Near West Side safety ambassadors promote community well-being alongside Marquette students

Students Lucy O’Brien and Jenna Kozal take part in a summer cleanup event.

With trash grabbers in hand and a drive to keep their neighborhood clean, Marquette University students and the Near West Side safety ambassadors are teaming up to better community spaces. The ambassadors worked alongside student staff from Marquette’s Center for Peacemaking this summer and fall to execute weekly clean-ups, with a focus on 27th Street. Through these clean-ups, students connect with residents, learn more about the areas that surround Marquette and keep trash off of the streets in the Near West Side. 

Gabby Shoulders is a second-year undergraduate student majoring in criminology and law studies on the Promoting Assets, Reducing Crime (PARC) student team at Marquette’s Center for Peacemaking. Shoulders weekly participates in the PARC clean-ups, gaining a better understanding of the neighborhood that surrounds campus in the process. This is valuable considering most of the ambassadors live in the area where they work.

“It makes me feel a better sense of community, a better sense of safety, a better sense of understanding,” says Shoulders.

Gabby Shoulders plants bulbs during a cleanup event.

Additionally, the ambassador team, alongside students, surveyed homes and apartments in the area to gather data for the 2023 Near West Side Resident Survey. The survey is a 37-question exploration of community wellness and perceptions. It was conducted throughout the seven Near West Side neighborhoods: Avenues West, Cold Spring Park, Concordia, Martin Drive, Merrill Park, Miller Valley and Piggsville.

The ambassadors play a vital role in our community, even if their contributions may not be widely known by the residents they serve. This safety program furthers the multidisciplinary, cross-sector PARC initiative that focuses on bettering housing conditions, activating commercial corridors, improving safety conditions and promoting health in the Near West Side. This collaboration between Marquette and the Near West Side Partners, Inc. places a strong emphasis on fostering compassion and trust while prioritizing safety.

Training is offered to ambassadors by the Near West Side Partners, including instruction on de-escalation, soft skills, NARCAN, report writing, Red Cross and disaster support.

The team of Near West Side safety ambassadors includes Savanah Brooks, Hassani Lucas and Elliott Carson. Brooks, who lives in Cold Spring Park, is the safety and community outreach manager who oversees the group. When she first joined the Near West Side Partners, she started as an ambassador. She describes her favorite part of the job as seeing the positive impact on her neighborhood and people working together on a community-wide goal.

The Near West Side safety ambassadors are essential in promoting community in their neighborhoods. Regularly, the ambassadors engage with residents, people experiencing homelessness, business owners and the Marquette University Police Department. Since January, the ambassadors have filed 205 blight reports, distributed 6592 flyers, conducted 212 business checks and had eight community clean-ups.

The ambassadors dedication is evident through the relationships built and their work to address the unique needs of the areas they serve. The program acts as an example of how friendly community leadership can lead to positive, significant transformations. To learn more about the Near West Side Partners and their staff, visit their website.