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Visit Knoxville launching K-Town Connect Ambassador Program for downtown area

Written by WBIT Staff

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Visit Knoxville announced a new program that would place ambassadors in areas across the city starting Friday.

It is called “K-Town Connect” and ambassadors will be identifiable by light-green clothing showing the program’s brand. These ambassadors are meant to ensure both visitors and locals enjoy spending time in the downtown area. They will perform a variety of roles:

  • Hospitality and Information: Ambassadors will greet pedestrians and ask if they need help finding specific locations. They will give information on historic sites, restaurants, public transportation and other topics. They will also be tasked with helping people with basic functions like using a parking meter, repairing flat tires, escorting employees to parking garages and even opening doors. Officials said this is meant to offset a “potentially negative experience with a positive interaction.”
  • Give a Visible Presence: The ambassadors will be tasked with roaming the area and providing a visible, accessible, outgoing and inviting presence. They are meant to provide an attitude of friendly professionalism and customer service. Officials also said they will also be strategically placed as needed to address issues at specific times of the day, on certain days of the week.
  • Address Quality of Life Issues: They will be trained to discourage solicitation and report crimes. They will also inform Visit Knoxville about the area and will be tasked with teaching people about ordinance violations. The City of Knoxville has policies against panhandling and solicitation during specific times of the day and at certain places.
  • Contact Property and Business Owners: Ambassadors will also work directly with property and business owners, managers and security workers to create a network exchanging information about downtown safety.
    All ambassadors will also be trained in “situational protocol,” meant to teach them how to handle tense situations in a “firm, yet courteous, manner.” Ambassadors in the K-Town Connect program will also manage social service outreach for unhoused people or who appear to be in need of mental or physical health services.

Ambassadors will remove litter and debris from streets and sidewalks. They will also remove stickers and handbills from utility poles, mailboxes, courier boxes, newspaper boxes, parking meters and other fixtures. Materials are often placed on those fixtures for a variety of services, as well as political campaigns.

“I am excited to get these new ambassadors on our city streets,” Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon said. “This is another important step in helping to keep our downtown welcoming, safe, and accessible for residents and visitors.”

The program will run in most of the downtown area, including areas around the Old City and The Sunsphere. Visit Knoxville partnered with Block by Block to develop the program. It is a company that works with cities across the U.S., including Chattanooga and Nashville, to provide similar services.

Logo for K-Town Connect Ambassador Services

Downtown Louisville Ambassadors spread Valentine’s Day kindness

Special Valentine’s Day surprises were handed out around downtown Monday.

Ambassadors with the Louisville Downtown Partnership were on the streets sharing all the love in celebration of Valentine’s Day all with the help of some sweet treats.

The Downtown Partnership wanted to make sure everyone downtown was feeling the love. They handed out raffle tickets for $50 worth of restaurant food at a downtown business. They also handed out chocolate and candy.

Part of ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown, the ambassadors work to better the area by picking up trash or planting new greenery.

There are 16 ambassadors on the streets of downtown daily.

Check out the full article and video showing how the Ambassadors spread love during Valentine’s Day .

Photos by Precision Focus Photography

What it’s like to work for Operation Downtown

Julie Skalberg and Sean Harrington

Written by: Greater Des Moines Partnership

DES MOINES – Maybe you’ve noticed in Downtown Des Moines (DSM) those helpful workers in lime green polo shirts, working to keep downtown safe, clean and beautiful. If not, you’ve surely noticed the beautiful flowers lining downtown streets, the sidewalk maintenance and supportive service to hose around the city. These workers are our Operation Downtown Ambassadors, and they play a pivotal role in maintaining downtown, both in normal times and during busy (say, Saturdays throughout the summer from 7 a.m. until Noon!) or difficult times, like the past 23 months since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.

Two of those ambassadors recently shared about their experiences as Operation Downtown Ambassadors. Julie Skalberg and Sean Harrington have worked for Operation Downtown for four years and one-and-a-half years, respectively, and have a lot to say about downtown.

Operation Downtown Ambassador Q+A

How did you first learn about Operation Downtown Ambassadors?

