“San Antonio is truly a big city with small town vibes,” says Samantha Rivera, reported by Katrina Brown Hunt in the 2016 Travel and Leisure list for friendliest locals. Samantha says at the end of the day “it is just easy to make new friends.”
Mike Pacheco stands for a portrait on Houston Street. Mr. Pacheco has been General Manager of the Centro Ambassador program since 2009. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
We say, “You always have a friend downtown.”
“At the end of the year we are successful in helping over a million people.” Says Mike Pacheco, who has been General Manager of the Centro Ambassador program since 2009.
Cecil Bullock stands for a portrait next to Centro San Antonio artwork commissioned by local artisits on Houston Street. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
This hard work takes dedication, stewardship, and a friendly smile. “My favorite part of the job is the people… I have met people from all over the world; India, Australia, you name it. Every day I get asked questions…I answer as many and all that I can,” says Cecil Bullock, who has been a cleaning ambassador for a year and a half.
David Cibrian has been a Centro hospitality ambassador for 2 years. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
On average, the ambassadors collect 185 bags of trash per day from the streets and River Walk. Every night, they power wash over 7 acres of sidewalk. However, for David Cibrian, a Centro hospitality ambassador, it goes beyond cleaning the streets. “Everybody notices the buildings, everybody notices the Alamo. But a lot of times the locals, the retirees, the district folks get overlooked. But this is something I notice every day and I say hello. I know that in 20 or 30 years I’ll have the memory of the man who always sat on the stoop or the lady who was always waiting for the bus."
Dimas Romero is seen power washing on Quincy Street. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Often times the ambassadors’ dedication for the residents of this city goes beyond offering directions and information. The “Gateway Program” is a collaboration among Centro, Haven for Hope, and SAPD to care for the underpasses leading into downtown. “It's not just about the cleaning efforts of the gateway underpass,” says Mike Pacheco, “but the human participation in helping the homeless connect to service for medical attention, shelter and food. Centro's involvement is about ‘clean and safe’ and is for all citizens.” Haven for Hope and SAPD assist with outreach to any member of the homeless population that may be nearby. Centro Ambassadors lead in the trash collection and landscaping maintenance to beautify these areas.
Catherine Martinez has been a hospitality ambassador for 17 years. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
The ambassadors extend the same extraordinary care and attention to visitors in the city. Catherine Martinez has been a hospitality ambassador for 17 years. There’s one experience that stands out to her. It was in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Catherine happened upon an older woman at a bus stop “crying her eyes out” clutching a parrot and two cats carriers. The woman had been transported there after the storm and was preparing to be sent to Port San Antonio for shelter. However, she was not going to be allowed to take her animals and she was not going to go without them…They were all she had left after that disaster.
Catherine felt as though she had to do something for the woman and her animals. “I asked her if she would trust in me that I could take good care of them.” Catherine, along with another ambassador named Tomas, looked after the animals while the woman received the care she needed. It ended up lasting a few months, during which Catherine was able to contact the woman’s son in north Texas to make sure everyone had a safe place to go.
Hospitality Ambassador Romona Romero assists a guest on Commerce Street. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
365 days a year, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you can catch the team braving the heat of summer and the cold snaps of winter. “It was about 28 degrees and I was doing a spot check to make sure everything was okay, making sure that our ambassadors were okay, that the people in our neighborhood were okay.” While patrolling, Mike Pacheco happened upon an elderly couple looking at a map on the River Walk, trying to locate an elevator to the street level, so they could return to their hotel. They told Mike they’d been searching for an hour in the below freezing weather. “We were able to not only give them directions, but also take them to the elevator and on to their hotel. It's a memorable story for me that I share with the ambassadors, that way they don't forget how important the job that we do is.”
Hospitality Ambassador Talitha Lewis assists a guest on Alamo Street. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
The Centro Ambassadors are 85 strong, including 19 hospitality, 65 maintenance ambassadors and “pan and broom” cleaning ambassadors servicing a .8 square mile area in the heart of downtown called the ‘Public Improvement District.’ Thanks to the support from the property owners within this district, the Ambassadors work every day to keep the vibe alive and make San Antonio ‘The Friendliest City in America.’