Since the program began back in 2013, the duties of ambassadors have expanded, making them a one-stop-shop call for any of your downtown needs.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — So what does a downtown ambassador do? 

Providing on-street hospitality and beautification services for the downtown district is a very basic description of their roles. However, Ambassador Program Operations Manager Rebecca Krenz told 13 ON YOUR SIDE that they do so much more. 

“We’re on the lookout for people that need assistance, providing anything from directions and information to providing assistance like jumping a car or changing a tire,” Krenz said. “We walk people to their cars, we carry umbrellas for them whenever it’s raining outside and we can also assist pedestrians with mobility around downtown, whether that’s helping guide them on a kiosk or parking meter.”

But when the ambassador’s aren’t being called on as a helping hand, they are doing the tasks people usually see. 

“We also have people that push rolling trash cans, they sweep the sidewalks and the curb lines, they remove graffiti. In the summertime we pressure wash sidewalks and take care of a lot of the flowers that you see downtown,” Zrenz said.

The program started back in 2013 with around eight ambassadors. The primary focus of the team was on hospitality, customer service and engagement of folks that came downtown. Since then, there have been opportunities for the team to figure out ways to address some of those gaps they’ve found like social service providers.

Now they try to be a connective tissue between some outreach teams and folks living in downtown and even in the streets.

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Downtown GR’s Operation Manager Melvin Eledge says the program really changed when the funding did five years ago.

“Prior to 2015, it was the ambassadors doing hospitality and engagement and another service provider was providing cleaning and beautification work. Then It was decided to kind of merge those two operations together so the ambassadors took over both the cleaning and the hospitality operations,” Eledge said. “So that was probably the biggest and most significant change to what the ambassadors do because it meant more funding, being directed towards the program which meant more staff and more equipment but also it meant a much larger scope of responsibility,”

As times continue to change, so do the ambassador’s responsibilities. 

When the pandemic hit, the ambassadors went from wiping down trashcans to also wiping down benches and other infrastructure.

“We also wipe down a lot of exterior door handles to businesses. Just making sure that those were being cleaned regularly, not that businesses aren’t cleaning them, but we wanted to make sure that you know one more set of hands in there trying to sanitize it and keep things clean was a welcome thing by the business, ” Eledge said.

They are even looking to help some people financially, since they are hiring.

“If you’re interested in becoming a downtown ambassador, we have an online application that you can complete. We do our interviews, our background checks and all that kind of stuff once you get hired onto our team,” Krenz said. “My hope is that training is always occurring because you can’t really account for everything that we do in the field, we give everybody a base level of training but going above and beyond is really something that we empower the team to do out there in the field.”

The ambassadors get basic mental health and first aid training, but say the job is really a learn-as-you-go experience. They get walkie talkies in the field and just come when they are called. When no one calls, they just spend time cleaning.

“Somebody is always carrying the phone and it’s usually a team leader so that person can easily direct people out there in the field and pick whoever is closest to the location to go and assist or somebody that can specialize in that — you know, not everybody knows how to change a tire, so I might not send this person versus this individual,” Krenz said. “So if they specialize in something or if we know where they’re really good at something we’ll pick those specific people otherwise. However, we can get get us there quicker.”

The Ambassadors are funded through the Downtown Development Authority and the Downtown Improvement District so all of the activity they engage in has to take place within those boundaries.

“We are so much more than what you generally know if we cannot accomplish the goal, we’re going to try and find the person that can will, you know, call a locksmith to come and get your keys unlocked, or we’ll find the person that has the actual answer if we don’t,” Krenz said. “So we’ll try and go above and beyond to do whatever we can to leave a positive impact on you and welcome you back into our downtown.”

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