Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Community & Society
Published on August 22, 2015
Castro Ambassadors Program Brings Community To Visitors And Volunteers AlikePhotos: Alisa Scerrato / Hoodline

The Castro Ambassadors program, put on by the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District (CBD), welcomes visitors from around the world. Its volunteers greet passersby as they walk through the Castro, providing them with information about the rainbow flag, GLBT Museum, Harvey Milk's Castro Camera shop, the AIDS Quilt, and other Castro and city-wide points of interest, depending on the visitors' requests.

CBD Executive Director Andrea Aiello loves the program, now into its fifth year.

“It’s a great way to give back to the neighborhood," Aiello told Hoodline. "It’s fun and it gets people outside doing something that is social and interactive."

The ambassadors, sometimes working in pairs, are prepared to greet people from all over the world each day, offering guidebooks in English, German, French, Japanese, Italian, Chinese, and Spanish. Many also speak several different languages.

Aiello admires the value that the program provides for visitors and ambassadors alike.

"It’s great for building community. A lot of people are isolated and it’s a way to get out and do something different."

Aiello especially appreciates the team dynamic that ambassadors experience when working together. "It's nice, because they keep one another company and bounce ideas off of each other."

Paul Margolis (left) and Howard Hart (right) greet visitors

When we visited with the ambassadors, Paul Margolis and Howard Hart were the team at the welcome kiosk that day. Both Margolis and Hart started volunteering with the Castro Ambassadors about two years ago. They set their kiosk right at the corner of Market and Castro streets so that they can greet people from both underground and street-level transportation.

Hart is retired and sings in the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. “I just want to give back to the community and spread the word, whatever that might be," he said. "There are a lot of lost souls walking around here. They don’t know where to go or what to do, so the service we offer is really important, especially when it’s all free."

Margolis told us that he enjoys helping people with a variety of information, local to the Castro, and around the city.

"They might ask, 'How do you get to the Haight,' or 'Where are the Painted Ladies?' Last year, a big question was, 'Where was the movie, Milk, filmed?'"

Hart and Margolis are just two of the many volunteers who staff the program. "Anyone can volunteer," Aiello explained. "If you are passionate about the city and love talking to people from around the world, volunteering might be right for you. You don't need to live in the Castro -You just need to meet people there and share information."

Some samples of the literature the ambassadors offer to visitors

Commitment for volunteers is four hours a month, which can be done any day of the week between 11am and 5pm. The program operates between Memorial Day and the Castro Street Fair in October of each year. The busiest season is summer, when ambassadors see around 1,000 visitors a month.

The program is always looking for new volunteers. To find out more about the program and becoming an ambassador, explore its website, or contact Aiello directly at [email protected] or 415-500-1181.