Veterans Day is the official federal holiday to honor anyone who has served or is currently serving in the United States Armed Forces. First announced as “Armistice Day” in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson to honor veterans who served their country during World War I, the holiday was expanded in the U.S. by Congress in 1954 to celebrate and appreciate the service of any and all military veterans. This Veterans Day, #DTJaxSalutes two of our Downtown Ambassadors who served their country for more than 47 years combined.

Bill Wimmer has been Downtown Vision’s Ambassador Program Manager for more than seven years. He leads and manages the 17-strong Ambassador team that works to keep Downtown clean, safe and friendly. Managing people and programs is something that comes naturally to Bill, a retired Operations Specialist Senior Chief Petty Officer who served 23 ½ years in the Navy. “You know we like to clean in the Navy, and the attention to detail in our work — it’s not far off,” he chuckles, referencing the Clean and Safe Ambassador Program that provides cleaning, pressure washing, trash and graffiti removal, in addition to security escorts and nuisance response services Downtown.

Bill likes being a member of a relatively small team since he spent his career serving on a few of the Navy’s smaller warships: Knox-class frigate USS Garcia (FF-1040), Leahy-class guided-missile cruiser USS Richmond K. Turner (CG-20), and Belknap-class guided missile cruiser USS William H. Standley (CG-32). “Small ships foster camaraderie and personal connections. I enjoy that aspect of this work very much.”

For his final duty station, Bill worked at the Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility Jacksonville (FACSFACJAX), which provides oversight and management of the airspace, seaspace, and subseaspace used by United States federal and civilian agencies. The official reason for staying in Jacksonville after retiring is that his children had changed high schools three times over the previous four years, but Bill adds that he and his family, “fell in love with everything the city had to offer.”

One of Bill’s team leaders also served in the Navy.  Retired Chief Petty Officer Lionel Roberts served as both a Gunners Mate and an Aviation Storekeeper. Lionel served 24 years, 17 of which he spent on sea duty to guided missile ships like the USS Richard L. Page (FFG-5), a Brooke-class frigate. One of his favorite duty stations was when he was sent to Naval Base Subic Bay in the Philippines to run the base armory and train the security personnel in the proper use of weapons and firearms. This included the Presidential Security Group, the agency tasked with the protection of the President of the Philippines, as well as the Vice President of the Philippines and their families.

Lionel currently works as the Downtown Ambassador Safety Team Supervisor, and can usually be found riding a bicycle around the city, continuing to provide safety and security to his community, though in a much more friendly and casual fashion. “I like to mingle with different people and have different challenges every day,” he says of his job riding the streets and interacting with the residents, workers, and visitors of Downtown. His love of challenges and new experiences is reflected in his Navy career: Lionel’s first ship was homeported out of Souda Bay Naval Base in Crete, Greece. He deployed on a world cruise with stops in just about every country along the way and even played on the All-Navy Basketball team — twice. “My Navy career was more of an adventure than anything, and I loved it.”

After more than two decades of adventuring around the world, meeting hundreds of people from countless backgrounds Lionel was stationed at Naval Air Station Cecil Field (now Cecil Airport). He enjoyed it because it was, “a nice base, laid back, not too fast, not too slow. It reminded me of Mobile, Alabama, where I grew up.” Jacksonville was the best combination of familiar and exciting, and he looks forward to continuing to serve the city as a Downtown Ambassador, meeting new people every day.

Happy Veterans Day, Senior Chief Wimmer and Chief Roberts. From all of us at Downtown Vision: thank you for your service. It has been our sincerest pleasure to know and work with you both.

For more information on the Downtown Vision Ambassador Program, click here!

Cindy Ray, LMHC

When meeting Cynthia “Cindy” Ray, the first thing you might notice is her bright, kind eyes and genuine smile. She is a people-person to her core and has an innate way of making a complete stranger feel like an old friend in just a few moments. Her voice is clear with a slight Boston accent that gets stronger when she is speaking to something she is passionate or excited about. For Cindy, there’s nothing more exciting than the work she does every day in the heart of Downtown Jacksonville.

Cindy is the Social Services Outreach Specialist enlisted by Downtown Vision’s Clean and Safe Ambassador Program. She has spent her career in service to others, starting off as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with her own private practice in Daytona Beach, and serving for ten years on the Board of Directors for a homeless outreach nonprofit in the Daytona area. After a few years pursuing ministry work with her spouse in Oregon, they came to Florida and settled in Jacksonville. Cindy was working as a therapist in the Crisis Stabilisation Unit of a correctional facility when she saw an opportunity to join the Ambassador Program, which dovetailed her mental health counseling background with her faith and love of serving and supporting the community.

