Carl Yazid-Bomani, a member of the SouthSide Ambassadors, sits in his office. (Victoria Moya/B&W Staff)

The SouthSide Ambassadors: Bethlehem’s frontline environmentalists


On any given day, a Bethlehem community member may see SouthSide Ambassadors Marty Byrnes, Monea Cooper, Mark Schroettner, Carl Yazid-Bomani or Sandra Zajacek diligently working to clean the streets of South Bethlehem.

“I grew up in this town,” Byrnes said. “I take great pride in keeping the place clean.”

Since 2014, the Southside Ambassadors have worked to make an environmental impact — and doing it all with a smile on their faces.

Schroettner said the main responsibilities of the ambassadors are hospitality and cleanliness. The team’s webpage states they also serve as a “highly visible presence” in their work with the Bethlehem Police Department, reporting suspicious or unsafe behaviors.

Yazid-Bomani said the ambassadors begin their day at 6 a.m. by collecting trash from the garbage cans in their service territory, which spans from Morton Street to Third Street and between Wyandotte Street and Hayes Street. 

Schroettner described this part of the day as their “impact” phase.  

They continue their day in their “project” phase, which Schroettner said means they pay attention to more details on the streets and sidewalks. Byrnes said this includes at least 2 hours of removing weeds, followed by sweeping the sidewalks and checking for graffiti.

Byrnes said one of the most important jobs is sweeping the sidewalks of litter — especially cigarette butts — before the litter gets to the storm drains, which go directly into the river.

“We have at least one cigarette disposal bin in every block, so there is no reason for you to throw anything down,” Byrnes said. 

Zajacek said the SouthSide Ambassadors use a private app that enables them to document their work each day. According to data they collected, in April, the SouthSide Ambassadors collected 4,495 pounds of trash and spent 24 hours doing weed abatement, which is removing plants and grasses that pose a fire hazard to structures or transportation routes.

Throughout the day, the ambassadors make an effort to stop and greet each person they pass. This month, the team collectively greeted approximately 3,074 people. They provide information about the South Side, such as the bus route, to community members who ask.

“I would say it’s pretty seamless,” Michael Singer, ‘25, said. “Everyday I wake up and the streets are clean. They keep people happy and get people where they need to go.”   

The amount of experience on the team widely varies. Schroettner said he is the most experienced member of the group, having been an ambassador for the past eight years.

Byrnes has been on the team for seven years. Cooper joined three weeks ago, and Yazid-Bomani joined in August of 2022. 

Zajacek, the ambassadors’ new director, said despite this variation, each member of the team is well trained and well equipped to handle scenarios they may encounter.

In order to be a part of the SouthSide Ambassadors, Schroettner said members undergo training that includes watching videos, on-job training and learning how to use the equipment.

On a biweekly basis, the ambassadors go through de-escalation, biohazard, personal protective equipment and active shooter training through the company Block by Block, which is hired by the City of Bethlehem Department of Community & Economic Development. Block by Block supplies the group with their yellow uniforms and radios. 

Byrnes said this training consists of taking a course and quiz afterward, scoring at least a 70% of correct answers. He said he has never received lower than a 90%. 

“You can’t just let people in a uniform out on the street because things are changing all the time,” Zajeck said. “These guys are extremely well trained.” 

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Yazid-Bomani said he found his previous job of 14 years was impacting his mental health. Having to sit inside at home for eight hours each day became stressful to him.

“I was at a point where this was starting to affect my knees, as well as other health reasons,” Yazid-Bomani said. “Since I’ve done this, I’ve lost 20 pounds, I’m sleeping much better and I have more energy.”

Taking on this role has also provided some of the members with a different perspective on life — Schroettner said this is partially a product of being able to see the progress made on the South Side, whether it be new buildings being built or work being done on the ground.

For Cooper, having this new perspective is tied to the outdoors.

“I feel like people around our age wouldn’t really think to do this,” Cooper said. “Everyone likes to be indoors on their phones, but my goal was to do something different.”

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