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Posted on Tuesday May 21, 2024 by

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Second Chances: Former inmates help bring new life to Waikiki as Aloha Ambassadors

By: Allison Schaefers | aschaefers@staradvertiser.com

This article has been shared from Honolulu Star Advertiser 

A man in a neon yellow uniform speaks to two tourists about directions.

Waikiki BID Ambassadors provide hospitality to district visitors.

Jason Esau uses a pressure washer to remove dirt and grime from the sidewalks of Waikiki, while his Team Leader, Kyle Hostallero, stops to give directions to two international visitors.

The men are part of the Waikiki Business Improvement District Aloha Ambassador program, which will expand to24 hours, seven days a week this summer and is projected by year’s end to remove 500,000 pounds of trash and serve over 350,000 visitors. It’s hard work, but Esau and Hostallero smile often as they labor to leave Waikiki better than they found it. Their work brings new life to Waikiki and provides them with a second chance, too.

The men are part of the Aloha Ambassadors second chance program, which is a partnership between the Waikiki Business Improvement District and the Laumaka Work Furlough Center/Oahu Community Correctional Center. The program employs low-risk, incarcerated people, and recently released people.

Aloha Ambassadors serve as the hospitality hosts of Waikiki, providing information and assistance to those whom they encounter on the sidewalks of the Kalakaua Avenue-Kuhio Avenue corridor. Those on the clean team provide cleaning and maintenance services to supplement the city’s efforts. There also are safety ambassadors who provide services to make residents and visitors more secure.

Trevor Abarzua, WBID president and executive director, said the organization has more than 60 Aloha Ambassadors, and 16 of them are in the second-chance program, which ahs helped augment the expanding program’s needs. That’s up from 10 second-chance employees in 2023.

The Aloha Ambassador program’s current hours are 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., but Abarzua said that on July 1 is it slated to begin providing 24/7 safety Ambassadors at Kuhio Beach Park, with a homeless and mental health outreach component overnight. The change is contingent on the mayor’s budget passing, he said.

“The idea behind it is having an extra layer of safety presence here in Waikiki. They will be more of an outreach component to the overnight services,” he said.

Robert Lee, WBID director of operations, said the Aloha Ambassadors, especially those in the second-chance program, are proactive. They are an example to their peers of what they can do to turn around their lives before they reach that tipping point,” Lee said.

A man in a neon uniform pressure washes some newspaper receptacles.

A Waikiki Ambassador pressure washes some newspaper receptacles.

Uplifting outreach

Abarzua said WBID has hired 34 second-chance people since June 2018, and they have a combined employment of 16,675 days with an average of 1.34 years of employment.

“Once they graduate from the work release program with us, some move on to other companies and jobs with the experience they gained as an Ambassador,” he said.

However, Abarzua said some have stayed at WBID, where the longest-tenured second-chance employees have been in the program almost six years. He said some second-chance employees have been promoted to manager positions and speciality higher-paid positions like team mechanic, which has helped the program develop a culture of membership.

Hostallero manages 25 to 30 workers as a clean-team leader but also serves as an example to those from his past whom he sees on Waikiki’s sidewalks and streets.

“I don’t’ always give them money, because I know it will probably go to alcohol or drugs, but I do make the time to hear them out and give them some words of encouragement. I’ll say, ‘Hey, If I can do it, you can do it,” Hostallero said. “If someone had come up to me before, I would have definitely thought about it and tried to work to do better.”

Hostallero said he enjoys giving back through the second-chance program, which has afforded him another chance at life. Originally from Kauai, he said, “I’ve struggled with drug addiction and alcoholism and some mental health issues due to drugs, which caused me to break some laws—nothing serious, but enough to land me in prison.”

While serving time, he said, he enrolled in the Kashbox intensive treatment program which helped support his sobriety and encouraged him to mend fences with family, including his now 12-year-old son. The program also helped Hostallero set goals, but until he found the second-chance program, it was hard to meet them.

“Before being released, I had plans at looking at construction or working as a painter. I had great ambition. But once I got out, I was applying at all these places and was getting told no or wasn’t getting called back. There were a lot of roadblocks,” he said. “Once I applied at Block by Block (a WBID contractor), they gave me a chance.”

To read the rest of this article, click here.

Posted on Wednesday April 17, 2024 by

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Connect & Share 2024: Block by Block in San Francisco

At the end of March, we brought our managers from across the country together in San Francisco for a week of extended learning, development and networking at our biannual Connect & Share Conference. It is a unique opportunity for our managers to meet people who do what they do in other cities across the country, build camaraderie and learn from one another.

Over the last few years, Block by Block has experienced immense growth, including a company-wide development of 29.9% since our last Connect & Share in Houston, TX, in 2022. In that time, we have added 26 new programs across the United States, bringing the highest standard of clean and safe services to more and more places nationwide. We’ve added 742 employees to the Block by Block family, including nine new corporate field positions who help our programs run more efficiently by supplementing and supporting the Operations Manager’s administrative work so they can stay focused on street-level operations.

As we reflected on this growth over the last two years and how far we’ve come since we started serving our first downtown district in 1995, we felt this meeting was the perfect time and place to set new standards and re-establish best practices for our local operations. The conference theme “Forward: It Starts with Us” helped capture that sentiment and emphasizes our collective responsibility to spearhead the next phase of our company’s evolution and the evolution of service delivery industry standards.

San Francisco provided the perfect backdrop for our event, not only for its reputation as a premiere tourism destination, but also because of the city’s forward-thinking approach to placemaking and activations, the number of high-profile districts and community benefit districts located in such close proximity and the diversity of programming Block by Block offers in the area.

Connect & Share 2024 was a blend of structured learning sessions, panel discussions and hands-on exploration.

Learning Sessions

New Processes Unveiled

During the conference, we unveiled new standardized operational guidelines, improvements to our STOP. THINK. ACT. safety program, Key Performance Indicators to track performance of our teams and new tools to help centralize communication and information sharing using Microsoft Teams and a revamped, optimized Block by Block SharePoint Site. These tools will provide guidance for our local managers and create streamlined processes to improve day-to-day operations.

 

Operating Guidelines: Carin Cardone, Derreck Hughes

Carin, East Division Vice President, and Derreck, Vice President of Operations, discussed a new standard for Block by Block operations. While administrative content has always been available in the company-wide SharePoint site, operations details have not been readily available in an accessible format. That’s why Block by Block took the time to compile all standard operating basics into one location. The guidelines are presented in a binder format that allows managers the ability to flip through sections dedicated to specific topics on operating best practice. This guidebook clarifies the standards by which all Block by Block programs are run and can be referred to on a regular basis by managers, effecting more consistency in our programs across the country. While it does not address every possible scenario, it covers topics from Standards of Professionalism to Building and Retaining a Team, Ambassador safety to Equipment and so much more! It is a much needed asset for managers to have on standby.

A man stands at the front of a room presenting a powerpoint to a room of people sitting at tables.

Dereck presents the new Operation Guidelines to a group of conference attendees.

Microsoft Teams and SharePoint: Kori Parvin

Any company that has been in operation for nearly 30 years is going to have its fair share of old paperwork, files and data. Until now, much of this has been stored in our SharePoint, a web-based service for sharing and storing information that multiple users can access. Over time, the files became cluttered and difficult to search, with many unneeded or redundant documents being stored. Kori, Vice President of Field Support, spearheaded a restructuring of Sharepoint dedicated countless hours sifting through these files organizing, archiving, deleting and rewriting. The result of these efforts is a flawless, easily accessible and — most importantly — organized SharePoint site. Managers can quickly navigate the site for documents they’re looking for, search and find with ease and upload their own content as needed.

On theme with this newly organized file-access system is Block by Block’s widespread rollout of Microsoft Teams to managers across the country. Managers will be able to use Teams to communicate with their Ambassador Teams, corporate staff and community partners. They will be able to create file sharing within groups to make work easier and more efficient. Teams will connect Block by Block staff and mangers from coast to coast for both platforms and all man>agers will have access to these tools by the end of 2024.

A woman is speaking to a room full o f people sitting at tables.

Kori speaks to a group of conference attendees about the new SharePoint and Teams systems.

Building Ideal Teams: Angela Grether, Jay Jones

Angela, Director of Talent Acquisition and Culture, and Jay, Conference Keynote Speaker from Quantico Coaching, both session offered invaluable insights on ways managers can craft teams that thrive on collaboration, synergy and shared purpose. Block by Block utilizes Patrick Lencioni’s team-building philosophy outlined in his book The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues. It suggests three virtues that define exemplary team players: humility, hunger and people smarts. Conference attendees were given Patrick’s book to take home, read and begin putting the principals into practice to continue building great teams at their home programs.

A wall of pictures and Ambassadors of the Month Headshots.

SF Travel spends a lot of time building their Ambassador Team’s culture and serves as a great example for other programs.

Key Performance Indicators: Blair McBride, Derreck Hughes

This year, Block by Block set a new company-wide standard process for determining the performance of employees and programs across the board by establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). KPIs give a broader snapshot of overall performance that goes beyond just seeing things individually, instead offering a complete picture of how a program is operating as a whole. Some KPIs introduced by Blair and Derreck included: revenue, risk/safety, human resources, customer satisfaction, the SMART System and more.

Blair, President, emphasized how KPIs allow us to look for patterns in outcomes and behavior to improve overall performance for Block by Block as a whole. KPIs will begin being used to assess programs nationwide in the coming months, guaranteeing that the services we provide our customers are up to par with the exemplary Block by Block standard we are known for.

Stop. Think. Act. Program: John Koch, Carin Cardone

Safety is a priority at Block by Block, and one of the ways we prioritize it is through our Stop. Think. Act. Program. Part of the program is tracking the frequency of unsafe incidents. Traditionally, we have used wristbands for this program that indicate either 2+ years (green), 1+ year (yellow) or >1 year (black) without incident by their color. Now, however, as John, Central Division Vice President, and Carin revealed, a flag will be hung in every operations center that is either green, yellow or black, corresponding to time without incident.

While we want all of our programs to strive for green flags, we understand that some incidents will occur and we do our best to train and prepare our teams to react appropriately or work to prevent them in the first place. For this reason, there are new additions to this program, including updated Safety Talks and Clarified Reporting Tools. There will be Safety Summits four times annually, beyond just our traditional Safety Day, that are fun and engaging gatherings where safety and recent incidents are discussed. New Safety Captains and Safety Committee Members will disperse safety responsibilities across every team. Further safety standards will be enforced by regular Site Safety Inspections that are a part of new KPIs.

A group of uniformed Ambassadors stand by a framed Green flag.

Since getting home, our Ambassador Teams have been sending us photos with their new flags. Here, Downtown Greensboro Ambassadors proudly show off their green Stop. Think. Act. flag, representing 2+ years with no incidents!

SMART 2.0: Tina Durbin, Manny Singh

Connect & Share also featured the first live demo of SMART 2.0, which is set to begin rolling out to our customers this summer. Tina, Customer Success Manager-SMART, and Manny, Lead Product Owner from SMS Holdings, have been working tirelessly at revitalizing the SMAT System. SMART 2.0 will set a new global standard for data collection and reporting software for public spaces. This was a process nearly two years in the making with developers Cube84, who are well-known in the placemaking industry for their work with District360. The revamped SMART System will feature an enhanced user experience for mobile and desktop, a highly intuitive command center, bilingual integration and real-time notifications sent from the public to field Ambassadors. Essential naming conventions will also be added for ease of searchability and long-term data organization. It is set to roll out in June/July of this year and promises to improve usability and efficiency for logging and storing data.

Kate Robinson and Marisa Rodriguez discussed with Chip the dichotomy of their two neighborhoods.

Panel Discussions

The learning sessions were broken each day by a panel discussion led by Block by Block West Coast Division Vice President – and San Francisco enthusiast – Chip. Local industry experts discussed the challenges facing placemaking operations and how to plot solutions.

 

Defining San Francisco Challenges and Plotting Solutions

Steve Gibson (President of Urban Place Consulting), Paul Frentsos (Chief Operating Officer of San Francisco Travel) and Chris Corgas (Deputy Director of Economic Development for the City and County of San Francisco) discussed the city’s struggles with balancing a booming economy while struggling to provide basic needs to some of its most vulnerable residents.

A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

San Francisco neighborhoods can differ vastly, while only being a few blocks apart. This panel with Kate Robinson (Executive Director of Tenderloin Community Benefit District) and Marisa Rodriguez (Chief Executive Officer of Union Square Alliance) outlined some key differences between their respective neighborhoods – one experiencing widespread, open drug use and the other a bustling tourist district – and the challenges they each face. Managers would experience firsthand the neighborhood sights during the afternoon session walking tours.

Walking tours were led by local experts: the SF Travel Ambassadors.

Walking Tours

Seeing the City at the Street Level

We couldn’t bring our teams to San Francisco without letting them explore everything the city has to offer. Our Managers spent the afternoons on guided tours through Downtown San Francisco to see our operations in action and the impact Block by Block Ambassadors have on their public spaces. They also got an in-depth look at some of the challenges facing many of our public spaces from around the country and what some people are doing to find solutions. We saw firsthand the impact of urban placemaking in transforming public spaces to be more vibrant and inviting for those who live, work and visit downtown San Francisco.

A group of Managers prepare to take a walking tour.

Market Street Track: SF Travel, Moscone Center and The East Cut

SF Travel Director of Operations, Paulita Elliott, led a presentation on how she makes her SF Travel program unique through employee engagement, community programming and team building. SF Travel Ambassadors provide essential hospitality to tourists throughout San Francisco. Their welcoming, outgoing demeanor makes visitors feel comfortable and at ease asking for assistance. Managers learned from Paulita ways to improve Ambassador morale, create a strong team culture and  some of the ins and outs of SF Travel’s behind-the-scenes operations.

At the Moscone Center, managers were able to see some new equipment Block by Block has been rolling out to the field nationwide. Through a new partnership with Tenax International, Block by Block has begun delivering new, maneuverable electronic vehicles that pick-up litter and leaf debris. The machines are clean, green and – important for city neighborhoods – quiet.

While touring The East Cut, managers saw the impact developing unused space can have on a neighborhood. The Crossing at East Cut was formerly a bus depot, but had ceased being used. With much thanks to efforts of Block by Block’s Moe Tinoifili and James Laqui, The East Cut was developed into a community park with pickleball courts, a soccer field, an open-air gym and more. While this development was only meant to be temporary, the community rallied around it enough to make part of it permanent, even after development of a new building in the adjoining lot is complete. Managers learned a lot about how intentionally-developed placemaking can impact a community.

Two men stand next to a street cleaning machine called Tenax.

