Diana Dundukova

Posted on Friday January 20, 2023 by Ambassador Spotlight

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A Memorable Moment

Ambassador Spotlight: Larry Willaims

Imagine showing up to work on a day that feels just like any other but encountering one of the most prolific artists in history, who happens to notice your work. For starters, the odds of running into a large celebrity name in Downtown Minneapolis aren’t very great, and to be appreciated by one is even rarer. But that’s exactly the type of day Larry Williams experienced on January 21st of 2016.

On a Thursday, Larry arrived at the MDID/Block by Block (Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District) headquarters and got ready for his shift. He headed out with his fellow teammates to the streets of Downtown Minneapolis to greet residents and visitors and clean up the blocks. While he was hard at work, sweeping the area by the Dakoda Jazz Club, he was being noticed.

Later that day, the MDID Ambassadors were approached by none other than Prince himself. Throughout his success, he kept his hometown of Minneapolis close to his heart. He valued the work the Ambassadors were providing for the city, so he invited the workers to a private show at his home. Larry was a part of the small VIP list of Ambassadors who were welcomed to attend, but he was considering not going.

“I can’t go to it. I got nothing to wear, and I can’t afford to miss work,” Larry recalls saying.

That is when Anna Schmoll, current Regional Vice President but MDID Operations Manager at the time, stepped in to convince Larry to attend this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“It was very short notice, and the performance was going to take place during the evening shifts, but when will anyone get an opportunity like this again?” Anna said. “I even offered to give rides to those who didn’t have one,” she added.

Anna, Larry, and several other Ambassadors waited at the back of the line until they were rushed to the front of the room to watch the performance. The private event only had 200 attendees, some of whom were the Ambassadors.

“It was just Prince playing the piano. No band or any other distractions,” Larry added about the experience. He revealed this to be one of his most memorable moments, and he was thankful Anna encouraged him to attend.

Eleven years later, Larry Williams still works as an MDID Ambassador at Block by Block. He tried many different roles, from cleaning to safety, and currently works as a Special Project Amabassador. Larry valued the compassionate and understanding nature of management. Beyond the encouragement to make memories, the current leadership team worked with Larry on his work schedule flexibility.

“I am a single father with two little kids. A two-year-old and a three-year-old,” Larry said.

He shared that due to the difficulties of finding child care, and his father’s stroke, he was granted a leave of absence by the management team to prioritize his family first. Larry is grateful to work among caring individuals.

“Not once did they question me about the time I needed off. They saw me as a person and understood my situation,” added Larry.

Employers play a crucial role in the job satisfaction of employees. It remains highly important to Block by Block to hire and promote managers who strive to create relationships with their employees. Whether it’s’ encouraging an employee to partake in an experience or being flexible and understanding, everything adds up to a fun and rewarding work environment.

“Everybody faces a challenge in their life, and building relationships with employees makes them more comfortable communicating that with us,” Anna commented.

Posted on Friday January 13, 2023 by Insider Look

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The Livability Network

Downtown Minneapolis Caring For All Its Residents

Minneapolis Livability Team Member Helping Man

Out of 75,729 total interactions made by the Ambassadors in 2022, 3,746 were interactions between a special outreach team and residents requiring assistance. This data highlights that hospitality services offered in Downtown Minneapolis extend beyond friendly greetings or location findings. MDID and other groups in Downtown Minneapolis are working to extend hospitality to all members of the community, including the city’s most vulnerable residents.

In 2016, Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District (MDID), in collaboration with Block by Block, added social outreach services to its Ambassador programming – also known as the Livability Team. The team is comprised of four passionate individuals who work around the clock, reaching out to people and connecting them with resources offered in Hennepin County.

The job fulfilled by the Livability Team takes patience and positivity. It’s more than showing up to work and going through the motions. Being a Livability team member requires grit. It is a career that takes compassion, communication, kindness, and much more. Many traits in these team members contribute to their ability to help others.

These four individuals are the architects of networking. They establish connections with various community programs designed to help the unsheltered population, and they hold a vast knowledge of all the different resources people can be connected with. The Livability Team bridges the gap between those who require assistance and the organizations that offer aid. In addition, the team has direct contact with the Hennepin Country social worker to deliver the right help straightaway.

The Livability Team ensures when they are out on the field, they meet each individual where they are. While maintaining their professionalism, sometimes this requires using the same dialect as the person they are communicating with or maintaining the same eye level height. Meeting people where they are, requires seeing people on equal ground and locking away any presumptions.

“Being slow to speak but quick to listen,” Uledus, a Livability team member of almost two years, shares to be his number one rule.

Being present and self-aware is key to providing the proper outreach to the individuals requiring assistance. “Building trust is essential and takes time. But it is also important to recognize just because they trust you doesn’t mean they will trust others,” Clarence, another Livability team member, says.

