International Avenue launches grassroots ambassador program

·2 min read
International Avenue ambassadors are equipped with first aid and naloxone kits and have mental health and other training. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)
International Avenue ambassadors are equipped with first aid and naloxone kits and have mental health and other training. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)

With bright purple jackets, red first aid kits and naloxone in hand, International Avenue's ambassadors hit the street, greeting anyone who stops to talk.

The outreach program launched this summer. It's a collaboration between the International Avenue BRZ and 12 Community Safety Initiative, inspired by the City of Calgary's 9 Block Program downtown.

The goal is to activate spaces in the community, make relationships with people and businesses while ensuring those who need help get connected to relevant services.

"They're out there as eyes and ears," BRZ executive director Alison Karim-McSwiney said. "It's really about just making the Calgary East experience so much better."

With federal funding, there is enough money for two ambassadors. Carmen Poon and Ivan Osorio are busy behind the scenes creating training materials to build a foundation for the program's future.

But getting out to community events and making connections on the street is a key part of the role.

"If there's a business owner out in front of their business, we stop and chat with them and just walk around the avenue looking for people to help, greeting people," Poon said. "I think the main thing is listening, listening to what people have to say, you know, what their concerns are, what their needs are, and making everybody feel welcome."

Helen Pike/CBC
Helen Pike/CBC

Part of welcoming people in East Calgary includes speaking the language. Osorio and Poon are fluent in Spanish. If they come across someone with a language barrier, nearby businesses are a phone call away.

"It's a very close-knit community," Osorio said.

Executive director Larry Leach with the 12 Community Safety Initiative said the program is a way to help get to the root of disorder through relationships, instead of relying on police to respond to things like mental health calls or overdoses.

"Instead of people just trying to move people along or get rid of them, it's about helping them access services and trying to connect them to places that can help," Leach said.

Helen Pike/CBC
Helen Pike/CBC

International Avenue has a lot to offer, Karim-McSwiney said, noting this program helps highlight the nearby shops and restaurants.

The ambassadors can answer questions and point visitors to hidden gems, she said.

"Often people don't come east of Deerfoot," Karim-McSwiney said. "The businesses here are extremely unique — you're going to find a lot of mom and pop shops and a lot of really cool cuisines, places that have huge food shops and different restaurants."

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