Ambassadors on hand to make folks feel welcome

01/22/2014 2:00 PM

11/12/2014 3:47 PM

Even on a crowded day, they are impossible to miss.

They are the Stock Show Ambassadors, a small army of volunteers attired in bright purple Western-cut sports coats who are posted around the grounds to answer questions and help participants and visitors.

“We don’t care if they are coming through the front gate as a guest or through the back gate as an exhibitor, we want them to feel welcome,” said Brad Barnes, Stock Show president and general manager.

The 106 ambassadors selected for this year’s show are part of the greeting committee, a collection of 185 volunteers who welcome rodeo contestants, livestock exhibitors and the public.

The ambassadors are concerned primarily with that last group, but some volunteers take on more than one type of greeting duty, “especially if they have expertise in some specific area, like horses or cattle,” said Jessica Birge, assistant operations manager at the Stock Show, who works with Barnes to select and schedule the ambassadors and other greeters.

Although the show has long had greeters for exhibitors and rodeo contestants, the ambassadors and their distinctive outfits were seen on the grounds for the first time last year.

Barnes said making all guests feel welcome has long been a priority.

A public information booth is a fixture in the Amon G. Carter Exhibits Hall, and another booth was added last year.

There is also a hospitality area for rodeo participants.

“… We realized that we’ve got rodeo contestants coming from all over the country and they are making their livings the hardest way possible. We need to make those folks feel welcome here,” Barnes said. “So that is when we created our rodeo contestant hospitality area.”

‘It’s not complicated’

To select ambassadors, Stock Show officials asked existing volunteers to recommend “like-minded people,” Barnes said.

They had to fill out an application, provide a résumé and a photo, go through interviews and undergo background checks.

“It’s not complicated,” Barnes said. “We are just looking for people who can be friendly.”

Over the event’s 23 days, each ambassador works five or six shifts of four to five hours each, Birge said.

In addition to assisting the public, the ambassadors help the Stock Show by providing feedback on what’s working on the grounds and what’s not.

“During the show, they will tell us if an entrance gate is getting too crowded or if we need more help somewhere and things like that. Then we have a debriefing session after the show is over where they give us their suggestions, good and bad,” Barnes said. “Those are the folks who are on the front lines. We need to listen to what they say. So we have been able to tweak things a little bit on their recommendations.”

Last year’s show was apparently a positive experience for the first class of 90 ambassadors, because most of them are returning.

A civic responsibility

One new ambassador is Rose Alvarez, a district manager for Starbucks.

“In my home growing up, there were three holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Fort Worth Stock Show,” Alvarez said. “I take vacation around this time to be able to go to the Stock Show. It is like a reunion of family and friends.”

Alvarez, who has also volunteered for the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame and other organizations, said she believes serving as an ambassador is her responsibility as a resident of Fort Worth.

“I have so much passion and love for the Western lifestyle. So I am excited,” Alvarez said.

Bob Cushman is one of the returning ambassadors.

“It is an event I look forward to every year. And I volunteer because I just thought it would be fun to be part of it,” said Cushman, who is a railroad engineer at Six Flags Over Texas when he is not directing people at the Stock Show.

About the only challenges are staying on your feet for long stretches and keeping up to date on Stock Show events, Cushman said.

“You have to keep up with what’s going on that day, as well as the next day,” Cushman said. “A lot of people want to know what is happening today and tomorrow.”

‘Not TCU purple’

The coats worn by ambassadors were created by John Ripps, a tailor with M.L. Leddy’s for 18 years.

Barnes said the color is “not TCU purple; it is Fort Worth purple.”

Although the jackets are custom-fit for each ambassador, all remain property of the Stock Show. Many ambassadors are wearing last year’s jackets, but Ripps had to make 17 more coats for this show.

“We measured them and began with stock sizes,” Ripps said. “I worked out an arrangement with a local tailor shop to do the alterations because the sizes were all over the place. We had one guy who had like a 60-inch chest and then some people who weren’t bigger than a minute.”

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