Two new additions to the Lac La Biche downtown are making an impact for local business, community safety and visitor information.
For the second year running, Lac La Biche County has enlisted the eyes and ears — and smiles — of Community Ambassadors. This year, Jenae Gauthier and Kelsey Slade are the uniformed staff taking to the streets on daily foot patrols to answer questions, take suggestions, offer help and report troubles.
Gauthier, 18, and Slade 19, say their youth and energy helps them in their daily duties. The two area residents are school friends and are both continuing their education in university courses that will start up again after summer.
"We work well together," they both said at the same time, then breaking into easy laughter.
Being friendly and personable is a big part of the job.
"We like to think we are easy to approach and welcoming. If people are comfortable coming to us, to interact, that is what our job is all about," said Slade.
From educating business owners about their responsibilities when it comes to cleaning up graffiti, hearing suggestions from the same business owners on how to improve the community, informing community peace officers about suspicious behaviour, giving visitors directions — and even offering recommendations on where to find the best ice cream selection, Slade and Gauthier say the job is very rewarding.
Smiles and miles
The job also puts a lot of travel on their feet. One pulling out her smartphone and the other consulting a Fitbit, the two estimate they walk upwards of 30,000 steps — about 10 miles — each day shift. They both realize that each step leaves a positive footprint when it comes to making the community a better place.
"People see us out there, and if they need to, they know they can talk to us about their concerns or their issues. It's good for people to know that someone is listening," said Gauthier.
Lac La Biche County's Manager of Enforcement Services — the department that oversees the ambassador program — has heard a lot of good reports about the program since it began this year at the start of June.
"The feedback has been really positive ... We have had great success and I am excited to see how this program continues to evolve," says Chris Clark, adding that an expansion of the program to include the Plamondon business area is also planned.
For now, he says, the program, especially with the two staff members, is making a positive difference.
"They are both hardworking staff who are positive and wanting to make a difference. Enforcement Services has received a lot of positive comments that speak to the work ethic and calibre of both of these two young ladies," said Clark.
The ambassadors are connected directly to peace officers through their radio network when it comes to reporting on potential criminal activity.
"The Ambassadors are an observe and report function to help keep our downtown area safe. They regularly identify persons of interest who officers may be looking for, persons who are consuming liquor in public, loitering, causing disturbances and several other issues," Clark tells the POST. "This allows for our officers to have a prompt response and deal with the issue a lot quicker than waiting for the public to call or for our officers to discover the person during proactive patrols."
For most of their shifts, Slade and Gauthier say their interactions can be as simple as a smile and a nice "hello," On some occasions, however, they say with a smile, they have to dig into a literal bag of tricks — their department-issued backpacks, for specialized equipment.
"We have stickers and little tattoos for the kids who come up to us," said Slade.
"It's great to watch them smile as they take them," finished Gauthier.
The Community Street Ambassador Program will run until the the end of August. Clark said the program was initiated by Lac La Biche County's Safer Municipality Advisory Committee and the Protective Services department in 2018. It received a municipal budget in 2019.
"Our goal is for the Ambassador positions to work on addressing safety issues, community and business concerns, keep our downtown and the business area of Plamondon safe and issue free," said Clark.