Community is built by the seemingly insignificant gestures of ordinary people.

A smile and a wave on a rainy day, a helping hand with heavy groceries, a greeting card when tragedy strikes or a cup of sugar passed over a fence. We come together in the smallest ways, and from those tiny actions we form bonds that keep neighborhoods strong.

At one time, that would've seemed implausible to me. I'm a loner by nature, and there are few things I hate more than asking for help.

Yet I've learned in these last few months, as I've watched crime creep closer to our community, that the collective work of neighbors is our strongest defense.

The beauty of our city

Having lived and worked in neighborhoods all over Philadelphia, I've learned that our city is a place of startling beauty.

From rose-colored sunrises visible from tiny streets to soaring glass towers in the midst of Center City, and from hidden sculptures tucked away in City Hall's ceilings to angels dancing at the edge of the Schuylkill River, there is splendor among the grit. I suspect that if we bothered to see it, we'd spend most of our time in awe.

But for all Philadelphia's beauty, the one thing that makes our city great is its people. Not the ones who throw garbage out car windows or hurl profanity at little children. Not the ones who would just as soon kill each other as say hello. They aren't the people I'm talking about, although they too can become something more.

The beauty of our city's residents

The ones who make this city great are regular people. You don't know their names and you wouldn't recognize their faces. You haven't seen them do anything spectacular. They're people who go to work and come home every day. They're people who love their families and raise their children. They're people who have the audacity to dream of something better. They're the people who make up our communities.

This weekend, I marveled at those people. Admittedly I did so from a distance, at first.

My wife was on the block taking up a collection for the 14th Police District's Christmas party. For $45, our block could sponsor a child. I told her it might be better for us to just give the $45 and be done with it, but she was adamant. She wanted everyone to have a chance to get involved. She wanted us to work as a community.

Reluctantly, I joined her as she knocked on our neighbors' doors. Most smiled and handed her a few bills to go into the envelope. Some invited us inside to chat for a few minutes. Still, others dropped off money later in the day.

While walking the block with my wife, I learned that most of our neighbors are just regular people who care enough to give of themselves. I learned that we're surrounded not by crime and misery, but by people who care about each other.

Perhaps if we all took a moment to knock on our neighbors' doors, we'd be just as pleasantly surprised. Perhaps we'd even find the thing that we're all looking for — community.

Solomon Jones is the author of the new novel, The Dead Man's Wife. For information on the author and audio podcasts of his books, go to http://solomonjones.com.