Bob Martins, Region 915 Maintenance Mechanic, and Clayton Ratledge, Regional Vice President, stand beside Union Square’s brand new Tenax Maxwind.

Tenderloin Track: Union Square Dispatch, Tenderloin Neighborhood and Outreach Support Services

Union Square Member Services, also known as Dispatch, operates out of the same building as SF Travel, so managers returned to the historic Flood Building to learn about how Ambassadors are dispatched to community requests. Calls come into the Dispatch Center and are dispersed based on need to appropriate Ambassadors or community partnership organizations.

As the group continued their tour to the Tenderloin Neighborhood, the scene changed drastically from the tourist-bustling neighborhood of Union Square. The Tenderloin is home to many small, single-room occupancy apartments that share a bathroom at the end of the hall, so many residents will hangout on the sidewalks during the day. The narrow sidewalks of the Tenderloin have become a mecca for people sitting and lying down. They were full of individuals experiencing homelessness, open-air drug use and even a tent here and there. During the tour of the neighborhood, the group had to step over people or squeeze past people and tents on the crowded sidewalks.

The group learned of an initiative begun by the community called “Safe Passage,” where community members ensure children get to and from school or daycare by leading them from place to place with a leader at the front and back. It has wide community backing and ensures children get where they need to be safely. They learned about the passion of community who call the Tenderloin home and take great pride in its history by making it a better place for all through community parks and other initiatives.

Local outreach in the neighborhood was also discussed that expanded on the panel session from Steve, Paul and Chris on Defining San Francisco Challenges and Plotting Solutions.

A man in a safety vest speaks to a group.

Tenderloin Community Benefit District Director of People and Culture spoke about community efforts in the district.

Closing Out the Conference

As Block by Block does, we had lots of fun. And, of course, we made sure to celebrate all the amazing individuals who make our organization so special.

Block by Block Regional Vice Presidents chose two outstanding managers from each region as Rookie ofthe Year and Frank Zammarelli MVP of the Year. These individuals represent the best of the best in Block by Block leadership for their dedication to their team and program. The overall winner of the Rookie of the Year went to Operations Manager (OM) Jason Stewart of Ybor City in Tampa, FL. Sonja Brunner, OM of Downtown Santa Cruz in CA received the award for MVP of the Year. We are so proud of these two and of all our nominees for the work they do each day in their districts! The other nominees included:

As a company, Block by Block has always set the standard for Ambassador services. We believe in our past success and we recognize the importance of our present to impact the future of public space service delivery. We take that responsibility very seriously and that’s why we always continue to train, excite and stimulate our managers with new and innovative ideas to make our industry better from the ground up.

We consider this Connect & Share one of our absolute best, and we look forward to seeing how the seeds we planted in our managers in San Francisco bloom into creative, energized outcomes in their  programs across the country.

Posted on Monday February 26, 2024 by Downtown Santa Monica

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Bridging Gaps through Empowerment, Resources and Compassion

Headshot of Outreach Coordinator Donovan“It’s brought very sincere moments for me that have opened my eyes and makes me really love the work that my team and I do,” Downtown Santa Monica (DTSM) Outreach Coordinator Donovan Wilkes said reflecting on his work with individuals experiencing homelessness.

Through determination, repeat interactions and immense patience, Donovan and his team of Outreach Ambassadors in DTSM make a real difference in the lives of people who are unhoused by connecting them with community resources.

Every day, Donovan loads his backpack with supplies to serve street residents in DTSM and then hits the streets on foot. His typical walking route includes Downtown’s Promenade and other hotspots where he finds some familiar faces — the regulars of the street community — hanging out. His goal each day is to meet and greet people who are unhoused, offer them connections to resources and generally form relationships with them.

When speaking to someone, he always asks if they “know anyone” who might be looking for services. By asking if they know someone and not if they need the services themselves, the people he talks to don’t feel pressured by his presence. If they’re interested in information, Donovan will share it, but if they’re not, he’ll just carry on with his walk and plan to try again another day. For the regulars, he’ll just see how they’re doing or if anything new is going on.

These conversations are generally light and friendly. As he makes his way through the district, he radios his other team members or messages them on their WhatsApp group to see what is happening in the other areas covered by the team. He keeps a lookout for other social service providers to say hello or join forces and walk together to nurture a working relationship toward a common goal of providing solutions for people on the streets.

Donovan has worked with Block by Block (BBB) off and on since 2015, first as a Safety Ambassador in West Hollywood and later an Outreach Specialist for Westwood in 2017. At Westwood, he got the Outreach Program up and running and was promoted to Operations Manager within two years, where he stayed until 2020. After a brief hiatus working in the non-profit field, Donovan returned to BBB in 2022 and began working with DTSM as an Outreach Coordinator, where he leads a small but mighty team of three Outreach Ambassadors.

Headshots of Ambassadors Amy, Michael and Marc

The Outreach Team and the Area They Cover

BBB’s dynamic Outreach Team led by Donovan consists of three dedicated Outreach Ambassadors — Amy, Michael and Marc — who all worked in community outreach before they joined the team. Their experience and pre-existing relationships with social service providers have helped prepare them for the work they do each day.

The DTSM Outreach Team efforts are focused on downtown and three parks: Palisades, Reed and Tongva. The parks offer an enticing environment for members of the street population with places to sit, lay down or hide — all with less enforcement than downtown. Palisades Park also faces the ocean, providing a scenic view for transients just passing through the district and local street residents alike.

Beyond this core team, BBB provides the added resource of an experienced outreach expert in Director of Outreach, Chico Lockhart. Chico has an uncanny ability to mix humor and fun with serious, informative, real-world training. He is an asset to all BBB Outreach Teams nationwide, providing valuable insight, direction and advice. He travels to check in with BBB Outreach Programs across the country and meets with the teams virtually every month for essential mental health training, collaborative discussions and more.

“The [DTSM] team has a great leader who is very knowledgeable about services and how to get people help in the community.” Chico said. “Donovan is also spearheading meetings with the city/DTSM to discuss system gaps and trying to find ways to collaborate.”

One way Donovan illustrates these gaps in services is through data. Data plays a large role in understanding the unhoused crisis and working toward solutions for service providers, urban placemaking organizations and stakeholders alike. While the real impact is on the lives of individuals being served at the street level, data is essential to prove the value of the work being done each day by the team and to illustrate why additional services might be needed in the community. Some of this information can also be added to BBB’s proprietary SMART System to produce data and reports for district stakeholders detailing the impact the team has on the community.

The Outreach Team utilizes SMART System’s “Persons” tool to track the Top Ten people seen and interacted with in the district. Outreach Ambassadors will go over the Top Ten list monthly, making sure the team is aligned with how they are engaging with the individuals they see most frequently. Data can also show if there are any shortcomings in community-wide service delivery, if businesses have repeat incidents with the same people, the number of individuals seen using drugs in the open, interactions made and other pertinent figures.

An Outreach Worker speaks to a woman sitting down.

Outreach Ambassador Amy speaks with a street resident.

The Things They Carry: Snack Packs, Flyers, Narcan and More

Each member of the DTSM Outreach Team carries a backpack with essentials for whatever they might encounter on their daily walks. In their backpack, they have what they refer to as “Snack Packs,” a prepackaged drawstring bag that includes water, an electrolyte drink, protein shake, tuna or chicken salad, chips, granola bar and, most importantly, Donovan’s business card.

These packs help get people essential vitamins and nutrients they may be lacking while informing them of local resources and service organizations that are listed on the back of Donovan’s card. Their purpose is to show individuals on the street that our team is here to help them find long-term service solutions that can guide them from Point A to Point B.

Also in their backpacks are gloves and first aid supplies, hygiene kits and service flyers. The flyers share information on different providers in the area and the specific services they offer, as well as schedules for available services. Donovan stresses the importance of not only putting information in their hands, but making sure information is accurate. Having the right information, Donovan says, is one of the secrets to a successful Outreach Team.

“A very big difference that my team makes for the community is we provide accurate and supportive information to those at the street level,” Donovan said. “They do know where to go and we are constantly motivating people. The information that we provide, but also the drive we provide to people who are on the streets, letting them know, encouraging them to get ahead of the system and not fall victim to the system.”

One final item that Outreach Team Members carry is a lifesaving tool called Narcan. Narcan is a medicine that can quickly reverse a narcotics overdose. All team members have been trained to use Narcan. Since they have started carrying it in their packs and storing it at podiums throughout the district, they have responded to six overdoses, five of which they were able to successfully reverse with the medicine.

In fact, on the same day Marc was trained to use Narcan, he reversed an overdose by himself —quite likely saving the person’s life.

“Overdoses are happening at alarming rates, not just in Santa Monica,” Donovan said. “Being able to actually respond to someone experiencing an overdose—I commend my team very much. I applaud my team for that–being able to take action in times that are life and death, giving [people] a second chance to kick addiction.”

According to The American Journal of Medicine, from 1999 to 2020 overdose deaths in the US more than quadrupled from 6.9 per 100,000 deaths to 30 per 100,000. The US also had more overdose deaths from May 2022 to May 2023 than any other 12-month period in history. Narcan is a powerful resource that helps BBB Outreach Ambassadors fight this fatal problem at the street level.

A man in a suit holds an award in front of a Santa Monica Police Department logo.

Donovan received The Citizen Impact Award from Santa Monica’s Police Department for his assistance reversing an overdose in 2023.

To read more about Donovan and his work in DTSM, click here.

Getting The Right Information: Advocacy and Nurturing Relationships with Community Providers

Outreach workers are key to helping connect those on the streets with services throughout the city, so those referrals need to reflect accurate information. If a member of the team were to give out incorrect information on services, that could spread quickly through the street population and the team could lose their credibility and respect.

“DTSM’s Outreach Team not only focuses on relationship building for those experiencing homelessness, but also with the local service providers,” Donovan says. “By building these relationships, a sense of trust is created instantly when making warm handoffs from DTSM’s Outreach Team to the local service providers.”

The team often goes into the field alongside workers from various community organizations to meet new people together, make recommendations for services or connect individuals they may already know with the other’s resources.

When not in the field, Donovan spends time researching new resources available to individuals experiencing homelessness. If he finds a new resource, he’ll reach out to the provider to begin fostering a relationship with them, asking to meet for coffee so he can learn more about what they do.

Some of the community partners DTSM Outreach currently works closely with includes:

  • The People Concern – a leading housing provider
  • The Salvation Army – provides a meal program almost daily and assists people going through detox
  • Safe Place for Youth – for youths to get into housing quickly, sometimes even within a week
  • St. Joseph Center – another leading housing provider
  • West Coast Care – focusing on family reunification by helping individuals find their families and problem solve together
  • Department of Mental Health – take on clients who have more severe mental health issues
  • Chrysalis – a non-profit assisting with employment
  • Clare Matrix – a treatment program for people battling substance abuse
  • SMPD’s HLP Unit – an initiative that provides special training and awareness to police regarding people who are experiencing homelessness

“DTSM’s Outreach Team has established strong relationships with those experiencing homeless in DTSM,” Donovan says. “These relationships have resulted from the team continuously checking in with the unhoused and being knowledgeable of resources in the area. By creating these relationships, the Outreach Team is recognized as a reliable support of the [unhoused] community with the [unhoused] population now referring others to inquire about services with DTSM’s Outreach Team.”

BBB Outreach Members are able to work in tandem with social service providers through use of Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), a local information technology system used to collect client-level data and data on the provision of housing and services to individuals and families at risk of and experiencing homelessness.

Social service providers across the country enter data on specific individuals experiencing homelessness into HMIS, including providers they are working with, medical history, where they are from or were last located, whether someone is looking for them and much more. Chico was instrumental in getting DTSM’s Outreach Team access to HMIS, which is usually only given to social service providers.

“It’s typically places like shelters, mental health providers, substance abuse treatment, housing providers and outreach workers at nonprofit agencies,” Chico said. “This is a way for them to track who is helping people and also helps get more funding for those agencies based on metrics…We are not service providers like entities within the Continuum of Care, so we act as a referral source, and we are able to document who is on the streets to keep them on the radar for housing.”

Chico continued, “HMIS is a game changer because it allows our Outreach Workers to get our unhoused people on the housing list without having to depend on other entities. It also allows us to see where our clients are in the process, whether they’re in shelter, case management, substance abuse treatment or housing. We can also see if they have been approved for housing, so we are able to then find our client and do what is needed for the housing before the voucher window expires.”

Donovan’s Team can assess resources they should recommend to a person, add notes, photos or documentation into the system and even help locate missing street residents.

In February of 2023, Donovan’s Team was instrumental in locating someone who was considered “lost.” The Consulate of Sweden came to DTSM looking for a Swedish citizen who had been living in the US for three years as a street resident. In collaboration with the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) and BBB’s DTSM Ambassador Program, Donovan was able to locate the missing man.

“[The citizen] was transported to and put into a motel by DTSM where SMPD was able to transport [him] to and from The Consulate’s office to prepare his passport and flight tickets. [He] has since returned to his home in Sweden,” Donovan said.

An Outreach Worker squats while speaking to a street resident.

Donovan speaks to a member of the street population.

Perceptions and Realities in DTSM

The City of Santa Monica conducts a yearly “Homeless Count” to determine the number of individuals experiencing homelessness. Between 2022 and 2023, the number of individuals living on the street increased 15%. Donovan co-led the 2024 count, and he said early results appear similar to or slightly higher than the numbers from 2023. He said while data has shown that people experiencing homelessness are finding housing, there are also many individuals exiting housing back to the streets.

“Affordable housing isn’t the most affordable.” Donovan says.

Housing rates have increased, the cost of living is not cheap and there is not enough affordable housing in Los Angeles or Santa Monica. He says that these factors, mental health and drug abuse are major contributors to the number of people living on the streets.

“Even spending a week on the street, your mental health will decrease drastically; living on the street puts you in survival mode,” he said.

When asked about the perception of individuals living on the street versus reality, Donovan says many people just want to be left alone and aren’t necessarily a problem to the public.

“There are a good amount of people who have mental health [concerns] and mix that with substances, can be frightening. Many people are just living their lives and don’t want to be bothered,” he said.

Because the Outreach Team has relationships with individuals living on the street, they are often called to de-escalate “scary” situations. They can address the person who might be causing a scene or other incident by name and ask them what’s going on, putting onlookers at ease and finding a resolution without police involvement.

Donovan recalls a time when his team was called to help with a “notable character” in the district suffering from mental health struggles.

“He did not engage well. He was racist…He did not do well with women either…so, there were gaps with engaging,” Donovan said. “He had severe mental health issues and was a high functioning substance user.”

