Dover devotion: Ambassadors lend hand, and smile, to downtown

DOVER — Dover isn’t quite going international, although the Downtown Dover Partnership (DDP) is looking for a dozen or so positive personalities to join a newly formed team of ambassadors of the city.

Diane Laird, executive director of the DDP, said the new Downtown Dover Ambassador Program (DDAP) is modeled after several similar programs nationwide and has been gently rolling out in the downtown district since September.

“These volunteer goodwill ambassadors help to ensure a positive downtown experience and act as on-street concierges for the downtown community,” said Ms. Laird, who also clarified that these are not law-enforcement personnel.

Jerry Roderick, a native of Chestertown, Maryland — along with representatives of NCAA/Restoring Central Dover, First State Heritage Park of Dover and Kent County Tourism — has worked over the past year with the DDP to develop the ambassador program.

“We wanted to have a presence downtown during events and popular visitor hours,” said Mr. Roderick, who has career-long experience in both law enforcement with Chestertown Police Department as well as community event staffing with Washington College. “After reviewing how other communities have developed programs and in consultation with Dover Police Department, the DDAP was initiated.

“We have recruited volunteers with very warm and welcoming customer service experience to set out and make the downtown visitors experience just that, warm and welcoming.”
Dover merchants and restauranteurs are routinely fighting back an image of crime, homelessness and negativity in the downtown corridor.

Hence, the arrival of the ambassadors, who, while not members of law enforcement, will add more eyes up and down the area.
While the ambassadors are not paid in dollars, expenses are covered for them to become Certified Tourism Ambassadors through Kent County Tourism, and they are provided a meal stipend for each three-hour shift, seasonal burgundy/beige apparel that identify them as Downtown Dover ambassadors, and use of two-way radios while working.

A total of $500 was provided to the DDP for the soft launch from NCALL’s Restoring Central Dover initiative and has been used to purchase DDAP apparel and equipment. Magnum Electronics of Dover provided two-way radios for the program.

Carla Wilson, a realtor with Lakeview Realty, is one of the initial DDAP ambassadors.
“We bring value by simply being out and about to assist shoppers, providing them information and direction to the various special events, shops and restaurants, and call for assistance if someone has a need,” she said.

The DDP said it is hoping to recruit a diverse workforce of 12 to 15 ambassadors over the coming months. It wants to build a year-round team not only for events, but during normal business hours daily.

“There is no one ideal skill or background to qualify, though a love for people and a friendly, approachable demeanor will enable them to perform confidently in the role,” Ms. Laird said. “Currently our ambassadors’ experience ranges from education to corrections to real estate brokering.

“Really, any background will bring value to the program and we provide an orientation to ensure our ambassadors are well-equipped to handle a variety of situations that could arise while on duty.”

The DDP is hoping to create a strong workforce of ambassadors who can commit to working five or six events a year and will help the organization develop a trusted network where they are sharing information and supporting one another.

“It’s a great way to support the local community and expand your horizons to all the positive things happening downtown,” Ms. Wilson said. “Come out to enjoy the people, live music, good food and the arts. It’s an excellent way to give back and it will only get better with time – there’s so much to look forward to in downtown Dover.”

Downtown ambassadors also develop relationships with downtown merchants and get to know their products and services by routinely visiting with them.

They’ll be handing out candy canes during the upcoming holiday activities and, when the season changes to warmer weather, doggie biscuits or flowers to passersby.

Local resident Gail Truxon has participated in the program since the program launched in September and enjoys talking with the business owners and seeing if they have any concerns. Ms. Wilson echoed that sentiment.

“The merchants are always happy to see us and appreciate any information we can provide that they may not already be aware of,” said Ms. Wilson.
Merchants can also convey ideas, good news, concerns and needs to ambassadors who, in turn, relay the information to Downtown Dover Partnership staff, who strive to create an optimum environment for small businesses to thrive.

Those interested in learning more may contact Ms. Laird at Diane@DowntownDoverPartnership.com or call 302-678-2940. Details can also be found at Tinyurl.com/DoverAmbassador.

Cathy Candeleri, also a realtor with Lakeview Realty and downtown ambassador, found that she was surprised about how much she didn’t already know about downtown Dover and that she’s learned about the local history from store owners and employees.

“Do it!,” she said, about becoming a Downtown Dover Ambassador. “It’s fun, it’s rewarding, and sometimes even educational.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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