When she first began her current position, most of her day was spent introducing herself to and establishing relationships with homeless and transient individuals in Downtown’s 90-block Business Improvement District. She emphasizes that credibility and rapport with the individuals she serves are vital to both her and their success in pursuing the goal of the Ambassador Program: to connect homeless and transient individuals with social services providers and resources to improve their circumstance. She proclaims with sparkling eyes and a bit of a laugh: “there is no such thing as a typical day, really.”

“There is no such thing as a typical day!” – Cindy Ray

Cindy’s priority with most of the homeless and transient individuals she meets is to get them somewhere to stay as soon as possible. “If they need housing and those services; my primary goal is to get them to Quest and the Housing Authority.” Quest is an outreach program run by the Florida Mental Health Resource Center to “assist individuals who are homeless with finding and obtaining housing,” and the Jacksonville Housing Authority spearheads “a variety of programs to fit the needs of low and moderate income families, senior and handicapped adults in the greater Jacksonville, Florida area”

The data supports this approach. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — “SAMHSA,” an agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — “[s]table housing provides the foundation upon which people build their lives. Without a safe, affordable place to live, it is almost impossible to achieve good health or to achieve one’s full potential” (SAMHSA, 2017). The Quest Program not only seeks to ensure individuals have a place to live, but it also matches individuals with the types of accommodation that best suit their specific needs, as well as prioritizes those who have the greatest need and highest vulnerability to get into housing as quickly as possible.

Cindy traverses the streets of the Business Improvement District, notebook in hand, a friendly smile on her face, checking the progress of the individuals she has been working with, as well as greeting new faces, learning their stories, and determining their specific needs. On her rounds, she notes the time of day, the areas of her encounters, and captures demographic information so she can more efficiently reach the greatest amount of homeless and transient individuals as possible. She’s currently the only Social Services Outreach Specialist, but she’s optimistic the program will expand and grow with continued community support. “Having more outreach on the ground is a critical piece of the solution.”

There is already a host of support from various organizations in and around Jacksonville. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority has donated two wheelchair-accessible vans to the program that allow Cindy to transport individuals to social service appointments in a safe and timely way. Cindy also works closely with other Ambassadors, leveraging their knowledge of the areas she should focus on and individuals they have seen who look like they could use her help.

Not every homeless or transient individual needs significant intervention or assistance. Many times, all a person needs is a little boost of confidence from someone who cares, and that’s something Cindy is enthusiastic to offer. “There is a feeling of hopelessness, like ‘this is just the way it is.’ One of my biggest goals is just to encourage people that their situation can change. It doesn’t have to be this way.”

Cindy doesn’t keep regular office hours, but individuals needing assistance can book appointments with her in order to find out what resources are out there and get help filing for assistance. Scheduling an appointment can help individuals avoid save time waiting in line. During those appointments, she can help with overcoming some of the barriers that individuals encounter while attempting to access resources. “If somebody doesn’t have a cell phone, or don’t have access to the Internet, or even know how to use the Internet, they can’t access a lot of great resources.” Cindy has access to the technology they need in order to file paperwork. This kind of approach allows people to advocate for themselves, take a proactive approach to their circumstances, and empowers them as individuals.

“One of my biggest goals is just to encourage people that their situation can change. It doesn’t have to be this way.” – Cindy Ray

Cindy also spoke about some of the stigmas and misinformation that surrounds homelessness. “The homeless population really care for one another. They watch each other’s backs, for the most part. The sense of belonging is big out there; they think: ‘these people over here are in the same boat I am, they can relate to me.’ We all need that sense of connection and belonging. In fact, they fear for their lives, too, on the street. A lot of times they say: ‘I’m afraid of being out here … I’m not the one hurting anybody.’”

Cindy was also emphatic about offering individuals longer-term assistance than just giving them food or money directly. “If someone is panhandling, please don’t give money. There are a lot of places that will feed people — the Sulzbacher Center is one. So I would ask people to direct the person to services instead, to try to connect them to services instead of giving money.” It’s another way to empower individuals to take the initiative to help themselves and make positive, constructive choices that will pay off both in the short and the long term.

The final thoughts Cindy wanted to share about the community she works so closely with and spends the majority of her waking hours advocating for came slowly, carefully, but no less passionately than she had been speaking the rest of the morning. “Not everybody on the street is dangerous. They have a lack of choice and direction. Pray for people. Volunteer where you can at organizations that are helping. If you want to help in some way, go to wherever you feel drawn that’s trying to help homeless and transient individuals. Advocate, be a voice, wherever you see that to be.”

Cindy Ray
Social Services Outreach Specialist
646.689.2661
cray@blockbyblock.com

At the 2018 #DTJax Gala: Vintage Circus, we took the opportunity to present the #DTJax Awards to celebrate the people and projects that make Downtown Jacksonville a better place to live, work, visit and invest. The Downtown Ambassador of the Year Award honors a Downtown Ambassador who continually goes above and beyond in their service of Downtown’s stakeholders, residents, employees and visitors.