While he wasn’t the nicest, he did want to get off the streets. So, the team was determined to help him. At one point, they managed to secure him housing, but he was kicked out for his behavior, making it unlikely he would be offered housing again. The team worked tirelessly with him to change his ways and, ultimately, were able to encourage him to take the medicine he had been prescribed to help with the mental health issues he was experiencing.

“He took the medicine [and] his behaviors changed drastically.” After that, Donovan said, he was admitted to housing and is still there today.

What’s Next for DTSM Outreach?

Donovan has many goals for his team in 2024 beyond connecting those experiencing homelessness to local service providers. First and foremost, he wants to build an even stronger relationship with The City of Santa Monica to make the best use of their investment in street-level outreach — ensuring the Human Service Department and DTSM Outreach efforts are in line with one another. To do this, Donovan aims to meet with Santa Monica’s Human Service Department, share DTSM Outreach success stories and plan collaborative events.

Another hope for the future? To get at least one dedicated bed in a local shelter where the team can send a person in need. Currently, the Outreach Team must work through other providers to get individuals in shelters. Donovan dreams of his team being able to directly provide that service to at least one person.

The Big Takeaway

When faced with a problem as large as homelessness, it is hard to imagine a way to effect real change. Donovan and his team are the boots on the ground doing just that — putting in the time, building relationships and trust with people living on the streets and guiding them in the right direction to live better lives.

What Donovan finds rewarding about his work is these relationships he builds and the growth he sees in many thanks to the help of the right connections. He watches and reflects on each person’s journey from those first interactions when they may be down on their luck, to those moments when they are housed and on the other side.

While the work may not always be easy, Donovan and his team are dedicated to making a real difference in DTSM. More than anything, Donovan wants people to know his team’s purpose: “To bridge gaps in communities by empowering people and promoting resources with a compassionate approach.”

An Outreach Worker squats to check on a sleeping street resident.

Ambassador Marc checks on a street resident.

 

Posted on Tuesday January 2, 2024 by

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Who You Gonna Call? Dispatch Services!

A Look at Block by Block Managed Dispatch Service Programs for Hollywood Partnership and Union Square

Two people in black look at three computer screens.

Two Dispatch Team Members look at computers at the Hollywood Partnership Dispatch Center.

Block by Block is known for delivering exceptional service in public spaces, but our operations go far beyond what is seen at the street level. We operate sophisticated, multifaceted programs that support our teams, customers and their stakeholders in the field. With the addition of dispatch services, we can elevate our service level capacity for our customers.

While most Block by Block Ambassador Programs across the country respond to calls and requests for services, we are seeing an increased need for formalized dispatch services for the districts we serve. Urban place management organizations (UPMO) have brought dispatch services to the community level to fill gaps in services provided by city resources.

District-led dispatch services operate much like traditional emergency response — answering calls, dispatching teams, monitoring surveillance and providing an added layer of support for the community. They also lend to the customer service experience by doubling as call-in concierge services for business, residents and visitors alike. Our teams are equipped to handle requests for service ranging from cleanups to intercepting individuals causing disruptions in the public space.

Dispatch services also have a positive impact on businesses and stakeholders in a community. Public Safety escorts create a better employee experience in today’s tough job market, immediate response to calls means the frustrations of street level incidents are easier to manage (aiding employee retention) and the reports generated by this work can be directly tied back to the specific properties, enabling UPMOs to show the value of the work and identify areas where resources could be more effectively deployed.

Supplementing services

For many UPMOs across the country, bringing services like cleaning, public safety and dispatch in-house has allowed districts to create better outcomes for their community by supplementing amenities currently provided by the city. By utilizing in-house Dispatch Services, district users can expect quicker response times while preventing unnecessary calls to the police department.

In January of 2023, The Hollywood Partnership (HP) in Los Angeles unveiled its new Community Dispatch Center which aimed to streamline cleaning, safety and hospitality efforts across the district. It operates around-the-clock with about 90 Safety Ambassadors, Cleaning Ambassadors and Dispatch Members working at any given time. General Manager Sergio Andrades says the community is “like Vegas—never stopping, never sleeping.”

In their first six months, HP Dispatch received over 9,400 calls for service, including requests for welfare checks, cleanups, safety escorts and more (Hollywood Partnership Community Dispatch Center 6-Month Update). Sergio said most of the calls that come through in the evening are for safety escorts and requests to intervene with members of the street population.

In many communities across the country, if a member of the street population is causing a disturbance, the police are called. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, they receive 140,000 calls related to homelessness each year. This occupies police time, can escalate the situation unnecessarily and upset the unhoused individual further.

Because our Ambassadors spend considerable time in their districts, they are known to many members of the community — including the unhoused. When responding to non-emergency calls, Ambassadors can use their established relationships and de-escalation training to handle matters with care and compassion. The Dispatch Center can also help connect individuals with the proper social service agency while monitoring the situation as it unfolds at the street level.

Working with UPMOs, Block by Block has found implementing operations focused on community-based resources for the unhoused and increased safety initiatives, like dispatch centers, is working to enhance perceptions of public safety for our customers all while improving quality of life for the community at large.

“I wanted to commend you on all the work you all put in everyday to make Hollywood Boulevard a better place.” Hollywood resident Sydney Koepke shared via email. “[Before the Ambassadors], it felt super unsafe and dirty. I see a huge difference every day…in how Hollywood is being turned around. I really appreciate you all for continuing to help Hollywood become a safer, cleaner place for all of us.”

Three Hollywood Partnership Ambassadors dressed in different uniforms walk down the street, smiling.

Hollywood Partnership Ambassadors walk through the district.

Synergy of Services

Block by Block launched hospitality services for HP in 2019 with a team of just 14 Ambassadors. By early 2023, Block by Block expanded services to include cleaning, safety and dispatch, growing the program to 90 employees. The client, already familiar with Block by Block, knew working with one company who can fulfill a variety of service needs effectively is easier than consulting with multiple companies to complete tasks that often overlap.

We’ve seen a similar transition for the Union Square Alliance in San Francisco. Block by Block has provided Ambassador Services in various capacities for the improvement district since 2015. Upon contract renewal in October 2023, Block by Block expanded programming to include Member Services — dispatch and other community resources — which was previously managed in-house by Union Square staff. Block by Block not only took over operational duties for the Member Services, but also administrative responsibilities like human resources and payroll for the team.

An added benefit is having a cohesive program all under the operational oversight of one person — General Manager Lance Goree. Lance oversees all elements of the Union Square program including cleaning, hospitality, placemaking and dispatch services. Not only does this provide budgetary benefits for customers, but also elicits a unified response to calls for service.

According to Sergio, Block by Block’s ability to manage Dispatch Services “sets us apart” from other service providers. Without a dedicated Dispatch Team, handling calls for requests falls on UPMO management or the Ambassador Team. These calls can interrupt the busy workload of these individuals, leading to difficulty following up and making sure tasks are completed. With devoted Dispatchers, requests are always completed from beginning to end.

“Our Dispatch Team is waiting for your call,” Sergio said. “They help alleviate requests coming in and they trust that the requests will be completed by the teams in the field. They trust but verify by calling and getting photos. They then follow up with the people who made the requests.”

 

Expanding Community Partnerships 

The HP Community Dispatch Center is unique in that it is a collaborative partnership with the City of Los Angeles, Council District 13, Los Angeles County, LAPD and Hollywood 4WRD. When a call or request comes in, depending on the need of the call, the dispatch team directs the call to one of the aforementioned agencies or to BBB Safety, Hospitality and Cleaning Ambassadors. This allows requests and incidents to be funneled to the appropriate channels which are best suited to handle them most effectively.

A March 2022 survey conducted by the International Downtown Association identified addressing homelessness as the top priority for its U.S. members. For HP, that means working to address homelessness, addiction and mental health concerns for unhoused people in the district by connecting them with programs that can provide services to get the help they need. As calls come in regarding individuals who are unhoused, they can be directed to those in the partnership who work with the specific need.

Recently an assault resulting in a head injury was reported to the Community Dispatch Center. An HP Ambassador was the first to respond and consequently called 911 for an elevated response due to the violent nature of the assault. LAPD response took 30 minutes, during which the Ambassador Team mobilized to keep eyes on the suspect and monitor his location.

The Ambassador had taken a photo of the victim and collected all pertinent information to give to LAPD upon their arrival on the scene, which was after the victim had been transported to the hospital. The Ambassadors directed the LAPD officers to the suspect and subsequently an arrest was made.

“If it weren’t for [the Ambassadors] sticking around and gathering all the information while concurrently monitoring the suspect’s location, LAPD would not have been able to make an arrest and it’s possible the incident wouldn’t even have been documented, much less an arrest effected,” Angela La Riva, Vice President of Operations for HP, said.

“Due to our footprint in the [Hollywood Entertainment District], we are often the first to receive reports of violence and theft. With our [law enforcement] partners being so severely understaffed, we are often tasked to assist in connecting victims with [the police department] and providing important information so an investigation can be conducted. We play an important role in keeping Hollywood safe. This is fantastic work and a great example of how our team can partner with our public safety partners and help victims in the community.”

A diagram beginning with City of Los Angeles Base Services divided into Properties, Businesses, Residents, and Patrons on the first level, then into The Hollywood Partnership Community Dispatch Center which goes into the Camera Network to LAPD, but also to Safety, Hospitality, Custodial or Homelessness Ambassadors/programs.

The Hollywood Partnership Dispatch Center disperses call and email requests through a variety of channels to ensure appropriate responses. (Hollywood Partnership Community Dispatch Center 6-Month Update)

 

Quick, Efficient, Response

Having a dedicated Dispatch Team makes a significant difference in the ability to respond to requests for services. Both HP and Union Square Alliance utilize software that ensures every request is followed through from beginning to end. This guarantees service delivery for community stakeholders, promising districts they always get what they pay for.

The average response time for a request to HP Dispatch is 8-minutes (Community Dispatch Center 6-Month Update). Two HP Dispatchers monitor phones 24 hours a day, seven days a week, awaiting calls and emails from district stakeholders, visitors, businesses or residents.

Once a request is received, it is inputted into a software application that alerts the Ambassador Team of the request. The team will respond by priority based on the severity or urgency of the request. For instance, a request to handle a disgruntled individual would take precedence over a graffiti removal request. Sergio said lately there have been many calls requesting trash cleanup, and in June alone his teams collected 78 tons of garbage.

When Dispatch Team Members arrive for their shift, they review the app to ensure requests are being taken care of and reports are being closed. To document a request’s completion, HP Ambassadors will send photos of the completed work in the app or to Block by Block’s proprietary data collection and reporting software, the SMART System.

A Block by Block employee in a blue uniform sweeps the sidewalk in Union Square.

A Union Square Ambassador sweeps up a mess.

Like HP, Union Square Member Services operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Phone lines are monitored around the clock to ensure all requests are heard, documented and handled. Union Square also has an elaborate security camera system in place the team monitors for unfolding situations or possible threats that may need to be addressed by Ambassadors, security personnel or police officers.

As calls and requests come in, the team will triage them based on priority and to which department they need to be directed. Requests involving members of the street population are forwarded to the security team, while those that can be handled by Ambassadors are sent to them accordingly. If the situation escalates or calls for it, it will be handed over to local police officers. The requests are dispersed via radio, a queue on SMART System or by calling Team Leads directly on their work phone for requests that are more private in nature.

Union Square uses District360 to manage requests. District360 is a Customer Relationship Management system that works directly with Salesforce that BBB Ambassadors use on their devices. Like in HP, not all requests are for BBB Ambassadors. So, requests are always first entered into Salesforce before being distributed to the responsible parties who may be using other software programs or response plans.

When a request is inputted into Salesforce for an Ambassador, Ambassadors will be pinged in District360 on their handheld devices to notify them that something needs to be addressed. Most of the time, Member Service Team Members will follow up to confirm tasks have been completed, ensuring guaranteed service delivery from beginning to end for stakeholders in the district.

As the landscape of public spaces continues to evolve, the importance of community-based services remains a priority for many UPMOs. Block by Block is focused on providing Ambassador Programs that go beyond clean and safe, and Dispatch Centers like those in Union Square and Hollywood show the value of having a service partner who can deliver on bettering districts.

If you want to discuss how BBB can provide Dispatch Services for your district or community, reach out to Aaron Perri at aperri@blockbyblock.com . 

A Block by Block employee in a blue uniform at Union Square speaks to a business woman.

A Union Square Ambassador provides hospitality.

Posted on Tuesday November 21, 2023 by

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Semu One Bear: Respecting Heritage and a Heritage of Respect

Semu One Bear, Regional Vice President of Northern California

“The Chumash used every bit of what Mother Nature gave them. I am so proud of that culture that I have.”

November is Native American Heritage Month, a month dedicated to recognizing the many contributions Native Americans made and continue to make to The United States. This month, we would like to highlight Block by Block (BBB) Regional Vice President of Northern California, Semu One Bear, who spent his formative years growing up on a Native American reservation in Southern California.

A Love that Crossed the Pacific to Chumash Land

“The teepee we lived in and that’s my dad on the right holding the bow and my grandfather is on his right” – Semu

Semu’s history may seem unique to some, although to him – it’s just the way he was raised. He grew up in a culturally diverse household made up of both Native American and Japanese traditions. Semu’s father was a member of the Chumash Tribe in Southern California, while his mother is Japanese. His father was stationed in Japan while he served in the military, and after serving he later returned to study Japanese. It was then that he met Semu’s mother and the two fell in love.

According to Semu, because of Japanese perceptions of The United States after WWII, his mother’s family did not approve of the relationship at the time. So, the two eloped and moved to The United States, where they would start building their life and family together on land that Semu’s grandfather, a full-blooded Chumash Tribe member, had secured from the United States government.

The Chumash Tribe are some of the original true Californians.

“The Chumash very much used a lot of the gifts that Mother Earth gave them through the ocean. They used natural tar that washes up on shore for their boats and canoes. The land in California provided a lot for the people and they lived off the land very beautifully.”

To this day, you can see locations throughout California named after Native American names, so there is the opportunity to remember the history of the original Californians if one looks close enough.

“This was once a country where we lived off the earth and treated Mother Earth with the respect she deserves. Hopefully, people will eventually realize that and we can go back to that.”

In Chumash culture it is typical to be named after your grandfather, not your father. For this reason, Semu was named after his grandfather, a well-respected Medicine Man in the Chumash Tribe.

Life on the Rez: The Native American Way of Life

“That’s my sister on the far left and I’m standing next to her” – Semu

While living on “the Rez,” as Semu and his sister called it, Tribe Members stuck together and were very close.

“All of the men in the camp were my uncles, I consider them family. It was a very free, very spiritual upbringing,” Semu said.

One school Semu attended while living on Chumash land was a two-room schoolhouse with just a classroom and a gym where first grade to high school students were taught in the same room. Students would even arrive for school on horseback.

