The water was waist-deep in the house. Darshelle Ellis and her family were trapped. If it hadn’t been for the U.S. Air Force helicopter, they might not have made it out.
Darshelle and her family were brought to San Antonio on a U.S. Air Force cargo plane in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. She was fifteen. As a child she idolized superheroes and literary characters who acted selflessly to help others. She says she feels lucky that heroes helped her in that particular time of need.
At first, living in San Antonio wasn’t easy for her. “I was just trying to transition from one culture to another,” she explains. Darshelle found her community at Fox Tech High School in downtown. “I love to read, so having full access to the library and to the teachers really helped me out a lot.” At Fox Tech, she studied Culinary Arts and participated in ROTC among other things.
In 2013, after some time at St. Philip’s College, one of Darshelle’s family members fell ill and she started looking for work to help her family. She headed downtown to look for opportunities. Darshelle remembers the day she encountered a Centro San Antonio Ambassador near the Drury Hotel, who referred her to the Centro Operations Center for job opportunities.
Centro San Antonio Ambassador Darshelle Ellis offers to take a photo for downtown visitors in front of the Alamo. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
“Once I got here, I started to realize how truly nice people are,” she says of starting work at Centro. Interacting with the team, visitors, and locals helped to bring her out of her shell. “I went from not talking much to not being able to be quiet,” she jokes.
Darshelle started out on the River Walk, doing maintenance work and assisting people with information and wayfinding. She loved all the activity and vibrancy down on the river level. The next step for Darshelle was becoming a Public Service Representative Ambassador (PSR), which took her from the river level of downtown to “street level”. This is where she flourished, learning about downtown by helping others: “[I] get them feeling like they’re part of the city,” she explains.
Centro San Antonio Ambassador Darshelle Ellis assisting visitors of downtown with directions on Houston Street. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Centro San Antonio Ambassador Darshelle Ellis assisting visitors of downtown on Alamo Street. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
And that’s no small task. Darshelle was part of a team that assisted 1.4 million locals and visitors in Downtown San Antonio in 2018. That’s approximately the population of the city itself.
When people have someone downtown who actively approaches them and checks on how they’re doing, “They do feel like they’re being saved,” explains Darshelle. “I know what it’s like to walk around being lost,” she continues, harkening back to when she first arrived in the city.
Centro San Antonio Ambassador Darshelle Ellis as despatch officer during her morning shift. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Today, Darshelle has moved to the operations center, taking calls and responding over radio to requests for information from Ambassadors on the street and river. Her literary mind is perfectly suited to the position, which involves a lot of research and fact-finding. All with the goal of improving people’s experiences downtown.
In a way, Darshelle and her fellow Ambassadors are a lot like the superheroes she idolized as a kid. “Except we don’t have capes,” she laughs.