SouthSide Ambassadors celebrated its five-year anniversary of working in South Bethlehem in October.
SouthSide Ambassadors is a team of trained individuals who specialize in revitalizing the quality of life in South Bethlehem. The members focus on improving cleanliness, hospitality and safety to make the community more welcoming.
The group is comprised of seven employees and is led by operations manager Hector Lopez. The staff works throughout the South Side in gold uniforms.
“We come out everyday, seven days a week, to clean, and six nights a week to patrol the streets,” Lopez said. “After the Steel Stacks closed down, a lot of businesses went with it, so vacant properties opened up, and debris started to collect over the years, making the South Side look run down. Lehigh University and merchants were looking for something to kind of boost the area, so they got together and brought on Block by Block, which is the company we work for.”
Block by Block is an organization based in Louisville, Kentucky, that has more than 100 branches nationwide to train individuals to liven communities, Lopez said. SouthSide Ambassadors is one of the smaller accounts, as some of the groups have more than 100 employees.
Since its inception in 2014, SouthSide Ambassadors has expanded, and it plans to continue those efforts.
“For two to three years, our map was from Founders Way on Third Street, to Comfort Suites on Brodhead, and on Fourth Street between Taylor (Street), and the flat-iron building where Lehigh has offices,” Lopez said. “Then, Four Block International, another community group just beyond Taylor Street, saw what we had been doing down here, and we now have expanding all the way from Taylor (Street) to Hayes (Street). We have expanded, and hope to continue to do so, and are looking to do some of the North Side downtown.”
The Ambassadors are funded by local businesses and Lehigh University.
Larry Eighmy, the managing principal and a founder of The Stone House Group and one of the Ambassadors’ sponsors, has enjoyed the work they’ve done in the community, and said he is happy with his investment.
“Cleaning up the area around the flat-iron building used to be a responsibility for us as landlords, and we could never stay on top of it,” Eighmy said. “Before the ambassadors were here, we talked about how the analogy that litter grows like weeds in South Bethlehem. If there’s a little bit of litter, then there’s less care, and if there’s less care, there’s more litter and graffiti. The inverse is also true, meaning, if you can stay on top if it, it is manageable. And with the ambassadors, we can do that…I’m a big fan of how a little bit of an investment pays back a lot more than the cost.”
A job with many responsibilities comes with its challenges, too.
Lopez said the Ambassadors work nearly 365 days a year in all elements, including sub-freezing temperatures and over 100 degree weather.
“We put a lot of time and effort into cleaning, and when it gets trashed again from a weekend of craziness, it almost hurts our feelings,” Lopez said.
John Saraceno, founder of Saraceno Design and contributor to the Ambassadors, said another challenge for the group is to keep funding flowing consistently from community individuals and companies.
“Working to just keep SouthSide Ambassadors going is a conversation that I’ve personally talked with (Lopez) about,” Saraceno said. “We are trying to get a little bit more funding to get some new equipment and make sure the guys he has there are safe.”