There were times when he and his family would stay in teepees. At one point, while they had a cabin being built, they lived exclusively in the teepee until the cabin was finished.

“I loved it as a child. There was a lot of freedom growing up. I would go with the rest of the kids to the mountains and hills, hunting, fishing, and living outside like the old ways. It was very spiritual.”

“My Grandfather Semu Huaute, a Chumash medicine man and who I’m named after” – Semu

As Medicine Man, Semu’s grandfather provided alternative medicine for those who were dealing with physical or mental ailments that didn’t require a trip to the hospital. He also led spiritual ceremonies and sweat lodges.

“When you go to a sweat, you’re supposed to sweat the bad out of your body and pray to the Great Spirit in the sweat lodge. We’d run out after to go jump in the river because we were so overheated.”

Semu danced, drummed, sang and attended powwows. During powwow birthdays, the family celebrating a birthday would give out presents to the rest of the band or camp, the opposite of traditional birthday parties most of us are familiar with.

Even though Semu and his family eventually left the reservation around the time he was in middle school, they did not stop participating in Chumash traditions.

Home Life Growing Up: Japanese and Chumash Worlds Collide

“My mom is on the far right standing next to my older sister” – Semu

Semu’s father was a strict military man who taught Semu and his sister to respect their elders and not to talk back, helping lead them down the right path. He worked for the school district and held Semu and his sister to high standards of studying and participating in their cultural heritages.

After moving off the reservation, the family still participated in powwows, including The Stanford University Powwow that is held every year. Just to participate in Powwow dances, Semu would have to spend three hours, twice a week, practicing dances after school. Semu’s father also made traditional Native American turquoise jewelry to wear and sell at these events.

In addition to teaching his children his Native American heritage, Semu’s father also devoted time to raising Semu and his sister with his wife’s Japanese culture.

Since his father spoke fluent Japanese and his mother was Japanese, they only spoke Japanese in the house. Semu and his sister weren’t allowed to speak English at home.

Semu remembers being “forced” to study Japanese reading and writing and feeling bitter about it at the time. Now, however, he realizes what an advantage it is to know a second language and is grateful for the work he did to learn Japanese and speak it fluently to this day.

Semu’s father also wouldn’t allow them to participate in sports, so instead Semu studied Aikido, a Japanese martial art that empowers one to overcome their ego to prevent violence when possible. At one point, he did sign up for wrestling with the sneaky help of his mother. But, once his dad found out, he had to quit.

“That’s me with the Buffalo skull shield” -Semu

“He wasn’t trying to be cruel. He just wanted us to be more traditional,” Semu reflected.

The family celebrated traditional Japanese holidays like Hinamatsuri (Girls’ Day) and Tango no Sekku (Boys’ Day) to remind them of the old ways. They also participated in Obon Festival, which honors deceased ancestors, much like the Mexican holiday El Día de Los Muertos.

During middle school, Semu had long hair, something that signifies strength to Native Americans. He said this and growing up with a name like Semu One Bear brought him the wrong kind of attention and he would get teased and end up in fights.

Semu remembers experiencing discrimination in those days.

“It was different back then. It wasn’t cool in the 70s, 80s or 90s to be Native American. You were still considered a lower-class person then… Native Americans had a bag stigma. My dad dressed Native American—with the hat, shirt with a choker. Once, we were at a store near Red Wind and a guy called my dad a [racial slur]. My dad got upset and went over to educate him.”

While he endured bullying and, at times, discrimination, today, Semu has nothing but gratitude for the way his mother and father raised him and the respect that they instilled in him.

“I’m very connected to the Native American way of life…Every weekend, I go to nature to go hiking or camping. The love of nature and the spirituality surrounding it has followed me everywhere.”

Respect: A Way of Life into the Workplace and Beyond

While Semu no longer dances or sings, his sister and niece both dance in the Japanese Obon Festival each year, and he attends to watch them. His sister has also gotten in the habit of attending The Stanford University Powwow again, just as he and his family did when they were younger. He wants to start going back as well to support the local artisans who are doing just as he and his family used to do.

Today, Semu attributes his way of life and outlook on life to the influence of Japanese and Native American traditions during his upbringing.

“I’m very liberal in a lot of ways, I think, as far as preserving the earth. I call it Mother Earth; it is my Mother Earth. I care for the environment. I spend a lot of time outdoors. I’m conscious of recycling, making sure not to litter.”

He also believes that respect and the diverse cultural influences empowered him to be the strong leader he is today at BBB.

“I learned respect the most. In our cultures, it is all about respect. So much is based on respect. I learned respect and I carry it over to everybody. I treat a first day Cleaning Ambassador with the same respect I treat Derreck [Hughes, BBB Vice President of Operations].”

Semu also made a special point to mention that his respect extends heavily to the LGBTQIA+ Community, a community with a strong presence in the region he oversees. He intentionally works to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone working in his region.

“That one word—Respect…I use that same respect any time I deal with anyone in the workplace…I was one of the first to ask for personal pronouns and the people I asked were so happy that I asked…My childhood taught me to never judge somebody by their culture and it is important in my role to keep learning about [gender identification and pronouns] because it is all about respect.”

His connectedness to nature also influences his placemaking work, something BBB implements in many of our programs throughout California.

“I always think of the consequences of projects. The first thing I look at when I look at designer plans is the natural aspect. What are we going to do to make sure we keep the native plants and native wildlife here? How do we make something nice for everybody to enjoy, but keep in mind the river has been here long before us and will be here long after we are gone?”

Semu has worked for BBB since 2009. He began, as many of our upper management do, as an Ambassador before working his way up to Operations Manager with San Jose, Groundwerx. His drive and determined work ethic led him to being promoted to Project Manager, then Regional Director and, ultimately, Regional Vice President (RVP), his current role. As RVP, Semu oversees operations for 20 programs throughout Northern California, ensuring they all run smoothly and efficiently to BBB standards.

We are honored to have Semu in our ranks and grateful to be able to share his story. We join the country in celebrating Semu and Native American Heritage Month.

If you are interested in learning more about Chumash culture and the Tribe today, you can visit their website. There is also a lot of history that exists surrounding Semu’s grandfather Semu Huaute, as he traveled the country and world extensively sharing Chumash history and traditions. This can be found by googling his name.

Posted on Friday November 3, 2023 by

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The Changing Environments and Responsibilities of Ambassadors

Aaron Perri, Vice President of Strategic Growth

John Koch, Central Division Vice President

The world of urban place management is constantly changing, and our industry relies on evolution and collaboration to succeed. Every year, we look forward to the International Downtown Association’s (IDA) Annual Meeting to come together with our peers and work toward creating better public spaces.

The 69th Annual IDA Conference took place in early October, where many members of our Block by Block (BBB) management team attended, led sessions and connected with customers, potential customers and our many friends in the field.

John Koch, Central Division Vice President, and Aaron Perri, Vice President of Strategic Growth, led sessions focused on Ambassador operations. John presented on “The Changing Environment of the Ambassador,” and Aaron joined leaders from Visit Knoxville and Nashville Downtown Partnership (NDP) to panel “The Evolution of Ambassador Programs Since the Pandemic.”

 

The Changing Environment of the Ambassador

A DVI Ambassador smiles in front of a dinosaur skeleton during a sponsored trip to the Museum of Science and History.

In the session titled “The Changing Environment of the Ambassador,” John discussed factors that influence the daily work of Ambassadors like wages, technology, mechanical equipment and other environmental elements.

John highlighted incentives BBB utilizes to attract and retain Ambassadors. He presented the Three “M’s” of Incentivizing Ambassadors: Motivational, Meaningful and Monetary Incentives.

Motivational incentives help Ambassadors feel the importance of their work as a vital resource to their community. According to John, these incentives can include “making Ambassadors part of the problem-solving process, including them in strategy conversations and inviting them to district events with the customer.”

Downtown Vision Inc. (DVI) is one of our operations that regularly uses motivational incentives. DVI provides tickets and allows time for the Ambassador Team to experience tourist destinations for fun, team-bonding experiences that help make them experts on what to recommend to visitors who come to the district. Recently, the team went to the Museum of Science and History where they explored a local attraction they may later recommend to a visitor while bonding as a team.

DVI Ambassadors line up for their monthly community-sponsored lunch.

Continuing to make Ambassadors feel valued, BBB believes in providing meaningful incentives, like goody bags from district businesses, food truck lunches, or even gift cards for team members’ Thanksgiving dinners. Monthly, DVI community partners provide lunch or dinner to Ambassadors to show them that the community appreciates them and their work. Most recently, in mid-October, lunch was provided by First Baptist Church as the Team celebrated birthdays and Ambassador of the month.

Finally, of course, there are the monetary incentives. Beyond traditional wages or bonuses, through community partnerships in select areas, BBB has been able to provide unique benefits for our teams, like annual bus passes or the first and last month’s rent for an Ambassador living in the areas we serve.

Ensuring your team is happy is essential to retaining high-value employees. By providing incentives like these, Ambassadors feel valued and appreciated. An employee who feels valued and appreciated is an employee who is likely to stay.

 

Evolution of Ambassador Programs Since the Pandemic

Derreck Hughes, Vice President of Operations, moderated Aaron’s session on the changes in service operations since the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic. As the pandemic changed the local landscape of districts, new ideas were necessary to keep districts not just afloat but also thriving when there were noticeably fewer workers and tourists in the district.

K-Town Connect Ambassador Chase with members of the local community.

During the session, Derreck discussed sourcing new sponsors, unique partnerships and collaborators to expand and deploy street-level services. This is a concept we have seen activated in  Knoxville and Nashville, providing funds needed to implement BBB-operated Ambassador Programs to enhance public perceptions that encourage users to return to the districts.

Downtown Knoxville, K-Town Connect

Kim Bumpas, Visit Knoxville President, was essential to establishing the K-Town Connect Program. This program was created with the goal of enhancing Downtown Knoxville’s visitor and tourist experience while making it the place to host conventions. She was able to not only secure financing from the Convention and Visitors Bureau but also from both the City and County to fully fund the program.

The K-Town Connect Ambassador Program launched in May 2022, providing highly visible hospitality and quality of life services in Downtown Knoxville. After a year of successful service delivery, further interest was garnered, and the University of Tennessee (UT) signed on as a sponsoring agent. This additional sponsorship expanded K-Town Connect onto Cumberland Avenue, a main commercial thoroughfare on UT’s campus.

Nashville Downtown Partnership

Tom Turner, NDP President, introduced two ways his organization sought expanded funding for Clean and Safe Services in Downtown Nashville – one of the Nation’s fastest-growing cities.

NDP uses the Business Development Fund (BDF) which applies a 0.25% sales tax on certain goods and services sold within the downtown central business district. The BDF funds initiatives that enhance cleaning and public safety in the district. Since its launch, the BDF tax has enabled NDP to expand Clean and Safe Services and fund special security and traffic management detail within the downtown.

Through a collaborative sponsoring effort with the Music City Center, NDP has further expanded Clean and Safe Services to Lower Broadway and areas immediately adjacent to the convention center, locations that have seen a rapid influx of new development.

Innovative efforts like these can increase a district’s presence while also deepening a connection with and increasing relevance within the heart of the community.

Block by Block

An SF Travel Ambassador takes a photo for a couple.

For BBB, diversifying funding partners and expanding services into other realms outside of traditional place management boundaries will be key to maintaining vibrant, clean and safe streets into the future. BBB deploys a variety of programs across the country, including the expansion of Ambassador services to public sectors like parks and transit systems. We’ve also seen an increased interest in city-wide programs like those we operate in Louisville and San Francisco where services are not exclusive to one specific district boundary.

“Ambassadors are being utilized in other city segments outside of traditional downtowns,” Aaron said. “Parks and recreation agencies, public transit systems, visitors’ bureaus and even college campuses are all finding new ways to deploy Ambassador Programs.”

With more than 30 years of providing unique Ambassador programs for customers across the country, BBB has the experience and knowledge it takes to create one-of-a-kind, tailor-made service deployment programs that meet and exceed the changing needs of our cities.

We’ve seen a trend in many epicenters across the country where their needs have drastically changed over the last three years. As such, our Ambassador Programs have adapted.

For organizations like San Francisco (SF) Travel, which focuses on maximizing tourism and user experience in the city, recovering after COVID meant emphasizing hospitality. BBB launched the SF Travel Welcome Ambassador Program in the fall of 2021.

Welcome Ambassadors are experts on all things San Francisco. They’ve been known to answer questions in a variety of languages for non-English speaking tourists, snap photos of families from Union Square to Fisherman’s Wharf and even show the way to destinations by hopping on trolleys with direction-seeking tourists for that exceptional hospitality experience.

We often receive praise from tourists about their great experiences with our SF Travel team, like this praise from Shivangi P:

“Ambassador Emily at Ghirardelli Square not only went out of her way to drop us off at the cable car station, but she also went above and beyond to give us recommendations for other interesting places to visit during the rest of our stay in SF. I wanted to appreciate her for her help and thank you for setting up posts throughout the city to help us tourists!”

A Greenway Ambassador operates the Rose Kennedy Greenway Carousel.

BBB also services parks and recreation agencies, like the Rose Kennedy Greenway Park in Boston, MA. Greenway Ambassadors provide traditional cleaning, landscaping and snow removal services, but they also staff the park’s unique Trillium Beer Garden and Carousel amenities. Who knew operating a carousel could be an Ambassador job?

Our Ambassador services are flexible and cater to meet program demands, even as they change over time. Another non-traditional partnership that has expanded the realm of Ambassador programming is our partnership with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), which began in 2017.

MBTA Transit Ambassadors are stationed throughout the transit system to help travelers with directions, ticket purchasing and real-time travel information. These friendly team members also help operations during special events, system outages and service disruptions, ensuring the best possible service to MBTA customers during what can be stressful situations.

BBB is excited for the future of Ambassadors services as it continues to evolve and expand into new and unchartered territory. If you think expanded Ambassador services could benefit you or your stakeholders, please contact Aaron today! (aperri@blockbyblock.com)

Posted on Tuesday September 26, 2023 by Insider Look

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Bay Area Support Provides a World of Difference

Block by Block (BBB) prides itself on being a leader in the industry, serving more downtown districts and public spaces than any other competitor in the field. Part of what sets us apart is our dedication to the people we hire and the services we provide for our customers. This dedication can be seen in two individuals and the positions we have created specifically for our California Bay Area customers: Zori Nevarez as Regional Recruitment Coordinator and Bob Martins as Regional Maintenance Mechanic.

Zori and Bob are both exceptional individuals in their own rights, since even before they came to where they are now at BBB. In these roles, they provide customers with the best possible service entirely unique to BBB.