The team begins their day by going to locations where people tend to spend prolonged periods of time and perform wellness checks. This includes making sure everyone is well and not requiring medical assistance. While making the first round of check-ins, it is also a great time to see if they can provide quick aid, like handing out gloves, hand warmers, water, and snacks. The workday begins by showing care.

Once the initial rounds of check-ins are complete, Livability Ambassadors scout individuals who they have been in contact with previously. Each Livability team member keeps a list of individuals they connect with regularly. This allows them to form consistent communication and build meaningful relationships. All interactions are tracked through Block by Block’s SMART System to record any resources individuals were connected with or the progress made.

It’s important to recognize that asking for help is easier said than done, which is the case for many residents. In many instances, the Livability Ambassadors will only engage in brief conversations to show their presence; over time, they will aim to develop a meaningful relationship.

“People have difficulty asking for help or accepting it. Some people need help just to ask for help.” Clarence expresses.

“We also do not want to enable people. We want to inspire and educate them to turn their own lives around.” Uledus adds.

The Liveability Team works hard to help as many people as possible, and sometimes getting an individual to accept help or take a step in the right direction is a huge victory.

Clarence experienced firsthand the impact he brings to the community. Recently, he was stopped by a man he failed to recognize. Clarence was unaware that he was being approached by someone who he had helped a year ago. The man was filled with emotions. He thanked Clarance for helping him find a place, a job and connecting him with immigrant resources.

“We are not the solution, but more the facilitator to get individuals the right help. We are just the start of the solution, but we can act the mitigator or be the middle person for whatever is needed,” Uledus addresses a common misconception about his role.

“We are also not enforcers. We do not push anything on individuals or remove them from certain locations. We are simply there to help in any way we can,” Clarence adds.

Minneapolis has hundreds of resources the Livability team members can connect people with. Their connection list includes St.Stephen’s Street Outreach, House of Charity, Hennepin Country Shelter Team, and COPE, to list a few. The organizations provide a long list of services and support that includes meals and showers, shelters and housing, health care, mental health care, trauma care, life emergency assistance, literacy assistance, and more.

The Liveability Team understands the importance of establishing a network. It is crucial to work with others. Fruitful networking adds more resources to the list and empowers others to help in any way possible. Setting a precedent for networking unlocks new ways of supporting those needing assistance. It broadens the scope of reaching more individuals with the right help.

“Understanding that you are not the solution is key. Collaboration is the force behind our success. This creates a movement for people to help as well. It is a powerful thing. ” Uledus affirms.

Just as with any profession, the Livability Team faces its own challenges, but it’s maintaining a positive outlook that helps them overcome adversity.

“It is hard work, yet it is important to go above and beyond. It is not about doing what is required but doing more.” Clarence says.

The Livability Team encourages the Minneapolis community to continue to be open-minded.

“Don’t judge. We are always quick to judge others, but being unhoused or facing a difficult time can happen to anyone.” Uledus shares. “It takes time to build trust, and most individuals are not quick to ask for help, especially if there are factors like mental health and substance abuse at play.”

“Being kind can get you a long way!” Clarance adds.

Posted on Monday December 19, 2022 by Insider Look

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The SMART Way to Hospitality

Telling a Story Through Data Tracking

In 2022 alone, the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District (MDID) Ambassadors provided 58,351 hospitality assists to visitors and residents in Downtown Minneapolis. This is a prime example of the data tracked through the SMART System, representing the incredible work completed by the Ambassadors.

The SMART System, which stands for Statistics Management and Ambassador Reporting Technology, is a technological tool for downtown districts developed by Block by Block. The SMART System supports field managers in their planning, informing them of the most current information, and it creates a sense of accomplishment for the Ambassadors. It provides data collection, accountability, and reporting all in one spot. The SMART System is constantly evolving, delivering more accurate data and tracking tools to stay up to date with the needs of our customers.

Some of the most commonly used functions within the SMART System include basic activity entry, maintenance reporting, Ambassador walk paths, incident reporting, persons of interest interaction, activity reporting by property/business/parcel, and so much more. This tool allows managers to account for the areas covered at any time in the downtown region. It tells a real-time story of what is happening in the districts with data, and it’s highly customizable to fit the landscape and needs of any downtown.

“Without the SMART System, we would not have an account of our work. The SMART System helps us create the story,” Anna Schmoll answered when asked why she believed it beneficial to management. She also explained how the SMART System helps with coaching and improves activities throughout the day because there is always room to grow.

Not only do supervisors and managers at Block by Block find the system useful, but many Ambassadors appreciate the capability to track their efforts. “It lets us know what work is being done and helps us collaborate better with other team members. I am able to keep track of any escorts or interactions I make or log anything that needs work,” Crystal Krajewski, a Safety Ambassador, shared.

