Realize Bradenton creates 'Downtown Ambassador' program

BRADENTON -- Realize Bradenton wants to make sure Bradenton visitors know all about the city's cultural partners, and that they don't get lost getting to them.

The nonprofit organization has created a new program, "Downtown Ambassadors," comprised of volunteers who guide and inform visitors about the city's Riverwalk, McKechnie Field, Village of the Arts and other attractions, said Johnette Isham, Realize Bradenton's executive officer.

There are more than 100 volunteers, of all ages, who have signed up for the program, she said.

"People from all over the world will be here," said Laura McKeithen, creative services and community builder for Realize Bradenton.

She said it is important for the nonprofit to have people knowledgeable about the area to ensure that those visitors take full advantage of what the city has to offer.

The volunteers will also help set up for events planned

at the renovated Riverwalk, which is set to open Oct. 18.

High school students interested in volunteering are granted community service credits, Isham said.

"For people who are out of work this is a way to make professional connections," she said.

Keren Swedberg, 23, originally from Minnesota, said her involvement with Realize Bradenton has kept her in Bradenton.

"This is why I'm here," Swedberg said. "This is why I stayed."

The Hernando de Soto Historical Society, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, ArtCenter Manatee and other local organizations have created small ribbons with their names and logos.

The fabric ribbons, from about 120 people andorganizations, will bestitched together to make a long ribbon that will be cut at the Riverwalk's grand opening.

Linda Bronkema, artist and owner of Bits & Pieces, a shop in Village of the Arts, will be putting the ribbons together. She's also a Downtown Ambassadors volunteer.

"I love Bradenton," Bronkema said. "If we all worktogether we are stronger. I know what's going on in the city, so why shouldn't I help?"