Zori Nevarez, Regional Recruitment Coordinator – A Passion for People

At her previous company, Zori was a regional manager for a retail financial company where she recruited and trained people for more than 20 years. Tired of the stress of finance and retail, she found her home here at BBB where she has been successfully recruiting and training Ambassadors for two years as Regional Recruitment Coordinator.

There are two parts to Zori’s position: recruiting and training. As far as recruiting goes, managers from various accounts will come to her with an opening. From there, she takes over posting the position on hiring sites and conducting initial interviews via Zoom or phone calls. She forwards suitable candidates back to the managers to interview and make their final choice. Once someone has been hired, she takes over again to do full-cycle onboarding and train the individuals on BBB standards and best practices for their work out in the field.

After employees have been hired, then comes the training. Every other week, Zori hosts a two-day, new-hire training for new employees from 15 accounts in the Bay Area in one central location in Union Square. Each training typically has an average of seven employees from all over the Bay Area but can have as many as 15-20 at maximum.

Training consists of videos, open dialogue and discussions about personal experiences. Zori will discuss a wide range of topics that not only include the work specific to each type of Ambassador or job title, but also important sensitive responsibilities like how to de-escalate a situation, interact with the street population and handle individuals experiencing a mental health episode.

Zori said there are benefits to having the training with Ambassadors from multiple accounts because they “can talk about the different areas and how visitors or residents affect each area and how to handle them.”

Operations Supervisor Freddie “Raven” Anderson with Union Square, San Francisco works closely with Zori as her training takes place in the same building where his account operates.

“Sending our incoming Ambassador staff upstairs to Zori for initial training is a huge advantage,” Raven said. “Often, trying to conduct in-house training during daily operations can be confusing to a new hire and there are often time constraints or distractions that causes a new employee to get less attention than what they get with Zori.”

Zori’s position is unique to BBB in that she takes the time to ensure that when someone first starts with BBB, they are trained for more than just their basic job responsibilities. Trainees not only receive the tools to do their job successfully, but they also learn about how to help those struggling with mental health issues, show visitors hospitality and more.

“When a new hire comes back to us from Zori’s training, they are up to speed on operational procedures and BBB protocols, which saves us a considerable amount of time and allows a smoother transition during the hands-on training we can provide in the field,” Raven said.

Zori’s attention to the new employees doesn’t stop after training, however. She follows up with each person’s manager to discuss employee strengths and potential weaknesses that need to be addressed in the field. She will even message the employee directly to wish them a happy first day or remind them of upcoming meetings.

When asked what she enjoys most about her job, Zori said: “I love it all; I truly love my job. So, I can’t say I have one thing.” She said that she is particularly proud that BBB gives second chance opportunities to individuals who may be facing obstacles preventing them from establishing steady work. She has even hired individuals who were living in their cars to help them get back on their feet.

“I love helping people be able to feed their families and see them successful in the various accounts,” Zori said. “I’ve seen Ambassadors I’ve hired become Team Leads, so helping them grow with the company makes me very proud.”

Bob Martins, Regional Maintenance Mechanic — “Mr. Fix It”

Bob grew up tinkering on cars with his father in the garage of their home in the 70s and 80s. He says cars were made differently back then. You could open the hood and work on them, take them apart, and put them back together. His dad was an IBM machinist by day but made working on cars the “fun stuff.”

Bob started working with a company that operated in the San Jose Downtown Association before BBB took over the account. He would watch maintenance technicians that the account manager hired to fix equipment as they made their repairs. It wasn’t long before he realized he could easily make the same repairs. After mentioning it to his boss, he became “Mr. Fix It.” He started changing the oil in the equipment, making minor repairs and ultimately repairing pressure washing vehicles. Bob worked with San Jose Groundwerx for 15 years, the first five with a company that would later be bought by BBB and the remainder with BBB.

The Regional Maintenance Mechanic position Bob now holds is a new position that BBB determined would be an asset to Bay Area accounts. From his knowledge growing up tinkering and the time he spent learning about and repairing equipment in San Jose, Bob was the perfect candidate to travel from account to account making repairs in the Bay. Each evening, Bob determines where he needs to go the next day. He takes off from his home base in Lathrop around 6 – 7 a.m. to make the drive to whatever account needs his maintenance skills.

Bob also manages BBB’s Bay Area Storage Facility with extra fleet equipment in case an account has a major breakdown or needs to borrow a piece of equipment for any reason. The facility houses extra All-Terrain Litter Vehicles (ATLVs), pressure washer trucks, a pickup truck and more. This equipment is loaned out, free of charge, to accounts that need it.

Bob’s position and the fleet storage facility were investments BBB made to bolster our regional support and ensure a quick repair time to keep Ambassadors out and about doing what they do best.

The purpose of this new position, which Bob began in March, is to keep account equipment working, reduce the amount of down time between breakdowns and save BBB and our customers money on what otherwise would be outsourced labor repairs. There are 16 BBB accounts in the Bay Area, and Bob performs repairs for all that have mechanized equipment — which is most of them. Account managers will call or text Bob when something goes down, and he will get them on his next available schedule to drive out and make the repairs.

He is also quick to respond to repair requests. “If you call me today, nine times out of ten, I will be there tomorrow,” he said.

“Bob is fantastic,” said Raven. When Bob worked maintenance for Groundwerx, Raven said he or his team members would drive from San Francisco to San Jose, about a 30-minute drive, just to have Bob fix equipment. Raven has also learned a lot from Bob over the years, as Bob has taken the time to show him how to make minor repairs like replace water pumps, hoses, unloaders and other parts on their equipment.

“Having regional maintenance support saves us travel time, labor repair costs, parts cost and gets us back in service faster than waiting on a shop or outside service provider,” Raven added.

Despite driving every day, Bob doesn’t think he will ever get burned out. Listening to comedy podcasts, seeing the scenery and what’s off the side of the road keeps him entertained through the long driving hours. He enjoys the freedom and trust he has from his boss Semu One Bear, Pacific West Regional Vice President. Working for Semu again, whom he worked with in San Jose years ago, is another highlight.

“I hope this lasts until I can retire,” Bob said. “I want this program to succeed. Maybe in the future if this succeeds up here and in Southern California, maybe we can implement similar programs across the country and find good people to do what I do.”

“And, maybe then I can run that from a computer and get off the road,” he added, laughing.

Posted on Wednesday August 16, 2023 by

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He’s been a Milwaukee ambassador for years. Now, he serves the unhoused with a ‘heart of gold.’

By: Nathanial Rosenberg

First Posted on: August 14, 2023 in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

When Brian Johnson got a call that a woman was screaming and crying on the bridge near West McKinley Avenue, he sprang into action.

Johnson called his supervisor and police and then hustled over to the scene, arriving just in time to see the woman leaning over the railing, on the verge of attempting suicide.

“At that moment, I didn’t think about that I couldn’t swim, I thought about: That’s a life right there,” Johnson said. “Somebody needs help.”

Johnson began talking to the woman, urging her to back away from the edge and pray with him. She refused his appeals, asking him to tell her mother and children she loved them. Then she began to lean over the railing. Johnson lunged forward and grabbed her, pulling her back and talking with her until assistance arrived.

Posted on Friday June 30, 2023 by Insider Look

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Safety Day 2023

Team of Block by Block Ambassadors in Louisville, KY at The Paddock Shops posing for a photo.

Our Louisville Paddock Shops Ambassador Team with 1-2 Years Injury Free!

While safety is our No. 1 priority every day, Block by Block’s (BBB) official Safety Day comes only once a year. This is a day where BBB Teams come together for food, fun and important discussions about safety.

BBB’s Stop. Think. Act. Program began in 2014 as a commitment to regularly teach and remind our Ambassadors and Teams of the importance of our safety best practices.

Rubber bracelets with the motto “Stop. Think. Act.” denote the safety status of each account BBB contracts with and are a part of the daily uniform for all Ambassadors in the field. When we first open in a new location, each member of the Ambassador Team receives a black bracelet that serves as a daily reminder to Stop, Think and Act safely. Once an account has reached 12 months with no injuries, they receive yellow bracelets. When an account reaches 24 months with no injuries, they are upgraded again to green bracelets.

BBB and our teams across the country celebrated Safety Day on June 30. Operation Managers (OMs) met with their teams to discuss why safety is important and went over previous incidents that have occurred. The teams discussed how those incidents could have been avoided, as they bonded with the team over a meal provided by BBB. Team Leaders also facilitated discussions about close calls or would-be incidents that were narrowly avoided or intentionally prevented. They discussed what was done correctly and what could have been done better.

Ambassadors also tested their safety knowledge with quizzes, trivia and even jeopardy! Each account leader was responsible for making the day fun, engaging and educational. Teams across the country showcased their celebrations on our Block by Block Ambassador Facebook page.

At the time of BBB Safety Day 2023, 34 accounts were injury free for one to two years, and 38 accounts were injury free for over two years. That’s more than half of BBB accounts that are injury free for one year or more!

We want to highlight some of those accounts with outstanding injury prevention! Downtown Fargo Business Improvement District (BID) is one of these accounts.

“We are always talking about safety, during shift briefings and throughout the day.” Victor Heitkamp, Fargo BID OM, said. “We talk about items that are relevant for any giving day.”

Lately, Victor has been discussing heat safety at his account. “We have seen some extreme heat for our area, and I am constantly reminding teammates to stay hydrated, take breaks when they need and keep an eye out for one another,” he said.

“I feel we are fortunate because we have such a small crew of Ambassadors that it’s easy to look after one another,” Victor added. “I also give BBB a huge amount of credit. The efforts they take on safety and safety training are like no other! I truly feel that corporate cares about its people working across the country through the 140+ programs. There is great uniformity and expectation set with good direction that comes from the top.”

Another safety-focused account with over two years without injury is the University of Akron, Ohio. OM Jon Roethlisberger said he attributes their success to his belief that “safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands.”

We applaud these accounts for their success and encourage those with less than a year to continue keeping safety at the forefront of their daily activities!

2+ Years Injury Free

Bay Ridge Fifth Avenue BID, NY; Bethlehem EDC, PA; Castro/Upper Market CBD, CA; Charlotte Center City Partners, SC; City Center Partnership, SC; City of Albuquerque, NM; City of Beverly Hills, CA; City of Coral Gables, FL; City of Livermore, CA; Diamond City Partnership, PA; Downtown Association of Santa Cruz, CA; Downtown Columbia, SC; Downtown Dayton Partnership, OH; Downtown Fargo BID, ND; Downtown Jackson Partnership, MS; Downtown Lexington Partnership, KY; Golden Triangle BID, DC; Hillsborough Street CSC, NC; Hollywood CRA, FL; Japantown CBD, CA; Kailua Village BID, HI; Kalamazoo Downtown Partnership, MI; Lincoln Road BID, FL; Memphis Medical District, TN; Montague Street BID, NY; Park Slope Fifth Avenue BID, NY; Playhouse Village Association, CA; Providence DID, RI; Rosslyn BID, VA; Sports Complex SSD, PA; Stamford Downtown SSD, CT; Temescal Telegraph BID, CA; Town Center at Levis Commons, OH; University of Akron, OH; Uptown Dallas, Inc., TX

1-2 Years Injury Free

Atlantic Avenue Bid, NY; Augusta Downtown Initiative, GA; Boulder Downtown Partnership, CO; City of Louisville, KY; City of Myrtle Beach, FL; Colfax Avenue BID, CO; Corpus Christi DMD, TX; Downtown Chico BA, CA; Downtown Development District, LA; Downtown Frederick Partnership, MD; Downtown Mobile DMC,AL; Downtown Oklahoma City, Inc., OK; Downtown Toledo BID, OH; Downtown Tulsa Partnership, OK; Downtown Ventura Partners, CA; Greater Easton DP, PA; Miami Downtown, FL; Mill Avenue District, AZ; Myrtle Ave. Business District Association, NY; Oakland BID, CA; Old Pasadena MD, CA; Paddock Shops, KY; Peavey Plaza MDID, MN; Rose Kennedy Greenway Park, MA; San Jose DA, CA; Short North Alliance, OH; St. Paul Downtown Alliance, MN; Sunset Park BID, NY; The East Cut CBD, CA; The Ohio State University, OH; University District SID, OH; University of Minnesota, MN; Visit Knoxville TN, TN; Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, MD

Posted on Thursday June 22, 2023 by Growing Great Leaders

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Internal Promotions Recognized

Block by Block (BBB) is a big believer in our people. We pride ourselves on promoting from within when we have the opportunity. One way that we do this is by first notifying all staff of Internal Job Postings prior to sharing the job on external sites.

Another way we give our employees the opportunity to move up is through our Leadership Identification Program (LID). LID gives our Ambassadors and other staff the opportunity to figuratively “raise their hand” to notify BBB that they want to stand out, apply themselves, and move up through BBB.

Many of the leaders within BBB have been with us for decades, moving up through the ranks over the years. In fact, President Blair McBride began working as a Cleaning Ambassador with BBB in 1994.

We are proud to announce the following recent promotions from within.

Adam Boulware Block by Block Operations Supervisor, Columbia SC

Adam has been with BBB for 5 years. He began his BBB journey as a Safety Ambassador, was then promoted to Team Lead and has now been promoted to Operations Supervisor for City Center Partnership in Columbia, SC. Adam first came to BBB because “the [Ambassador] position appealed to me because it was something to do outside. Having the ability to enjoy being outside and get paid to help people was intriguing.” When he isn’t working, Adam enjoys playing the drums and hanging out with his kids. What’s next for Adam? He’s got his sights set on being an Operations Manager one day. Keep up the great work, Adam!

Nick Haines Block by Block Regional Vice President of the South

Nicholas was hired as a General Manager (GM) four years ago and was recently promoted to Regional Vice President (RVP), overseeing BBB accounts throughout the Southern United States. He came to BBB in search of a better work-life balance and he says he found it. “There’s pressure and accountability in our world, but we are empowered to solve problems. I love that,” he said. Nicholas’s favorite part about being a GM was getting to work with the Ambassadors, saying, “We have safe, productive fun. Work is play.” He looks forward to helping managers develop professional to reach their goals in his new role as RVP. Outside of work Nicholas loves to spend time with his wife and their three children. Congratulations, Nicholas!

Alicia Moran Block by Block Operations Manager Rosslyn, VA

Alicia started at BBB as a Cleaning Ambassador before being promoted to Team Lead. She is now the Operations Manager for Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID) in Arlington, VA. She said that she has learned a lot over the last seven years and that “working at Block by Block changed [her] life.” As Team Lead she enjoyed teaching Ambassadors techniques to become better Ambassadors. In her new position, she looks forward to helping create a cleaner BID, more productive team, and improving the team in ways she couldn’t before. In her personal time, Alicia likes to go for walks and take photos in parks. We can’t wait to see what you accomplish in your new role, Alicia!

