Known to occasionally drop a quarter in a parking meter when the red light starts to blink, the Downtown Dayton Ambassadors are some of the most friendly faces in the Gem City.
The Downtown Dayton Ambassador Program, often just called “The Ambassadors,” actually traces its roots back to Brantley Security Services, an event management and private security services company that dates to 1930. Through many changes over the decades, the company, today called Block By Block Inc., began serving its first downtown district, Louisville Downtown Partnership, in 1995.
In 2005, Block By Block started its Downtown Dayton program.
“The program has gone through changes over the 15 to 16 years to grow from a main focus of cleaning and engaging with the public, to now include working with the Dayton Police and Dayton Social Service Agencies in their outreach efforts,” said Tina McKenna-Gilley, operations manager of the Ambassadors.
McKenna-Gilley has been with the program since July 2013, although she can still recall what downtown looked like 20 years ago, compared to what it looks like today. She said she likes to think the Ambassador Program has played a significant role in the change.
“Through the cold, through the rain, through it all, 365 days a year, the Downtown Dayton Ambassadors are committed to keeping downtown Dayton clean and safe,” said Allison Swanson, Downtown Dayton Partnership’s marketing manager. “Especially in the past year, when so much of the daily ‘normal’ of the hustle and bustle of downtown was gone, the Ambassadors were still out every single day making sure that downtown was clean and inviting, even if we were encouraged to stay at home.”
Swanson and McKenna-Gilley encouraged downtown visitors to give The Ambassadors a smile or a wave if ever they cross paths. Dayton’s team of Ambassadors are collectively our Daytonians of the Week.
McKenna-Gilley shares more insights into the work of The Ambassadors.
💎You say you hire for personality, and train for skill — can you elaborate on what that means for you?
The highest priority for an Ambassador is to be friendly, outgoing and engaging with the public we meet on the streets. We are Downtown Ambassadors, here to welcome visitors, answer questions, give directions and be a friendly face in a strange place for new people to downtown. We clean to keep downtown looking and feeling safe, but having a smiling face look back at you sometimes can make your day.
I can teach just about anyone how to pick up trash, remove graffiti and the other long list of duties, but if they don’t have the right personality, the rest doesn’t matter.
💎What does it mean when it’s said that the Downtown Ambassadors are also “goodwill ambassadors?”
The Downtown Ambassador Program is paid for by the business and property owners in the Special Improvement District (SID). We are hired to represent the businesses, property owners and City of Dayton in the most positive, professional manner. Our Ambassadors are the customer service representatives for the SID.
When people come downtown to work, go to appointments/meetings, go shopping, out to eat or meet friends for a drink, we want to make sure they have a great first and lasting impression of downtown. Keeping downtown clean adds to the curb appeal for every business or property. Having a smiling face to engage with, offer directions or answer questions makes a visitor feel safe and improves their experience while downtown. Saying good morning to a pedestrian, who had a rough start to their morning, often brings a smile to their face and a change to their day.
We enjoy doing simple things like dropping a quarter in the meter when the red light starts to blink, walking someone to their destination to ensure they get there safely, telling visitors about the awesome restaurants we have within walking distance or the convention center or the Dragons game.
We work closely with the Dayton Police Department, as extra 9-10 sets of eyes on what is happening on our streets. We are working with social service agencies with outreach, with the hope of helping someone who just needs someone to care. We are here because customer service does not start when someone walks in the door of a business. We are here because home does not start when a downtown resident walks into their living room, but how they feel in their neighborhood.
💎Do the Ambassadors have any favorite stories from over the years or any encounters with residents downtown that made them especially happy to be an Ambassador?
Terry has been an Ambassador for over 6 years. The majority of his years of service have been spent walking the streets of the Oregon District on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Terry has a smile and laugh that are contagious. In 2020, Terry was promoted to Team Leader, which changed his working hours and location. I have had more than a few business owners asking me when Terry will return to the District shift because of the relationships he built during his walks.
We have had countless opportunities to help downtown visitors, but one stands out for those of us who have been here a while. An Ambassador sent out a radio call for a missing person alert. A visitor to downtown had dropped her father off and told him to stay on the bench until she returns. Her father had Alzheimer’s and did not stay on the bench. When the woman returned from parking her car, her father was nowhere in view.
