Neighborhood Ambassadors transforming city & their own lives

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A city of Milwaukee program, in its eighth year, is helping to transform Milwaukee communities -- and those selected to participate are transforming their own lives.

The 25 newest "Neighborhood Ambassadors" worked to clean up the Clarke Street neighborhood on Monday morning, May 12th.

"Certainly the ambassadors help. Their presence, their connection with police, their outreach to the citizens makes a big difference. In essence -- the city meeting the citizens halfway," Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan said.

The Neighborhood Ambassadors Program is in its eighth year.

The Neighborhood Ambassadors are now a fixture year round on Milwaukee's south side.

Workers are selected from the W-2 -- or Welfare to Work program for low-income applicants who have children.

Organizers say the ambassadors benefit just as much as the neighborhoods they clean.

"What I like about this program is they`re not only working -- but they`re receiving hours of leadership development," UMOS Workforce Development Manager Leonor Rosas said.

Organizers say the proof of the program's success can be seen in what the ambassadors are able to accomplish. For example, ambassadors have helped to transform a vacant lot into a community garden.

"From neighborhood beautification, to public safety, to building their own careers and their own backgrounds -- which is an amazing example of what can be done in neighborhoods and in lives like the ones they live," Director of the Clarke Street Neighborhood, Ramon Candelaria said.

Alderman Donovan says this year, the Neighborhood Ambassadors program is entirely funded by federal dollars.

The workers receive stipends through the W-2 program.

"The only cost to government, really, is the staffing to make this happen, so it`s been done on a shoe-string and it`s been most successful," Alderman Donovan said.

Supporters say cleaner neighborhoods are safer neighborhoods -- and the ambassadors plant the seeds of their own future success.

"There are no losers in this program," Rosas said.

In order to qualify for the W-2 program, applicants must have custody of minor children.

Their family income must be less than 115% of the federal poverty line -- which for a family of four, is about $27,500.

Alderman Donovan says he would like to see the Neighborhood Ambassadors program extend to other parts of the city.