Kori Parvin Finance and Training Manager Block by Block

Kori is our newest BBB employee in this list, but she has brought a go-getter spirit with her, diving headfirst into working with RVPs across the country and learning all aspects of the financial side of BBB. She joined the corporate team in July of 2020 as the Financial Project Manager and has recently been promoted to Finance and Training Manager this year. She came to BBB after interviewing at multiple companies and believing we were the best fit and a “new challenge” for her to take on. In her new position, Kori looks forward to providing more direct support to field staff and expanding her role in training. In her free time, Kori likes to hike and arrange flowers. Congratulations on the promotion, Kori!

Posted on Friday June 9, 2023 by Insider Look

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South Bend Leader Joins Block by Block

Aaron Perri smiles in front of a cityscape.

BBB welcomes Aaron Perri as Vice President of Strategic Growth.

As Block by Block (BBB) looks towards the future of operations, Aaron Perri has been hired as Vice President of Strategic Growth to further BBB’s vision for services throughout the country.

In his new position, Aaron will not only be pursuing new markets to identify potential BBB accounts, but he will also be working to find ways to apply the BBB operating model to more public spaces like municipal governments, transit systems, campuses and parks agencies.

Aaron is the first of two new hires joining BBB from the field of downtown services who were customers before coming to work with us. (Chip is the second, and you can read about him here). Aaron previously held the positions of Executive Director of the City of South Bend and Executive Director of Downtown South Bend, Inc. (DTSB) in Indiana.

As Executive Director of DTSB, Aaron picked up oversight of a previously established BBB Ambassador Program. During his time working in South Bend, he grew this Ambassador Program into three other areas of the city. Working with BBB during these years, Aaron said he “came to understand the extreme values that BBB could add to communities.”

Aaron Perri stands with former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg with Aaron Perri in 2017.

When Aaron announced on his LinkedIn in May that he would be stepping away from serving South Bend directly, his post was flooded with well-wishes and praise for the work he has done there. “You enthusiastically pointed out the gems and saw the possibilities [for South Bend],” one commentor wrote. Another said, “South Bend is a better place because of you. Thank you.” “Thank you so much for the vision and leadership you provided for our City,” said yet another. This single post had over one hundred comments and over four hundred reactions.

The kind words from Aaron’s friends and colleagues are truly a testament to the impact he has had on the city. It is clear Aaron is a beloved leader to the people of South Bend for the efforts he has contributed to change it from what Newsweek called a “Dying City” in 2011 to the place of economic and cultural relevance that it is today. Aaron said this is what he is most proud of in his career so far.

Aaron has played a major role in many projects to better the City of South Bend. Some of his favorites include the South Bend River Lights, a public art project that shines colorful lights across the St. Joseph River, and Howard Park, an award-winning park with playgrounds, fountains, event space and more that helped win the city the National Gold Medal Award, the highest recognition in the industry.

“I was always impressed with the way BBB was able to creatively and professionally bring solutions to the challenges we faced. Even more so, I experienced first-hand the ‘whatever it takes’ commitment from all levels of the BBB team,” Aaron reflected, “I had no clue that I’d one day be on that team, but I’m excited to be here!”

Aaron has a “passion for creating emotionally engaging places” and he “look[s] forward to helping cities across the country identify solutions to do just that!”

He is excited to meet people across the country who are making a difference in their communities, hear their stories and help resource their efforts.

Outside of work, Aaron loves all things Notre Dame football. In his free time, he likes to practice yoga, enjoy great food and wine and travel. Lucky for him, this new position will take him coast-to-coast. He will continue to live in South Bend with his wife and work remotely when he is not traveling.

Welcome to the Block, Aaron! We are proud of your achievements in South Bend and can’t wait to see everything you will accomplish with BBB!

Posted on Monday June 5, 2023 by Insider Look

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A ‘Chip’ off the Old Block by Block

Block by Block West Coast District Vice President Chip in front of San Francisco Skyline

BBB welcomes Chip as the new West Coast District Vice President.

Most people have a last name, but Chip isn’t like most people. He started going by “Chip” around his friends during his teenage years and the name just stuck. He decided to make himself officially mononymous and changed his full legal name to just ‘Chip.’

Chip is a well-known figure in the world of downtown services, a realm he feels “spoiled” to have stumbled into. He has been in downtown management in various roles for two decades after his business in a downtown district introduced him to the world. Chip is coming to Block by Block (BBB) from the Downtown Boulder Partnership in Colorado, where he served as CEO for the last four years. Prior to working with Downtown Boulder, Chip worked with the Downtown Association of Santa Cruz (DTSC), California. At other points in his career, he has worked with the California Downtown Association (CDA) and the International Downtown Association (IDA) communities.

Chip is no stranger to BBB. He brought Ambassadors to Downtown Boulder in 2020 and DTSC hired BBB the same year at his suggestion. As a BBB customer, Chip had already established many relationships with work colleagues at BBB. It was serendipitous, he says, that he came to find out about the open position for a West Coast District Vice President.

Around the same time he and his wife (who does have a last name) were thinking about moving back to California to be closer to their family, Chip ran into Derreck Hughes, BBB Vice President of Operations, at IDA’s West Coast Summit. Derreck mentioned BBB would soon be hiring someone to cover West Coast BBB accounts. After hearing this, Chip followed up and “threw his name in the hat.” The rest, as they say, is history. Chip begins his new role as West Coast District Vice President at the end of July operating out of San Francisco, CA.

For Chip, moving to California is a homecoming. Not only is he looking forward to being closer to family, but he is also excited to reunite with business associates from BBB and  downtown staff he has worked with over the years.

Chip brings a unique perspective of having run Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), worked with cities and businesses, and been “the person in the hotseat” ensuring everything gets done and done right. As a former downtown district CEO, Chip says he recognizes that the world of safety, cleaning and taking care of public infrastructure needs to change. He looks forward to creating strategic innovations and helping grow leaders as BBB leads the charge of improving downtowns across America.

Chip is enthusiastic about the challenge of infusing the renowned BBB Company Culture with the culture of each unique downtown that BBB serves. “I’m excited to get to work with people in some of the most amazing downtowns in the world all over the West Coast. I’m thrilled for this opportunity,” Chip said.

When asked what he was most proud of accomplishing during his career, Chip mentioned honorable undertakings like assisting in the creation of a Community Advisory Board that focuses on equity issues in Boulder, as well as helping with homelessness support organizations. But more than anything else, Chip feels a great sense of pride for the role he has played in the professional development of his team and those around him, especially when they move on to better opportunities for themselves, whether it is with the company he works for or outside of it. He likes to support people on their journey as they evolve and grow into better versions of themselves. Chip has seen many individuals use the role of an Ambassador as a launchpad for other adventures, both within BBB and outside of it.

Outside of work, Chip is a basketball fanatic. In his spare time, he said he likes to “eat, drink, play basketball and hangout with [his] wife.” For Chip’s fun fact, he said he once worked for the Pickle Family Circus – as a rigger, production manager and lighting designer.

BBB looks forward to Chip taking the reins of the West Coast accounts and seeing all that he will accomplish in this new role. He joins John Koch, Central Division Vice President, and Carin Cardone, East Coast Division Vice President. Congratulations, Chip! Before you know it, you’ll be a regular Chip off the old Block by Block!

Map of Block by Block Divisions in the United States

BBB accounts are separated into three divisions. Note: the divisions on this map are for visual representations only; they are not necessarily accurate to each area covered by each individual.

Posted on Wednesday May 24, 2023 by Ambassador Spotlight

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A Heart Made For Serving

Ambassador Spotlight: Clarence France

In the bustling city of Minneapolis, there are countless unsung heroes working behind the scenes, striving to make a positive impact on their community. Among these remarkable individuals is Clarence France, a Livability Ambassador whose unwavering dedication to his city and its people has touched the lives of many. With his love for Minneapolis and a burning desire to give back, Clarence embodies the true spirit of a Downtown Improvement District Ambassador.

With over four years of service under his belt, Clarence’s journey as a Livability Ambassador began with a role as a patroller on a segway. However, it wasn’t long before he felt a profound urge to do more for the people he encountered every day.

“It seemed like a calling,” Clarence reflects, “I wanted to help people.”

He attributes his involvement in the community as the catalyst for his journey. It is this genuine care and concern for all members of his community that has fueled his dedication to making a difference.

“This is my Minneapolis,” he says, his voice brimming with sincerity. “I care for the people in this city, whether you’re a millionaire or without a dollar in your pocket.”

Working as a Livability Ambassador is not Clarence’s first experience in a position of service. Having served in the Marine Corps for 16 years, his time in the military played a significant role in shaping his character and instilling a strong sense of duty. His experiences cultivated his unwavering commitment and strengthened his resolve to make a positive impact wherever he goes.

“I don’t need a thank you,” he emphasizes. “I do these things because they need to be done.”

Clarence strives to bring positivity to even the most negative situations, believing that compassion and empathy are vital in building trust with others. His genuine desire to make a lasting difference is evident. Each day, Clarence wakes up with gratitude, especially when he’s out in the field, knowing that he has the opportunity to touch lives and make a difference. His passion for people enables him to pour his heart and soul into his job as a Livability Ambassador.

“I want to make sure I tell people ‘I’ll see them later’ so they know they aren’t alone,” he shares.

Clarence’s journey has not been without its challenges. Dealing with dyslexia and having experienced the effects of a flash bomb, he sometimes faces communication obstacles. But these challenges have only strengthened his resolve to overcome adversity and continue making a difference.

Outside of his work, Clarence fills his free time with a range of hobbies and adventures. Exploring the beauty of Minnesota through river walks and kayaking, playing the guitar, and engaging in various sports activities – he thrives on staying active and continually learning.

“After I was a veteran, I needed to discover new things. I love doing something and staying busy. I am always learning and trying new things.” Clarence shares, making his thirst for knowledge and zest for life evident.

Clarence’s unwavering commitment to Minneapolis and its people serves as a shining example of what it means to be a Livability Ambassador. His genuine care, compassion, and unwavering dedication have touched the lives of many, proving that even the smallest acts of kindness can make a significant impact.

“This is my Minneapolis. This is why I want to make a difference, no matter how big or small,” Clarence adds.

Posted on Wednesday May 24, 2023 by Insider Look

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Spring into Action

Minneapolis Welcomes the Warmer Season

As warm weather arrives in Downtown Minneapolis, the city is gearing up for an exciting summer season filled with events and festivities. The Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District Ambassador Program has been hard at work preparing the city for the influx of people and activities that come with the summer season.

The Ambassadors have been preparing tirelessly for the various events taking place downtown. The event list includes The Alleyway Project, Street Art Festival, Stone Arch Bridge Festival, and other conventions and concerts.  To accommodate the increased demand for their services, the Ambassador force has grown by fourteen individuals.

The Skyway team has also returned to the streets for additional safety and hospitality support. The team will be assisting visitors and creating a welcoming and safe environment.

“I am so excited to be back outdoors! I love the summers in Minneapolis!” shares Delle, a Safety Ambassador.

One of the main areas the Ambassadors will focus their efforts is Peavey Plaza, a popular green space in the heart of Downtown. The Ambassadors will maintain cleanliness and friendliness at the plaza, ensuring visitors have a positive experience while enjoying the atmosphere.

Special Projects Ambassadors were also implemented to maintain the city’s green spaces. The Ambassadors will be watering plants and removing weeds to ensure that the city’s flowers and greenery remain beautiful and well-kept throughout the hot season.

“The more people that are out, the more work there is for us. We stay busy for sure!” shares Dave, Special Projects Ambassador.

During the night, the night crew will be hard at work, polishing the city’s streets to keep them clean and pristine. The Ambassadors will powerwash Nicollet, ensuring the walkways remain in pristine condition day in and day out. Additionally, the night team will use the street sweeper to remove any debris next to the sidewalks.

The Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District Ambassador Program is working in full gear to create a positive and enjoyable experience during the summer season for visitors and residents. From maintaining cleanliness to providing safety and hospitality support, the Ambassadors are an integral part of the city’s preparation for the bustling summer Downtown Minneapolis.

Posted on Friday May 19, 2023 by Insider Look

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New Partnership with LOUMED

Mid-March, Block by Block (BBB) began a partnership with Louisville Medical and Education District (LOUMED for short), a new development district in Louisville, KY. Four anchor tenants in Downtown Louisville make up this district: University of Louisville, Jefferson Community and Technical College, Norton Healthcare and University of Louisville Health.

Mayor Craig Greenberg stands beside a Louisville Medical LOUMED Block by Block Ambassador.

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg with a LOUMED Ambassador

According to LOUMED Executive Director Nadareca Thibeaux, these partners want to “cultivate a cohesive medical campus by improving walkability, adding more greenspace, improving traffic flow and creating a safe and welcoming environment for all who visit, work and are educated here in [the] district.”

LOUMED is made up of 22 blocks, 250 acres and 9.6 million sq ft of occupied space. In this area of Louisville alone, more than 16,000 individuals are employed. With safety a primary concern in the district, LOUMED has hired 15 Ambassadors to cover the 22-block area. In addition to safety, these Ambassadors provide cleaning, wayfinding and hospitality services in the district.

Each of the new Ambassadors will also fulfill the following responsibilities in the district:

  • Create a visible presence that makes visitors feel welcome and safe, and ensures situations can be handled appropriately.
  • Discourage active aggressors as they report prohibited behaviors and crimes.
  • Focus on Safety Risk Aversion and Quality of Life Issues. They will treat all individuals in the district with respect while keeping the area safe for all. Ambassadors will also be able to connect individuals in-need with helpful community resources.
  • Direct, offer greetings and share historical information to visitors in the district.
  • Respond to various needs like conveying parking information, repairing a tire, carrying boxes, escorting staff or even holding doors for visitors.
  • Build community connections with business owners and stakeholders in the district.

During a press briefing in the LOUMED District on Thursday, May 18th, Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg discussed the importance of these four tenants coming together to improve the area. In a post shared after the event, Greenberg said the new partnership with BBB “will enhance the experience of our public spaces for visitors, employees, students and patients!”

A Green LouMed branded Block by Block Ambassador truck.

LOUMED’s new branded vehicle

In just three months, the BBB LOUMED Ambassador Team has already begun to make an impact in the district. After the press briefing was over, a Starbucks employee next door expressed excitement after learning that the Ambassadors were going to be a permanent staple in the district, claiming they have already made her feel safer as she arrives for and leaves work.

Since their first full month of service in April until now, LOUMED Ambassadors have made 236 hospitality assists, conducted 15 safety escorts and made over 16,000 greetings. So far this May, the Ambassador Team has filled 44 trash bags of litter collected off the street. Anyone in need of a safety escort in the LOUMED district can contact 502-791-1435.

