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“We were really put in a bad situation,” he said.
Grant money trickled in slowly, delaying some expansion of services for additional referrals to providers such as Neighborhood House and 180 Degrees, but there are talks to provide additional programming during the school year, Collins said.
Yet even without some resources during the summer, ambassadors have made a difference simply by their presence.
In mid-July, an officer called for an ambassador after large groups of kids were being loud and disorderly in the North End, Mathison said. The ambassador was able to settle the problem without the police getting involved, he said.
Many kids recognize the ambassadors by face.
“If [the kids] do wrong, they don’t do it in front of them,” Mathison said.
A pilot program for the work, started last summer in downtown St. Paul, led to a reduction in crime, Mathison said. According to police statistics, serious crime during that time in that part of downtown dropped 21 percent compared with the year before. Juvenile arrests for serious crime in that area also fell 43 percent during that time.
“A lot of [the youths] are coming down here just to hang out and loiter. … Sometimes it’s just general kids’ stuff that law enforcement doesn’t need to get involved in, but someone from the community can help,” Mathison said.
One of the busiest spots for ambassadors is at the bus stop at 5th and Minnesota streets downtown.
“You are going to see kids here because some of them are homeless. They are in conflicts with their parents. They have nowhere else to go,” Drake said, as he stood near the intersection with other ambassadors and waited for “the regulars.”
As young people walked by, several called out to the ambassadors by name. One was TJ Jackson-Bey, 22, who waited at the bus stop for his girlfriend.
Recently, Jackson-Bey was ordered by authorities not to trespass on the bus for a month. One ambassador, who Jackson-Bey says is like a father to him, convinced him to abide by the restriction and not get into further trouble.
“They ain’t out here playing around,” Jackson-Bey said of the ambassadors.
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495