The Ambassador was passing by and noticed the frightened woman. The alert went out, and the team dropped everything to find the missing father. The team headed to the last known location with a description of the man and within minutes he was found several blocks away. The woman was transported to her father’s location and found her father talking Dayton history with a friendly Ambassador. The man did not have a clue he was missing, but the Ambassadors went on with their work knowing they made a difference for his daughter.”
💎What does it feel like to be the leader of a group of people who’s primary job is to make life better in downtown Dayton?
It is an honor to lead such a great group of people. I am sure I am not going to do this question justice. I lead a very special team of people who love what they do. Of course we have new teammates come and go, who never experience those moments that make us realize why we are here. We can explain the “why” in their training, but we can’t share the feeling that goes along with the experience. Once we have one of those moments of making a connection with social service or helping a visitor find their car in a parking lot several blocks away or a business offer to buy the entire team lunch just because we did our job, we are hooked.
The core of my team does not simply do their job because they are paid to do so. The core of my team loves their downtown, their zone, their businesses, their residents, their regular homeless folks. Our city went through a horrible experience in the Oregon District, and my team took it very personally. This happened in our downtown, to people we care about.
My team came in early that day and we stayed late, in case someone needed us. My team did that day after day, because our downtown was hurting. My team came in early the day after the protests in 2020 and began cleaning up our downtown. My team stayed in contact the evening of the protests, discussing the damage that was happening to our downtown and we were not talking about the trash, broken windows or graffiti. My team knew the businesses and residents were being damaged. My team did not hesitate to come in on a Saturday morning to help start the healing together.
My team comes to work in horrible weather conditions, are talked to inappropriately by some individuals, clean up nasty things, walk their tails off and come back the next day to do it again. When our team has been shorthanded, the team steps up time after time to ensure the job gets done and their downtown is taken care of. When a teammate struggles with personal health issues, my team steps up to take care of each other. My team is not simply co-workers or employees, my team is a family.
During the pandemic this year, my team made sure we took turns getting our lunches at the downtown restaurants equally to show our support, as many of them have shown their support of us. My team just keeps giving their downtown everything they have every day. I have a team of very special family members and I can’t imagine working anywhere else.
It is not just the team of people here at the Ambassador Program that makes this job so special. It is also the caring people at the Downtown Dayton Partnership and the people of Downtown Dayton. Partnering with people like Sandy Gudorf and her team at the Downtown Dayton Partnership, has shown me that going that extra mile for people, even when you don’t have to, is the difference of being a co-worker and caring about people. Working with my team and the DDP over the last 8 years inspires me to be my best and give my best. We wouldn’t love our jobs if the people of Downtown Dayton didn’t love us back.
💎Have any moments stood out to you when you were especially proud of one of the ambassadors?
About five years ago, there was a gentleman who was sleeping on our sidewalks and doorways for a couple of weeks, but wanted none of the help we offered. Our Team Leader at the time, John Davis, could not ignore the man’s conditions or need of assistance. John was not only a Downtown Ambassador, but also a resident of Cooper Place. John took a walk every evening about dark to check on the gentleman and often left him something to eat. This was not a regular practice for other street residents, but John was pulled to help this gentleman. John’s efforts each day and evening made a difference and the gentleman finally trusted him and the others dressed just like him. The Ambassadors were able to make a connection with social services and today the man’s life is considerably different. We use this experience to teach new Ambassadors how the care and attention from our team, as well as our relationship with service agencies, can make a difference in the lives of others.
💎What are some examples of things that the Ambassadors take care of that the public might take for granted?
The Ambassadors remove hundreds of small graffiti tags and stickers from light poles, trash can tops, bus stops, and businesses each month. Imagine if we stopped or were not here to do that. The tags would add up fast.
The Downtown Dayton Partnership arranges for a great lunchtime event every day during the summer on courthouse square. Guess who sets up the chess and checkers games or corn hole boards each day?
The Ambassadors not only pick up the trash on the ground, but we also monitor the amount of trash in the trash cans throughout downtown. When we find cans that have a higher or lower levels of trash, we work to move cans around to ensure there is something available to pedestrians to use in the highest of traffic areas.
The Ambassadors wipe off the trash can tops, so they are not so nasty when you go to throw away your trash. We wipe of the bench, especially those the birds dislike for some reason, so you have a clean place to sit down.
When the new Oregon District event, Out on Fifth, started last year the Ambassadors brought out the tables and umbrellas for the businesses to use each weekend. We then put them away on Monday morning, so the street could be opened up for traffic again. This one was an honor, as we knew this event was helping the businesses during a very tough time.
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