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Dressed in red polo shirts and matching baseball caps, Rapid City's inaugural downtown ambassadors began hitting the streets on Sunday to act as guides for residents and visitors.

By Wednesday afternoon, her second day on the job, Wanita Gravatt estimated that she had already assisted some 20 people.

"I think I've said 'hi' to hundreds," Gravatt said. "You can tell they're happy to have that happen."

First announced in May, the downtown ambassadors program puts residents familiar with Rapid City on the beat to provide directions, recommendations for restaurants and similar advice to tourists and locals all summer long. The program was unanimously approved in May by the board of the Business Improvement District, a taxing body in downtown Rapid City that seeks to improve the area.

Ambassadors are equipped with maps and knowledge of area attractions, and also act as a second set of eyes and ears for the city fire and police departments. They will make rounds in the downtown area seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. until their season ends in September.

Funded by the city and several local non-profits, the program is managed by Destination Rapid City and resembles those used in other cities around the country.

Gravatt, who owned the Wedding Boutique on St. Joseph Street for more than 30 years before retiring in 2009, said she is well-acquainted with downtown Rapid City and applied to the program to share her love for it. She and other ambassadors are paid $12 an hour and commit to at least 20 hours of work each week.

As part of their training, ambassadors were not only educated about the downtown dining and shopping but what situations require calls for police service.

For John Lofberg, working as an ambassador has so far been a learning experience as well as a teaching one.

"I'd like to know where all the presidents are located. I have a brochure I can give them, but that's not hardly the same." 

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