Lastly, the Smart System is a reporting and accountability tool for clients. They can utilize it to best suit their needs, from being very involved to not. They can access the system daily or request reports from the Block by Block operational office. Tracking this information allows clients to make effective strategic decisions backed by data.

Throughout 2022, the Ambassadors provided various services to the residents, removed and cleared many unwanted materials from public spaces, and so much more. Watch the video below to see the exact stats assembled through the SMART System. Imagine how different Downtown Minneapolis would be if it were not for the services provided!

Posted on Friday December 2, 2022 by Insider Look

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The Faces Behind a Welcoming Downtown Experience

The Different Types of Ambassadors and The Impact They Create

Are you aware of all the moving pieces that make Downtown Minneapolis clean and friendly?

The Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District (MDID) works with Block by Block to deliver hospitality services to the streets of downtown. The incredible people behind the daily grind are the MDID Ambassadors. They are responsible for specific initiatives with some overlap in their tasks. Let’s break down the various functions to highlight the impact the Ambassadors make in Downtown Minneapolis. 

Safety Ambassador’s role includes escorting citizens, helping them locate their destination, assisting them in finding their parked vehicle, distributing maps and other MDID information, checking in with local businesses, and providing support to various MDID pop-ups. In addition to their hospitality work, these Ambassadors also aid in keeping the city clean and act as the eyes and ears for others. Because they are actively walking the streets and skyways, they communicate with Ambassadors outside their task force if further assistance is required.They can request help for larger projects like graffiti removal or connect citizens in need with the Livability Ambassadors.

The Cleaning Ambassadors’ main priority is to keep the streets clean and welcoming while creating a friendly atmosphere. They’re the force behind the polished feel of Downtown Minneapolis. These Ambassadors work on freeing the walkways of trash, clearing undesired substances, removing unauthorized posters and stickers, wiping down public surfaces, and emptying the recycling bins and trash cans. 

Even though the Cleaning Ambassadors focus the majority of their efforts on cleaning up, some tasks are left explicitly to the Special Projects Ambassadors. This task force works on any project specially requested by MDID or any businesses in the downtown districts. The projects include removing graffiti from buildings and other surfaces or polishing public areas to prepare them for the upcoming season.

Livability Ambassadors are a unique extension to the rest of the team. They act as a connection between individuals in need and resources provided by Hennepin County.  The Livability Ambassadors patrol the streets to detect individuals needing assistance, perform wellness checks and connect them with shelters, social workers, and treatment centers. They hand out snacks and water throughout the year, and during the winter months, they distribute socks, gloves, and hand warmers.

The different teams of Ambassadors offer various services and hospitality solutions downtown. This breakdown of responsibilities has successfully functioned in Minneapolis for over 13 years. Block by Block can tailor the Ambassador positions to fit the landscape of your downtown to ensure you receive the necessary services in your unique urban environment!

Posted on Monday November 28, 2022 by Insider Look

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Hot or Cold, The MDID Ambassadors Continue Onward

Insider Look: The Work MDID Ambassadors Accomplish in the Winter

MDID Safety Ambassador out on the street of Downtown Minneapolis

It is this time of the year again when the sun goes down early and the city glimmers in golden lights. The holiday season enters Downtown Minneapolis and brings holiday cheer and colder weather. The MDID Ambassadors walk the streets with a smile, assisting visitors in the city. Even when the temperature in Minneapolis drops below zero degrees Fahrenheit, Ambassadors are still showing up to work.

The cold temperatures introduce new challenges to the downtown streets. The sidewalks glaze over with ice, the roads hide beneath the snow, and the freezing winds drift between the buildings. These challenges can yield a not-so-pleasant experience in Downtown Minneapolis, but that is why our Ambassadors are there to help!

Beyond their daily efforts in the winter, the Ambassadors are also on the lookout for slippery and icy surfaces. They cover those areas with sand to ensure the safety of the citizens. In addition, they occasionally remove snow from corners if other businesses or the city hasn’t tended to them.

One of the more notable jobs the Ambassadors provide in cold temperatures is motorist assists. With consent from the owner, Ambassadors can jumpstart the vehicle or shovel it out of snow. This comes in handy due to the severity of the weather experienced in Minneapolis. In addition, our Safety Ambassadors continue to provide hospitality services to people looking to avoid the elements and get to their destination quickly.

Lastly, the Livability team works extra hard during the winter months to help individuals caught in a difficult time. They conduct safety checks on people who spend prolonged periods outside to ensure they aren’t suffering from hypothermia or dehydration. The Livability team will also hand out emergency kits that contain heat-reflective blankets and other winter resources like gloves and hand warmers.