Skalberg found the job on Indeed when she moved to Des Moines. While visiting her brother, she saw some people in the Historic East Village working with Operation Downtown. When she moved to the area, she thought she might like to do that, too, and help give back to the community. She loves that the job is outside. For Harrington, who had led a troubled life prior to his work with Operation Downtown, took the job to help change his life. Since he became employed, he has become part of the Operation Downtown family. Both say the biggest draw is the tight-knit group at the organization. Skalberg said she loves coming to work because of the appreciation felt from the top down.


What does a normal day look like for you?

Harrington said that each day is different. Every morning you get assigned with a task and a zone to work in. From power washing in front of businesses to taking care of the skywalks, there are many ways they help the Downtown DSM community stay safe and beautiful. Skalberg said that what’s fulfilling is that Operation Downtown employees also assist visitors with directions, taking photos for families and friends where they are downtown and just helping in any way they can. People take the time to thank employees and they can feel they are making a difference to downtown.

What is your favorite part of downtown?

Harrington’s favorite things about downtown are the Downtown Farmers’ Market and other festivals. Skalberg said that everything downtown is unique — especially the new skatepark — and she loves being a part of all of it. When COVID hit, she said the heartbeat of the city left, and seeing that come back recently has been great.

Share a favorite ambassador memory.

Harrington recalled a lady who had come downtown and forgotten where she had parked. Operation Downtown had multiple employees looking for the car to assist her. Skalberg said there are so many fun times, but remembered one Saturday at the Market — Harrington’s first event — laughing about the busyness of all the things happening in one day. They stick together and get through the busyness with laughter.

What would you say to someone who is interested in becoming an ambassador?

Skalberg said there’s no reason not to become involved with Operation Downtown. You get to interact with the public, and that’s a lot of fun! Harrington said you walk 10-15 miles a day, and Skalberg said even so you do it with a fun group, which makes it easy to be out there. He said he gives potential employees a rundown of the great environment, number of hours, his understanding boss and how much he’s grown since he came on board at Operation Downtown.

Find more information on Operation Downtown here.

Operation Downtown Ambassadors

Meet the Welcome Ambassadors Who are Helping Visitors and Buffing SF’s Battered Image

Brian DeBellevue sprang into action. Decked out in a vivid orange jacket and baseball cap—and with a smile that’s hard to miss, even behind a mask—he looked a bit like a walking traffic cone.

After a quick greeting and a self-deprecating joke, DeBellevue pointed them to their Union Square hotel.

“You get a sense pretty quickly of the people who really need you,” DeBellevue said, miming a person buried in their smartphone map spinning around to figure out which way to walk. “Sometimes people are a little off put, but most of the time they’re really thankful to have someone help them out.”

DeBellevue is one of the roughly 50 Welcome Ambassadors that have been hired to act as the front door greeters for San Francisco. They are responsible for welcoming people to the city, offering directions, taking photos, answering questions and functioning as a concierge for both visitors and residents alike.

“The primary goal is to welcome people to the city, give information and help people feel comfortable and safe in San Francisco,” said Rena Leddy, vice president of Urban Place Consulting Group, which was enlisted to help design the program. It’s managed by Louisville, K.Y.-based Block by Block, which runs about 120 programs around the country.

Paulita Elliott, director of operations at Block by Block, said the San Francisco program was unique in that ambassadors here, rather than being limited to a single main tourist district, are often assigned to multiple locations and take public transportation to travel between their postings.

Click to see a day in the life of a Welcome Ambassador !

The program formally started in November and has conducted more than 230,000 public greetings.

The Welcome Ambassador program operates 7 days a week, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., with ambassadors posted in key tourist areas like Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square and the Powell St. Cable Car Turnaround.

Some of the initial hiccups in its rollout have stemmed from the lack of reliable public transit and retaining workers unprepared for the hospitality role or the physical nature of the job.

“Being outside in the Bay weather and walking 10 to 13 miles is not always what they think it is,” Elliot said.

The program is just one of several efforts to encourage more visitors to downtown and other tourist attractions. Other initiatives include staffing tourist areas with police officers, another downtown ambassador program comprised of retired police officers, and beautification projects in and around Union Square.

Mayor London Breed has positioned the effort as part of the gradual recovery of San Francisco’s struggling tourism sector and a signal of safety to both residents and tourists.

Moanna Sauleaupepetele, who was one of the program’s first hires, said community members have started to recognize the ambassadors’ presence and have taken to calling her and her colleagues “the orange people.”