LOUMED BBB Ambassadors have not only offered hospitality services, cleaning and safety escorts, but they have also assisted in removing a known criminal from the district streets. Monday evening this week, LOUMED Ambassadors were alerted that a person with outstanding warrants had been acting erratic and violent towards multiple female employees of district businesses. The man’s image was distributed to Ambassadors during shift briefings each day. On Wednesday morning, an Ambassador Team Lead successfully located the assailant and reported his whereabouts to police, ultimately leading to the man’s pickup and arrest.

BBB is proud of these Ambassadors who assisted the local police with finding this individual. This incident is further proof that BBB Ambassadors across the country are actively making communities safer for the people who live in, work in and visit them. As LOUMED continues to beautify and improve the district with new infrastructure, parks and more, BBB Ambassadors will be there every step of the way to make the community cleaner, friendlier and safer!

A group of individuals wearing matching uniforms outside of a governmental building.

LOUMED Ambassador Team

Posted on Friday May 12, 2023 by Insider Look

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While San Francisco Sleeps, These Teams Go to Work

Each night, just as San Franciscans are finishing dinner, tucking-in children, and getting ready for their nightly routines, Block by Block (BBB) third-shift Ambassadors are showing up for work, ready to make the streets of Union Square and the surrounding blocks spic and span.

Freddie “Raven” Anderson, Operations Supervisor, and Tinea Adams, General Manager, oversee BBB Ambassador operations at San Francisco, California’s Union Square. While many of their responsibilities match those of other BBB teams throughout the country, part of their job is uniquely special to Union Square’s needs.

Like every account that BBB operates, a one-of-a-kind workplan has been created to tackle the needs specific to Union Square. A part of this plan is routine, nightly power washing. While the Union Square Alliance is approximately 26 blocks (or 1.6 miles), the actual walking distance of both sides of the streets, all block faces and alcoves in the Alliance is approximately 7.5 miles. It takes the BBB third-shift Ambassador Team about a week to power wash the entire Alliance—a distance equivalent to walking the Golden Gate Bridge about 4.5 times from one end to the other.

Map of Union Square Alliance showing 26 blocks covered.

Map of Union Square Alliance with blocks covered.

Around 8 p.m. each night, three to four individuals with pressure washers are deployed throughout Union Square. To prevent late-night noise disturbances for sleeping residents, attention is first directed toward residential areas. A driver is also sent out in an All-Terrain Litter Vacuum (ATLV) to pick up larger debris from streets and curbs. After the residential areas have been power washed, next come the dirtiest areas, with customer requests given precedence.

Working in tandem into the early hours of the morning, the team makes their way through the district covering a different route of the Alliance each evening. The result of all this effort? Residents, business owners, and tourists wake up to clean streets clear of debris as they go about their morning routines.

Raven says working at night comes with unique challenges, with the safety of BBB crews a number one priority. In addition to ensuring the night crews are wearing proper Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), Raven also touches base with all crew members throughout the night to know where everyone is and make sure everyone is accounted for. Typically, two Ambassadors will clean opposite sides of the same street, carrying walky-talkies and their company SMART devices in case they run into any issues or need to notify the Team Lead of a concern. Working in pairs adds a layer of safety for Ambassadors during this late-night work.

Other than safety concerns and preventing noise around residential areas, Raven and Tinea said the overnight Ambassador Teams encounter other issues day crews do not. On Friday and Saturday nights, Union Square comes alive with bar-goers and night life. They said it can be challenging to pressure wash while the sidewalks are busy with people. Cleaning the streets and curb-lines can also be difficult when cars are parked there, making it hard for the ATLV to get close enough to pick up debris. Despite these challenges, the Ambassadors accomplish their nightly power washing every evening, without fail.

Not only do the Ambassadors accomplish their tasks, but they excel at them, thanks to a 14-point Quality Control Audit System created by BBB. This system is a checklist for the quality of the cleaning completed in each section and by each Ambassador. It includes locations like curb-lines, sidewalks, tree boxes, alcoves/doorways, and other visible elements that need special attention in the Alliance. Cleaning Ambassadors are given a grade out of four, based on how clean each location is from a zero, unacceptable, to a four, outstanding. Individuals not performing to BBB standards are issued feedback and clarified expectations. If individuals repeatedly fail to meet expectations, they will be relieved of their position. This guarantees that the Alliance is getting the quality results they pay for.

Third-shift Ambassadors work an eight-hour shift with a 40-minute lunch break. Around 4:00 a.m., all Ambassadors return to the main operating station to clean the inside and outside of the vehicles used and debrief on the evening. This happens every single night, seven days a week.

Raven has been with BBB since 2016, having worked just about every position there is: cleaning, special projects, pressure washing, Team Lead and now Operations. Currently, because of his experience, Raven is covering as Team Lead during the night shifts at Union Square as they look to hire new supervisors.

Tinea came to work at BBB after working retail and being a stay-at-home mom. She wanted to work somewhere she could manage great people, something she is deeply passionate about. At BBB, Tinea has found somewhere she loves going to every day, where she can make a difference in the community and meet tourists from all over the world (while getting to work outside!).

Tinea believes the BBB Ambassador Team and SF Travel, another division of BBB in San Francisco focusing on tourism, are a family that works together to make Union Square clean and safe, keeping visitors coming back.

“When you walk through, how clean are our streets? They are very clean because we are doing a great job. It feels good to know we are making a difference. You can see the difference in the borders where we don’t work,” she said.

Raven shared similar sentiment. He feels it is amazing to be able to work in a world-renowned city with team camaraderie and where everyone knows you.

San Francisco’s Union Square is a bustling, historic part of the city with backdrops of quaint cable cars, large events, shopping and immense history, and BBB Ambassadors are there to keep it safe and clean for visitors and locals every step of the way—both night and day.

A group of people in uniforms at night posing in front of Union Square branded vehicles.

An overnight crew ready to get cleaning!

Posted on Wednesday May 10, 2023 by Insider Look

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Growth From Within

Company Culture of Leadership Development and Identification

“I want for us to be more than just a job. I want our company to provide a career path for people so they can do better for themselves,” shared Blair McBride, Block by Block (BBB) president.

Throughout the past few decades, Block by Block has evolved into the nation’s leading downtown hospitality and cleaning service provider. As the business expanded, Blair made it a priority to invest in the company’s employees. Block by Block strived to provide training and advancement opportunities, putting employees at the heart of all operations.

“We don’t want people to leave for better opportunities. We want better opportunities to be here,” Blair said.

Blair started as a parking lot attendant with Block by Block’s predecessor company Brantley Services and worked his way through various Ambassador roles, followed by other positions on the corporate scale before becoming the president of Block by Block in 2014. When first hired, Blair never intended to stay longer than three weeks, but a great supervisor and the enjoyment from his work kept him around for over 28 years.

“Culture is what keeps people around. It’s at the root of who we are,” he added.

Blair’s story isn’t unique to Block by Block. The company sustains many employees who remain for the vast opportunities. Derrek Hughes, Vice President of Operations, shares many similar experiences with Blair. He also started his career at the company when it was known as Brantley Security. Beyond the fulfillment of helping communities and people, he appreciates the variety found in his role.

“If you are going to spend a magnificent time doing something, you need to find value in what you do and have it be impactful,” Derrek expressed.

To continuously expand meaningful job opportunities for employees of Block by Block, Blair and Derrek allocated resources to develop the Leadership Identification Program (LID) and the Leadership Development Program. By providing training and advancement opportunities, the company invests in its employees and cultivates a positive culture, encouraging growth and development.

The Leadership Identification Program ensures that Block by Block promotes individuals who know and trust the company’s systems, ultimately contributing to its success and fulfilling the needs of the downtown communities. Currently, there are 200 employees taking advantage of the LID program, eleven from the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District.

“I want more people within our company who are promotable and ready to go to the next level because I don’t want to hire somebody off the street,” Blair said. “I would really rather promote someone we already know and trust and have them rise through the ranks. Honestly, I’m looking for the new me.”

Anna, Regional Vice President of the Great Plains Region, which includes Minnesota, also paved her way in the company. After completing her Master’s Degree, Anna applied for the Training and Development Coordinator position in Downtown Minneapolis where she was thrilled to employ her love for teaching and training. Twelve years later, she is just as passionate about her job as today.

“We have so much opportunity to change people’s experience in the public space,” she shared.

The Block by Block operation in Downtown Minneapolis is comprised of various staff who took on new growth opportunities. Pam, Office Administrator, started as an MDID Cleaning Ambassador. She also supported the Livability Ambassadors when they needed more hands on deck. Pam applied her strength to fill a payroll opening and took over other administrative tasks.

“I love working with numbers. It keeps me focused,” Pam added.

Victoria, another Minneapolis staff member, also found a way to use her knowledge and expertise in a new position she took on a year ago. Initially hired as a supervisor for a university campus account, management quickly promoted her to Dispatch Manager.

“I was looking for a place where I could create a more important impact in the community,” Victoria shared why she was first attracted to work at Block by Block.

She now oversees the MDID Dispatch Team and collaborates closely with the Minneapolis Police Department and other security networks in Downtown Minneapolis. Proud of the diversity in the company, Victoria is passionate about serving the downtown community, reflective of its needs.

Posted on Thursday May 4, 2023 by Insider Look

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A Man in Need

This story was submitted to the Block by Block (BBB) corporate team from Operations Manager Kyle Robinson of Akron, Ohio. It represents a common encounter BBB Ambassadors can experience in the field and an effective, impactful way to respond to help the community—or even just a single person.

Cropped image of woman smiling

Ambassador Val Kramer

A Letter from Operations Manager Kyle Robinson

I just wanted to share some information I received from one of my Clean Ambassadors, Val Kramer, recently. This truly made me so proud of her and our Ambassador team! Val was not present at one of our team meetings, and I could not reach her by phone that day. The next day, she came to me to explain her absence and shared an inspiring full-circle story.

On Tuesday, March 21st, 2023, Val was returning to the Greystone building (our HQ) for a bi-weekly team meeting. As she was walking down Main St., she noticed a man sitting alone on the swings with a box of random things. She said that she greeted him with a “hello, how are you.” After he said hello, she said she felt the need to stop. So, she stopped. At first, she said he was a little distant, but she kept speaking with him and they began to break the ice. They went back and forth with small talk, and, eventually, the man—we’ll call him John—began to tell her his story.

As they spoke, John told her that he had lost his purpose in the world and that he didn’t want to live anymore. He told her that he had lost all hope and he was just done. Val quickly reassured him that he has so much to live for and asked why he felt this way. As John continued to open up, Val continued to actively listen and engage.

He gave Val a brief life history/story and once he started to talk to her, she said it was a very natural conversation. He began telling her about his past work as a welder and that he loved building tricycles and hoped to build one that could assist the elderly and disabled. John told her about a terrible motorcycle accident he was in; about how his identity was recently stolen and his accounts drained; and that he once died in a surgery and was brought back to life. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another.

He opened up to Val about his faith, discussing spirituality and his feelings on how he lost his purpose, more so, his desire to live. Val recommended some books she read that he may find helpful and told him about a faith-based book she actually found downtown while working as an Ambassador. She also gave him information on Victims Assistance, CSS, and some other services offered in our area.

As she continued to talk to him, he mentioned that they had met before. Eventually, he told her that they spoke way back in 2014 and she stopped and showed him the same kindness then and he always remembered that. As the conversation ended, Val ensured he had information to local services and had a place to stay. John took the information, said he had an apartment in the area, and said he was feeling a little better. She said he never asked for anything; he just needed someone to talk to.

I just want to thank Val for such an incredible engagement and for taking the time to ensure John was heard and not only offered resources, but also offered kindness and compassion. The fact that he remembered Val for that same kindness, almost 10 years later, is a beautiful thing. I can only imagine how many people remember Val for her acts of kindness over the last 21 years that she has worked for Block by Block. This really does shine a light on how impactful the Ambassadors are in our communities every day.

Respectfully,

Kyle Robison, Operations Manager

Downtown Akron, Ohio Partnership

Posted on Thursday May 4, 2023 by Around the Block

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Around the Block with Block by Block – Episode 2

We are back with our second installment of Around the Block! This month we are covering what’s new at Block by Block with our guest emcees Regional Vice President Anna Schmoll and Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District (MDID) General Manager LaVelle Warfield!

In this video, we will be sharing the details of:

  • Our newly created Marketing Operations Storyteller position with our partners at MDID
  • Our Volunteer Day Program operated in collaboration with Louisville Downtown Partnership leading up to the Kentucky Derby
  • Our hands-on training process for Operations Managers

We hope you enjoy learning more about our forward-thinking operating model and how we are always going the extra mile to bring added value to our customers through our operations!

We will see you next time, around the block!

Missed an episode? Catch up with BBB on YouTube!

 

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Posted on Thursday May 4, 2023 by Growing Great Leaders

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From Dispatch to the World

Two former Dispatchers at St. Paul Downtown Improvement District (SPDID) have been promoted within Block by Block (BBB) as part of our Leadership Identification Program (LID). LID seeks to identify individuals within BBB who are interested in growing within our company and have good leadership skills, a “can-do” attitude, and other robust talents.

When two new leadership positions opened at SPDID, Operations Manager Ashley Borud knew just where to turn to fill those roles. Both Cheyenne Johnson and Roshawnda “Shawnda” Wallace had excelled as Dispatchers with SPDID for more than a year, and both had expressed their interest in growing at BBB. Ashley said their dedication and work ethic made them stand out as perfect candidates to advance into leadership roles within the company. Recently promoted, Shawnda is now an Operations Supervisor and Cheyenne is a Training Coordinator.

When asked what leadership qualities she saw in Cheyenne and Shawnda, Ashley responded: “Their positive attitudes, dedication to the team, punctuality, go-getter attitudes, willingness to go the extra mile, communication, and so much more!”

Ashley continued, “We hire for personality and train for success.  Every day these two showed, and continue to show, up with their vibrant personalities; no matter what the day brought. Shawnda and Cheyenne care about BBB and our mission, the Client and their desires, the field team Ambassadors, our partnerships, and the public.”

Shawnda is a “spunky, strong, go-getter” with “an outstanding personality and a heart of gold,” according to Ashley. She is passionate about working for BBB, SPDID, and her team. Shawnda regularly posts updates about her SPDID team of Ambassadors conducting maintenance and completing day-to-day operations on her Facebook page.

Recently, she shared: “We enjoy all parts of our Downtown! The good, the bad, the all-around! Our Downtown is our home away from home and we couldn’t be more proud to assist our Downtown community in any way we can! Sun’s out, fun’s out!” BBB is thrilled to advance Shawnda into a leadership position in St. Paul where she can continue sharing her passion with the community.

