"Sidney is never looking for anything in return. His work is based on all goodness." That's how Lieutenant Edward Gonzalez characterizes Sidney Flores, a resident of the Mount Eden section of the Bronx, in a portrait of Mr. Flores by Noah Rosenberg in the February 22, 2011 issue of the New York Times. Described by others as Mount Eden's unofficial mayor, Mr. Flores sees himself as the "eyes and ears" of his community. A long-time employee at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital, Mr. Flores awoke to the extent of his neighborhood's need sometime in 2004 and ever since has been devoting long stretches of his nights and weekends to caring for the community that he loves.
"This life isn't just about you. It's about reaching out to other people as well," Mr. Flores insists. In his own persistent way, he reaches out by reporting a dangerous pothole here or by bringing attention to an abandoned vehicle there. He patrols his neighborhood with unparalleled vigilance not because he wants to be praised or to be recognized by his neighbors, but because, as Mr. Flores himself observes, "there's work to be done...[and] quality-of-life issues that are going unseen, unreported."
As Noah Rosenberg reports in his article, Mr. Flores is most proud of his grass-roots petition to help clean up a playground next to his apartment building. Once contaminated by drug pushers and pimps, the playground has become a safe place for children in a community that has progressively become more livable thanks to the efforts of people like Mr. Flores.
Unmarried and living alone in a 2-bedroom apartment in Mount Eden, Mr. Flores's relentless monitoring of his community's well-being has taken a toll on his relationships and private life, and there are some in the community who question the motives of someone so willing to make such personal sacrifices. But Mr. Flores seems to have few doubts that he is doing the right thing for himself and his community. What he wants more than anything is to make a difference and to help his neighborhood rise above the neglect it has suffered. As one community member put it, "he's out there evenings, nighttime, he probably has a police radio in his bed." As Noah Rosenberg wryly concludes in his article about Sidney Flores, that turns out to be exactly the case.
Most of us don't have the time or the resources to emulate Mr. Flores, but we can take inspiration from him and find small, simple ways to pay greater attention to those most in need in our communities. Now, more than ever, we need that. Mr. Flores's superb example can provide us with the impetus to begin.