A little bit about a lot of things:

• Very pleased this week to present the first installment of our annual series of feature stories about West Siders who have served their country.

The weekly series, which this week featured Newman resident Ken Andrade, a U.S. Navy veteran, will continue through Veterans Day.

We first presented this series honoring veterans two years ago.

Based on the overwhelmingly positive response from our readers, it has become an annual tradition.

We have since visited with a a number of veterans who graciously agreed to share their story.....something that is not always easy for them to do.

They served in various branches of the military. Some served in times of peace; others were in the military during war years.

The common thread all share is that they served their nation, helping preserve and defend the freedoms we enjoy and all too often take for granted.

Without exception, they have been gracious and their stories compelling.

Interviewing our veterans and sharing their stories has truly been a privilege.

Patriotism runs deep in our communities, as does a tradition of serving our nation.

So many of our family members, friends and neighbors have served.....and many more are in the armed forces today.

Our veterans have returned to civilian ranks to continue their own lives, quietly going about their business with little fanfare.

But I am reminded every time I sit down with one of these veterans of the debt of gratitude they are owed.

Every man and woman who served, or are in the armed forces today, is worthy of our appreciation.

Our series will run for six more weeks, and we are welcoming suggestions of veterans to feature. If somebody comes to mind, please shoot me an email at dharris@mattosnews.com or call us at 862-2222.

We would love to hear from you.

• A complaint I hear time and time again is that volunteerism and community involvement is on the decline.....from service clubs faced with dwindling memberships to youth sports boards in need of new members to community celebrations such as the Fall Festival in jeopardy due to dwindling volunteer ranks.

The list goes on and on, and the trend does not seem to be limited to any one aspect of our communities.

One of the groups currently in great need of new blood is the GUSTO scholarship organization in Gustine. The community-based organization has handed out more than $600,000 in scholarships which have helped Gustine’s deserving young adults pursue their college dreams. GUSTO’s first meeting of the year will be Monday, Oct. 8, at 6 p.m. at 206 Sycamore Ave. in Gustine. If you’re interested, please attend.

That’s an unabashed call for the community to get involved in one particular cause, but others need help as well.

Pitch in. Help out. Do what you can to make your community better instead of sitting back and waiting for others to do the heavy lifting.

Granted, some local clubs and organizations are still going strong but generally speaking - I think - fewer and fewer people are choosing to be involved.

Newman, for example, once had a thriving chamber. Now it is virtually non-existent. How can that be resurrected? Only by people who get involved.

Some clubs with a long history of doing good works in the community, such as Gustine-Newman Soroptimists, have gone by the wayside.

These clubs, these organizations, all help make our communities better. They have long been woven into the social fabric of these small towns, strengthening our communities and enhancing the quality of life that we all enjoy.

Shoot, at one time some organizations which are now struggling were pillars of the community, creating strong bonds forged by volunteerism and involvement.

If they are allowed to fade away, our communities grow weaker rather than stronger.

And we have nobody to blame but ourselves.

• Had the opportunity last weekend to spend a night in Mariposa following the Gustine-Mariposa football games....Kat and I always enjoy soaking in the history of the Gold Rush-era community and just poking around the hills.

With no particular route mapped out for coming back, we found our way through Hornitos and then Snelling....a place I had heard about but in all my years here had never actually visited.

Sometimes, the path less traveled is by far the more interesting one to take.

Dean Harris the Managing Editor of the West Side Index and Gustine Press-Standard. He can be reached at dharris@mattosnews.com or by calling (209) 243-8104.