Shawnda’s growth within BBB is a testament to our mission of Growing Great Leaders from within. However, she isn’t the only great leader we’ve got growing around here!

Cheyenne is now a Training Coordinator for both SPDID and Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District accounts. She, like Shawnda, began with BBB as a Dispatcher for SPDID.

“Her professional demeanor, experience, knowledge, expertise and outright amazing personality are just a few key details that led her to this new role,” said Ashley.

Cheyenne is an essential team member who continues to make a positive impact on our teams and those who live, work, and play in our Downtown districts. We are excited to have her in this new position at BBB!

Are you an Ambassador looking to grow within BBB like Cheyenne and Shawnda? We asked Ashley about the tips she would offer Ambassadors looking to take on more leadership responsibilities. She said the following were essential to success:

  • Let your managers know your goals
  • Give it your all, always, and not just for opportunities
  • Invest in yourself
  • Work hard, but also give yourself a lot of grace

Congratulations to our newly promoted BBB team members! We are so happy to have you as a part of what makes Block by Block special, unique, and one-of-a-kind!

Posted on Wednesday May 3, 2023 by Ambassador Spotlight

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Leader in the Making

Ambassador Spotlight: Kevin Hallenberger

From exchanging only a few words with people and facing challenges in his hospitality role to becoming a confident and capable team lead for a growing night shift crew, Kevin Hallenberger has undergone a significant transformation.

Kevin has been working at Block by Block for 13 years, beginning his journey when he was only 19 years old. During his tenure, he has tried his hand at all the different roles offered at the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, from being a Safety Ambassador to a Cleaning Ambassador and even working on the Special Projects Team.

Initially, Kevin was a very shy and introverted individual and didn’t quite fit the mold of an outgoing and talkative Ambassador. However, with time, he began to break out of his shell and became a leader. Angel Johnson, Operations Manager at Block by Block, remembers him as “a man of few words” but acknowledges how much he has changed over the years.

Kevin’s father, Dave Hallenberger, who is also one of the first Ambassadors at Block by Block, advocated for Kevin to secure the position when he first applied. Kevin has always been grateful for his dad’s support and guidance.

“He is completely different from when he first started. He takes ownership of what he does.” Dave shares.

As the years went on, Kevin developed his leadership skills and now heads a team of people during the night shift, which is a testament to how far he has come. Although working during the night shift can be challenging, Kevin has learned to adapt. He now operates the street sweeper, an essential part of keeping the city clean, and recently, his crew has been given the responsibility of ensuring that trash cans are emptied way before people return to the city.

Despite the challenges that come with working the night shift, Kevin finds it rewarding. He enjoys the peace and quiet of the city during those early morning hours, and he takes pride in knowing that he is making a difference in his community by keeping the city clean.

“He can make decisions, and he takes action, and that’s what makes him such a good leader,” says Angel.

Kevin’s journey at Block by Block is an inspiring one. Starting as a shy and reserved teenager, he has now become a confident and capable leader. His story is proof that hard work and dedication can lead to great things.

“I like to take the initiative when I see something needs work. Sometimes I have to hold back my questions for the managers since I work when they are usually off,” says Kevin.

Posted on Wednesday March 8, 2023 by Insider Look

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Introducing the Skyway Program

Hospitality and Safety Welcomed Into the Skyways

Four Safety Ambassadors in Downtown Minneapolis posing for a photo

At first glance, the winter streets of Downtown Minneapolis bear a deceptive appearance. The sidewalks aren’t bustling with rushing commuters, nor are visitors braving the fierce winds to explore the city’s architecture. The work week brings an illusion of a deserted metropolis; however, the city is secretly buzzing with people.

The downtown landscape is interconnected through a complex and expansive skyway system. These aerial links connect one business to another, alleviating the residents and commuters from facing the outdoor elements.

Downtown Minneapolis contains key landmarks like the Target Feild Center, Minneapolis Convention Center, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis Orchestra and many others. These large facilities hold concerts, conventions, and sporting events, attracting thousands of visitors daily.

The skyway system serves as a covered walkway, enabling visitors to travel from one side of downtown to the opposite without leaving the comfort of a sheltered walkway. However, navigating the pathways can be a challenging task to the unfamiliar. Because skyways do not mirror the streets, getting to the correct locations may require unexpected turns.

In collaboration with Block by Block, Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District worked on a solution to battle the skyway confusion.

“Instead of laying off some of our Ambassadors in the winter, during our slow season, we worked with DID to create the Skyway Program,” shares LaVelle, the general manager at Block by Block, Minneapolis.

Prior to the new program, Safety Ambassadors would serve the community only outdoors, but now they are helping hundreds of people learn the skyway system. The new program creates job stability during the slow season for Ambassadors and provides a valuable resource for those traversing the skywalk.

Received well by the public, the new program is consistently getting emails of appreciation. Ambassadors are always on high alert for individuals who seem lost. The team distributes skyway maps and provide escorts for those who need a little more help getting to their destination.

“I was completely lost in the skyway,” James, an out-of-town visitor, emailed DID. “Elise went out of her way to help me. She must have walked with me for a mile to get me where I was going. She really helped me out.”

Beyond giving directions, the Safety Ambassadors also deliver a safety element to the skywalks. Safety Ambassadors will walk visitors or residents to their final destination, ensuring the individual feels safe and secure.

Business hours are another layer of complexity visitors encounter. Because each business privately owns each skyway, the open hours differ. The skyway map, accessed at skywayaccess.com, contains a directory of all the skyway business hours.

Next time you visit Downtown Minneapolis, don’t hesitate to ask one of our friendly DID Ambassadors for help. They will quickly get you to your destination, and you can avoid misleading directions from your mobile navigation system!

Posted on Wednesday March 1, 2023 by Ambassador Spotlight

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No Longer the Underdog

Ambassador Spotlight: Uledus Roseman

In 1991, Uledus Roseman left his past in Missouri and arrived in St.Paul, Minnesota, with only $50 in his pocket. He craved a fresh start, but the journey ahead still held many challenges.

Growing up, Uledus did not have an easy upbringing. He was raised by his grandmother in Sedalia, Missouri. Once he turned eight, Uledus was reunited with his mother in Oakland, California. He witnessed the abusive marriage his mother was in, which negatively affected his educational abilities.

While attending Hamilton Junior High School, Uledus’s mother frequently pulled him out of school. Unable to stay on track with his peers, he developed learning differences and a stutter, setting another challenge before him. Uledus was put into the special ed program, preventing him from achieving a high school diploma. Instead, the school awarded him a certificate of attendance.

“I felt like the underdog my whole life,” Uledus shared.

Up until his early thirties, he battled with substance addiction, but he didn’t stay the underdog he presumed himself to be for long. Uledus felt a spiritual guidance to take control of his life and rise like a phoenix.

“I was always so hard on myself, but I have so much to prove. I didn’t want to let people down,” Uledus said. The memories of his two special ed teachers encouraged Uledus to strive for more.

“They invested so much time in me. They were like my moms away from home,” he added, “I wanted to break the underdog mold.”

He enrolled at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College to pursue a degree in addiction counseling. Due to his learning challenges, Uledus had his work cut out for him. He needed to start his degree by taking high school-level English and reading classes.

“I flunked the high school level English twice before I could pass it,” he added, “I even had to get a tutor to help.”

Uledus landed an internship opportunity working at a transitional center while attending college. After graduation, he gained experience working as a chemical dependency tech and a CNA at a veteran’s home before pursuing his career in outreach work.

He joined the Livability Team with the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District and Block by Block in 2021. He began helping the city’s vulnerable population by connecting them with the right resources or providing quick assistance.

“This job has changed my life in so many ways,” Uledus shares, “This job is like a Tylenol because whatever you have going on in your life, it doesn’t compare to what some people experience.”

He witnessed some difficult things on the field, but it hasn’t discouraged him from continuously supporting his community. Uledus’s desire to help others rise pushed him to discover a passion for motivational speaking.

He often braves the starling cold while most people are sound asleep to record motivational messages for his YouTube channel. In his videos, Uledus discusses life and creating a vision for the future. Some of his videos include “Living a Clean Life”, “Your Thermostat of Life” and “The Front Row”.

Uledus hopes to inspire others to work hard and overcome their challenges. Because he was deeply motivated by his special ed teachers, he hopes to do the same for other high school students.

“It’s more than just doing motivational speaking. I want to bring that motivational element to anything I do,” Uledus said.

Posted on Monday February 20, 2023 by Insider Look

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Collaboration Effect

Crafting a Safe and Welcoming Minneapolis

Over 34 million people travel to Minneapolis each year looking to enjoy the thriving art scene, outdoor culture, and friendly atmosphere. With tourism on track to return to its pre-pandemic levels throughout 2023 and 2024, the city continues to be well equipt for its visitors by streamlining its cleaning, safety, and hospitality efforts.

The dispatch center, located within the 1st Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), houses a small team of people who operate as the eyes and ears for Downtown Minneapolis around the clock. This group of individuals relays information to the Ambassadors on the streets, assists the unhoused population by connecting them with the right services, and works to prevent crime when possible.

“We work in tandem with law enforcement. For our Ambassadors, we are the extra eyes and ears in case of emergencies or if they need any information, ” describes Lyle, a dispatch team member.

In partnership with 70 plus downtown businesses, the Minneapolis Police Department, and the DID Ambassador program, the dispatch team manages reliable and effective communication between the outlets. This pristine communication network ensures safety and outstanding hospitality on the city streets.

“There are many moving pieces between all the things we monitor and the groups we connect with,” Victoria, the dispatch manager, adds.

With access to 127 cameras in the downtown districts, dispatch can spot unusual behavior and send in the right team. Some instances include requesting Emergency Medical Services to help a hurt individual, reporting an offense to MPD for further investigation, directing Ambassadors away from possible danger, and sending in Livability to assist unhoused community members.

“We have the ability to spot things and get the right people on the scene. For example, we can spot individuals who need welfare checks and send out Livability to check up on them,” says Lyle.

In addition to monitoring the streets, the dispatch center is closely connected to the business security offices through the radio-link system. This radio communication network between the dispatch team and the downtown institutions is another layer of added security. To be a part of the communication radio-link network, businesses must meet certain criteria within their safety protocols, for example participating in roll call during designated times.

Business security can provide more awareness for the dispatch team beyond the outdoor premises with their access to cameras within buildings. During large events such as concerts and sporting events, dispatch will facilitate a perimeter check to ensure the rooftops, skyways, and parking ramps are safe and secure.

“We want to have this high level of awareness to ensure we are on the same page,” Katherine, a dispatch member, adds.

Beyond looking out for the safety of the downtown community and the Ambassadors, the dispatch elevates the quality of the hospitality services. In real-time, the dispatch team can pinpoint answers such as business hours and locations, bus routes and schedules, and much more. This allows Ambassadors to perform excellent hospitality, no matter the question.

“It is great to know that we are not out there on our own,” says Terry, a DID Safety Ambassador.

For more than eleven years, the powerful collaboration between the dispatch team, downtown businesses, law enforcement, and hospitality programming still continues to deliver non-emergency services in Downtown Minneapolis efficiently. All the services working in sync create a safer, cleaner, and friendlier environment for residents and visitors.

“We are the behind-the-scenes resource, making sure we provide extra protection and safety for downtown and our Ambassadors,” Lyle says.

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
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.

CLEANING
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. 

SPECIAL PROJECTS
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
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.

Posted on Monday November 14, 2022 by Ambassador Spotlight

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The Spirit Behind the Service

Ambassador Spotlight: Dave Hallenberger

“I want to be outside. I want to be where the people are,” Dave Hallenberger replied when asked why he valued his Ambassador position at Block by Block (BBB).

Before working as a Special Projects Ambassador in Downtown Minneapolis, Dave spent 28 years in a security role where he was confined indoors, behind a desk. He shared that he did not know what happiness felt like in a work environment until he started his career at Block by Block. From Dave’s first day on the job to 13 years later, he is still passionate about the positive impact created by his work downtown. Raised in a small town near Lake City, Minnesota, the army veteran of 10 years initially felt intimidated by Minneapolis since he was unfamiliar with the landscape. Now he knows the streets of downtown like the back of his hand. 

Dave’s journey as an Ambassador began when his sister-in-law advised him to apply for an opening position at the company. At the time, Block by Block was a recently introduced hospitality service to the downtown area contracted by the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District. 

Immediately after reviewing the job description, Dave was thrilled to apply. “They were going to pay me to be a good Samaritan!” he thought. Quickly, he learned that his new employer was different from any other that he had witnessed in the workforce. 

“Where do you get a job where the vice president of the company goes out there with you?” Hallenberger commented about his first day on the field. He appreciated the precedent the company’s leadership set because it connected the values and culture through the different roles and ranks. 

Throughout his years working at Block by Block, he became a trusted employee who always went above and beyond. “He makes my job easier,” Angel Johnson, Operations Manager at BBB, shared. 

Many other managers who worked with Dave agreed. He always takes the initiative to complete tasks before they are noticed and goes above what is expected of him. Over the 13 years, he was recognized twice as the employee of the year and was recently awarded employee of the quarter. Hallenberger thrived in his role because of the trust he built with the management team. He appreciated the freedom and the responsibility of his job. 

Throughout his time, he implemented a routine, starting his week by patrolling the blocks and noticing anything that seemed off. From there, he prioritized his projects and what he needed to accomplish in the following days. Even his colleagues were quick to see the self-starter within Dave’s personality. 

His coworker and partner on the field, Ron Carlson, said, “You can see how much Dave cares about what he does. He is passionate about his work and wants to do the best job possible.”  

Because of the painstaking efforts Dave and many other Ambassadors demonstrate, Minneapolis is kept clean, friendly, and safe. Their hard work keeps the graffiti off the buildings, trash off the streets, and hospitality at the forefront. The Ambassador position at Block by Block was more than just a job for Dave. In addition to positively impacting the community, it was an opportunity for Dave to find joy in his work. Within a year of working as an Ambassador, he encouraged his son, Kevin, to apply. Closely behind Dave in seniority, Kevin has worked as an Ambassador for 12 years in various roles. Currently, he is the team lead for the night shift.

Stories like Dave Hallenberger’s reveal the environment Block by Block creates in downtown areas. By incorporating their hospitality services, downtown communities can provide meaningful jobs that are rewarding and beneficial to the economy. In turn, Ambassadors serve by keeping the city polished and welcoming for the individuals visiting or coming to work. 

This ecosystem generates opportunities for people to find work where they feel heard and gives them a chance to serve other citizens. “I feel very passionate about my job,” Dave added.