The welcome ambassadors are funded through a two-year $12.5 million grant from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development to the San Francisco Tourism Improvement District, which is responsible for supporting SF Travel, the city’s tourism agency.

The ambassador’s friendly presence aims to boost to a lagging tourism industry that has traditionally been one of the main drivers of the city’s economy. San Francisco’s hotel market has had the largest fall and the slowest recovery of any major metropolitan area in the U.S.

“San Francisco was one of the highest performing before the pandemic so it had farther to fall off,” said Emmy Hise, the CoStar Group’s director of hospitality analytics for the Western U.S. “They’ve seen a huge loss in international travel and a very heavy group travel presence that hasn’t come back.”

Those macroeconomic factors have been compounded by a national media narrative that has painted a city in crisis and struggling with an overdose epidemic and street crime.

San Fransisco Welcome Ambassador

Brian DeBellevue spends his day in San Francisco’s tourist haunts sharing directions, travel tips or just a bit of conversation. | Photo by Mike Kuba

There was little evidence of that story at the Powell St. cable car turnaround on a recent Thursday morning.

The line for the city’s iconic cable cars included local tourists marveling at the relative lack of crowds downtown, long-haired Dutch headbangers in town for Metallica’s 40th anniversary concert and a visitor from India unfortunately named Kovid (“I had the name 55 years earlier,” he protested.)

Ardis Young, a Campbell resident on her first trip back to San Francisco since the pandemic, said her group was struck by the prevalence of ambassadors and street cleaning teams near tourist haunts. They provided a contrast to some of the stories around street conditions and rampant crime she and her friends had seen on the local news.

While the lack of crowds meant “a different experience,” she still relished the city’s ability “to unearth something new” and mentioned the Let’s Glow SF projection mapping display as a recent highlight.

DeBellevue worked the line like a seasoned pro, combining information about Muni’s smartphone app with bits of San Francisco trivia and teasing about this or that sports teams’ prospects.

“I like to catch people when they’re in line and get them laughing and having fun because it can get pretty defeating waiting an hour for something to go,” DeBellevue said.

The ambassadors are often confronted with the harsher realities faced by the city. On the walk between Powell Station and Union Square, DeBellevue hunched down to check on a man splayed out on a sidewalk vent.

“We do have a lot of interactions with the homeless population and we do welfare checks,” DeBellevue said. “Our job is to make sure everybody’s good, it’s not just about tourists, it’s like every person has value and is seen. Just because you’re on drugs or have whatever you got going on, it doesn’t mean you don’t have value or are not important.”

He recounted a recent experience he had helping a blind homeless man connect with services after he had received a housing voucher.

“He had this opportunity to get off the streets, so I helped him with that. I called 311, got him in touch with the correct channel and got him to the address,” DeBellevue said. “You have no idea the amount of joy that that brought him.”

Each ambassador is given an Android device used as a walkie-talkie and for data collection around community engagement. The smartphone is loaded with apps that show the schedule for tour buses and public transportation and translation software for communication with non-English speakers.

Ambassadors use their device to report data on their interactions with the public. The program’s leaders say these metrics and forthcoming surveys are key to understanding the impact of the ambassadors and measuring their success.

In his seven years in the city, DeBellevue has struggled with housing insecurity himself, relying on assistance from his mother and government relief to make ends meet. But the new role has provided him the rare opportunity to see the city anew.

“When people come here they realize even the movies don’t do it justice,” DeBellevue said. “When you see it with your own eyes, you’re like ‘wow, this place is incredible.’”


New outreach specialist addresses needs of unsheltered population in downtown Wilmington

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Wilmington Downtown iNC (WDI) has hired a new street outreach specialist to help establish relationships and build trust with people living on the streets of downtown Wilmington.

As a member of the Municipal Service District (MSD) Ambassador team, Jack Morris will identify individuals willing to receive assistance and will connect them to the region’s network of social services.

“The circumstances of each person in need of help are all unique, from mental health and substance abuse issues to little to no income or ability to get into a shelter or find housing,” said President and CEO of WDI Holly Childs. “What makes this initiative so unique is that we can collaborate. We can identify who these folks are, see what their individual needs are, and see where we can help. And that’s the goal — to connect these people to the right services, or bring them to places where they are sheltered and feel safe.”