DVI Ambassador Willie Browner and First Baptist Church senior executive pastor John Blount

DVI Ambassador Willie Browner and First Baptist Church Senior Executive Pastor John Blount

Willie Browner joined Downtown Vision in June of 2016, and has since been an essential member of the Downtown Ambassador program. He came to us from City Rescue Mission and worked for DVI as a temporary employee during One Spark, standing out among a group of 12. When a position became available, we knew we had to have him as a part of our permanent team.

Willie graduated from the City Rescue Mission program shortly after his hire, and currently serves as a mentor to the program. He is our first hire under DVI’s “Second Chance Program,” a program providing employment opportunities for individuals who may be considered unemployable due to prior non-violent convictions. Willie started as a clean team member but was switched to safety and hospitality, a position in which he truly thrives and is an irreplaceable asset.

Willie has received praises from Farah & Farah and Regions Bank for his positive attitude and helpfulness. He also receives the most comment cards from the public, who are so touched by Willie’s thoughtfulness and helpfulness, that they take the time to send these notes in to us. Thank you Willie, and all our Ambassadors, for making Downtown Jacksonville a cleaner and safer place.

 

Learn more about the Downtown Ambassadors here.

For more than 15 years, Downtown Vision has had the privilege of serving #DTJax by creating and supporting a vibrant Downtown Jacksonville and by promoting Downtown as an exciting place to live, work, visit and invest. DVI is closely aligned with the City of Jacksonville’s Downtown Investment Authority in a public-private partnership and we focus on four strategic pillars:

  • Clean and Safe/Ambassador Services: In the last fiscal year, our Downtown Clean & Safe Ambassadors logged 22,000 hours to make #DTJax clean and Downtown a better place.
  • Marketing: The #DTJax hashtag reach exceeded 24 million people reinforcing Downtown as the City’s unique epicenter for business, history, culture and entertainment.
  • Information Management: We crunched the numbers to provide statistics and trends on Downtown development, employment, residential, retail, parking and more.
  • Experience Creation: Our produced events drew more than 200,000 people to #DTJax creating lively streets and supporting our small businesses.

Check out our latest Annual Report, which highlights accomplishments, special projects and financial information for fiscal year 2015-2016. Click here to download the PDF.

 

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Have you ever wondered, what exactly does DVI do in a year? DVI is aligned closely with the vision, mission and priorities of the Downtown Investment Authority (DIA), and as part of this public-private partnership, DVI focuses on four strategic pillars:

  • Clean and Safe/Ambassador Services: In the latest fiscal year, our team of 11 hardworking Ambassadors provided more than 18,000 hospitality assists and removed more than 27 tons of litter.
  • Marketing: We were honored to be recognized by the Jacksonville Business Journal’s for Best Use of Social Media and the International Downtown Association for the #DTJax Twitter Promoter Campaign.
  • Information Management: We crunched the numbers to provide statistics and trends on Downtown development, employment, residential, retail, parking and more.
  • Experience Creation: We brought more than 125,000 people Downtown to the First Wednesday Art Walk and coordinated efforts for The Elbow, Downtown’s Entertainment District.

Check out our latest Annual Report, which highlights accomplishments and financial information for fiscal year 2014-2015. Click here to download the PDF.

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Ambassador Michael and artist Jami Childers

Ambassador Michael and artist Jami Childers

Downtown’s latest murals give new meaning to the phrase “from trash to treasure.”

Two paintings, approximately two feet wide and eight feet high, now cover the gaps between The Magnificat Cafe and its two adjacent buildings near the corner of Laura and Monroe streets. These gaps used to be a common spot for litter, now no longer accessible thanks to the artwork.

“It’ll brighten up that corner a little bit,” said artist Jami Childers, who painted the murals. “It’s a good remedy for an ugly problem.”

The idea for the murals began last fall when Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officer Rey Coll approached Downtown Ambassador Michael Ryan about the gap on Monroe Street. Officer Coll asked Ambassador Mike if there was anything he could do about cleaning out the litter and possibly blocking the gap with a plant or other material.

While Officer Coll and Ambassador Mike were discussing clean-up options at the site, Childers, who owns 44 Monroe Art Studio & Gallery adjacent to the gap, popped out to see what they were up to. They explained the issue, and then the idea came to Ambassador Michael: Childers could paint a mural to install over the gap.

by: Katherine Hardwick in Downtown Ambassadors No Comments  

Ready to give directions, answer questions, provide assistance, or walk you to your destination, the Downtown Ambassadors are Jacksonville’s Downtown cleanliness, safety and hospitality team. The Ambassadors are an extra set of eyes and ears on the street and work closely with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the city to improve Downtown Jacksonville. Hard at work, here’s just a snapshot of what the team accomplished in October 2014.

We recently had a conversation with Downtown Ambassador Michael, an Ambassador for more than six years, about improvements in safety he’s witnessed Downtown over the years.  Read more here.

October 2014 Ambassador Snapshot