get their homes cleaned up. 

"A lot of people here need this kind of help," Robinson said. "It's our first time working with Serve Santa Maria, and we're so grateful (Hartmann) got us in touch with Pastor Carl. There's so much help needed in this community."

Bentivegna added: "There are no words to express our gratitude; we can't thank everyone here enough. It doesn't matter if we can't help all 28 homes because it still means so much and makes such a big difference." 

Painting the First Mexican Baptist Church, at Russell Avenue and North Barrett, was the second major project of the day. 

Pastor Anita Castillo, who has been with the church for over 34 years, said she has always wanted to paint the entire building, but she didn't have the resources to do so. 

"This church hasn't been painted in 30 years," she said. "However, I knew Pastor Carl mentioned he wanted to start working on renovating some of the community churches around here in addition to working on city projects. 

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"When I told him about this church, he told me, 'Don't worry, we can get our Serve Santa Maria group and get this done," she said. "He and all the volunteers have already done so much for the city, and now he wants to add churches to the list, which is amazing." 

Thanks to the help of the volunteers, in two hours the church's old, faded tan color turned into a rich, burnt sienna and dark peach shade.

"Having all the volunteers come together like this is a prayer answered by God," Castillo said. "I'd been praying for help to paint this church for so long, and God gave us a miracle."

Stephan Robertson, 20, a first-time Serve Santa Maria volunteer and Kincon Construction employee, painted alongside his father JC Nelson in the hot midday sun. 

"I'm here because my boss, Kevin Kinyon, who goes to Orcutt Presbyterian, has volunteered at Serve Santa Maria before, and often sends his employees out to help as well," Robertson said. "I've heard of the event before and what made me wanted to volunteer today was because I have a free Saturday, so why not use it to help people?

"I'd definitely come back to the next one." 

By the end of the workday, Nielsen marveled at how quickly all the projects came into fruition, true to his vision, adding that the volunteers always manage to outdo themselves every year.

"I just drove by the schools, they all look so beautiful, and the First Mexican Baptist Church looks amazing!" he said. "I know everyone's going to go home with sore muscles but a great feeling knowing that they're loving their neighbors.

"I just want to thank all of our volunteers for giving their time, and we can't wait until Serve Santa Maria 16 on Aug. 25."

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210

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Courts/Public Safety Reporter