An initial survey of downtown’s unsheltered population was conducted in October by Block by Block, the MSD operations management company that runs the Ambassadors Program. The results indicated that, on average, about 30 people were living in the streets of downtown Wilmington. Many individuals reached during this three-day assessment period experienced a range of life issues and barriers to service.

Morris, a trained social worker, works in collaboration with other social service workers, police, fire and EMS to build trust and help those in need.

Within his first hour on the job, Morris connected with a homeless individual experiencing a mental health crisis and was able to get the person connected with services.

“There is no cookie-cutter solution to this,” said Morris. “The needs are all different. As the service providers and outreach providers get into this, it has to be a collaborative effort. I’m very excited to be in this role, to engage with this part of our community and see where I can make a difference. Unfortunately for some, this is the life they have chosen to live and we can only help make minor improvements to the quality of life. But every small victory goes a long way.”

Previously, Morris worked as an outreach case manager for a homeless outreach center in Pennsylvania. He is equipped to handle various conditions such as drug and alcohol addiction, as well as mental health issues, including schizophrenia and PTSD. He has earned a Crisis Intervention Certification and is a Certified Peer Specialist.

Read the full article

David Williams: Finding His Way and Paying it Forward


David Williams bought a 2012 Chevy last November. It’s a comfortable ride, but his preferred method of transportation is a bicycle.

He rides with a purpose along downtown Orlando, looking for lost and lonely souls down on their luck. He knows them well. He was one of them once upon a time.

There are second chances in life that come at you unexpectedly. Williams might still be walking the streets of Orlando, homeless, without much purpose, had there not been some fortuitous connections along the way.

But those second chances also require active participation and a willingness to overcome. Williams is now a walking billboard for the power of perseverance in his role as a “Downtown Ambassador” for the City of Orlando.

Read the full article here

Downtown Ambassadors hit the streets in Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership launches Ambassador ProgramKALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — If you’re visiting downtown Kalamazoo, you’ll notice a new team keeping things clean and ready to help you out.

The Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership launched its Downtown Ambassador program Monday.

The five ambassadors will do things like empty trash cans, sweep sidewalks and shovel snow. The full-time positions are part of a workforce development program that will provide opportunities for advancement. Their first project is a two-week push to clear leaves from streets and clean up graffiti. Moving forward, they’ll also do things like give visitors directions.

You’ll see them in blue and gray uniforms on foot, bicycles and in marked cars. They’ll be on duty as early as 7 a.m. all week and may be out until 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Andrew Haan, the president of the Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership, says the ambassadors can help improve the experience of visiting the area.

“It’s brand new and fresh. We’re really excited about it and feel like the downtown community is really going to notice a big difference,” Haan said.

Read the full article here

Virginia Beach rolls out new Resort-Area Ambassador program

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Starting April 1, you’ll see a team of people in yellow shirts at the Oceanfront. They are part of the city of Virginia Beach’s new Resort-Area Ambassador Program, rolling out just before the summer season kicks off.

Their sole mission is to make your experience better.

The program currently has about 30 ambassadors that will patrol all 40 blocks of Atlantic Avenue, stretching from Pacific Avenue to the bike path. The crews will hyper-focus on the central resort area, from 15th to 25th.

Read the full article here!

Here’s why we love our Downtown Ambassadors, our Daytonians of the Week

From left to right: Andrea McFarland, Muhmud Habeeb Shafeek, Janice Douds and Terry Williams are the four most senior Downtown Dayton Ambassadors.

Known to occasionally drop a quarter in a parking meter when the red light starts to blink, the Downtown Dayton Ambassadors are some of the most friendly faces in the Gem City.

The Downtown Dayton Ambassador Program, often just called “The Ambassadors,” actually traces its roots back to Brantley Security Services, an event management and private security services company that dates to 1930. Through many changes over the decades, the company, today called Block By Block Inc., began serving its first downtown district, Louisville Downtown Partnership, in 1995.

In 2005, Block By Block started its Downtown Dayton program.

“The program has gone through changes over the 15 to 16 years to grow from a main focus of cleaning and engaging with the public, to now include working with the Dayton Police and Dayton Social Service Agencies in their outreach efforts,” said Tina McKenna-Gilley, operations manager of the Ambassadors.