UCD Safety Ambassador Shaun Loadholt

All throughout University City, a group of dedicated men and women work 365 days a year to keep our neighborhood safe. There’s Mike, standing at 40th and Market each morning as commuters exit the subway station, or Brianna who takes over for the evening commute. Each day when the final bell rings at the Penn Alexander School, Ryan is there to greet the students. Tuhran hands out materials at college safety fairs to educate students about bike safety and situational awareness. These people, clad in yellow and black, are UCD Safety Ambassadors, and they’ve been a critical part of University City District’s work in the community since our formation in 1997.

On foot, on bicycle, in patrol cars, and for a brief, inexplicable period even on rollerblades, UCD safety ambassadors serve as a highly visible deterrent to crime and work with the other local law enforcement and security agencies to reduce crime throughout the neighborhood.

“If we can deter a crime from even happening? That’s the number one goal,” says Alan Garry, UCD’s Director of Public Safety and Community Services. As part of his job, Alan oversees an account with security company Allied Universal consisting of 65 ambassadors and supervisors. He also works to develop relationships with the other nearby safety agencies. “UCD is unique because we have coverage throughout the entire district,” continues Alan. “Our ambassadors overlap with other organizations like Penn, Drexel, Philadelphia Police, SEPTA, Amtrak, and security for local hospitals, uSciences, and the Science Center. We’re not confined to a small footprint.”

But UCD’s ambassadors are not law enforcement officers. They are trained to be public safety stewards, in part to serve as  the eyes and ears for the police, but also to assist residents, students, and local employees with things like walking escort services, vehicle lockouts and jumpstarts, homeless outreach in partnership with Project HOME, and any other needs that might come up.

UCD ambassadors need training in everything from effective patrolling techniques, radio communications, first aid, urban bicycling, and, most importantly to Alan, customer service. “When we hire ambassadors, we look for someone with good communications skills so they can have many positive interactions with community members, business owners, and neighbors.”

One such ambassador who has excelled in all these areas is Shaun Loadholt, who has been with UCD since 2013. While many ambassadors come to UCD through job fairs, general postings, or are transferred from other Allied Universal positions, Shaun took a more circuitous route, starting with UCD’s West Philadelphia Skills Initiative.

Shaun grew up in North Philadelphia but moved to 52nd and Girard when he was 12 years old. While studying at Overbrook High School he became involved with Philadelphia Futures, a local nonprofit that provides Philadelphia's low-income, first-generation-to-college students with tools, resources and opportunities necessary for admission to and success in college. With Philadelphia Futures’ help, Shaun earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts from the Community College of Philadelphia, but then found himself in need of a job. His counselor from Philly Futures saw a flier for the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative and suggested Shaun apply.

“It was out of nowhere,” Shaun remembers. Through the Skills Initiative program, Shaun learned valuable job and interview skills. “I learned about keywords to use in a resume to help your application jump to the top of the list. I was even learning sociological lessons—it was almost like a college course. I learned all this stuff I had no idea about, like how to sell myself, how to work with my own experience and skills.”

Shaun wasn’t sure where the program would take him, but he was open to opportunities. At the conclusion of all Skills Initiative programs, participants go through mock interviews, and one of Shaun’s interviewers happened to be Alan Garry.

“Interviewing Shaun, I saw someone with a lot of potential,” Alan remembers. “He really stood out from the other interviews that day. Everyone there was hungry for any job, but Shaun wanted something more meaningful, a job he could be proud of.” Alan liked him right away.

“They always put a big emphasis on customer service,” Shaun remembers, echoing Alan. “It’s about soft skills, being approachable, and taking initiative. I guess Alan saw that in me.”

He did. So much so, in fact, that after the interview Alan pulled a colleague from the Skills Initiative aside to say he wanted to hire Shaun to work as an ambassador. When he made the job offer, Alan assured Shaun that the people skills were most important, and that the security training could be easily acquired.

There was just one catch: Shaun didn’t know how to ride a bike.

“I showed up for training at Allied’s headquarters for their initial training, and I got a slip that said ‘Be at the Penn Annex for bike training Sunday.’” Shaun laughs at the memory. “I went to the bike training and had to tell the trainer I didn’t know how to ride, like, at all. At that point, the last time I had attempted to ride I was six or seven years old, like everybody else, with my dad trying to teach me. And we just never finished.”

The trainer sent Shaun home. “With someone else that would have been the end of it,” Alan says. “But I still saw the potential in Shaun.” Even though bike riding is an integral part of the position, Alan found a compromise and offered Shaun a position working at The Porch at 30th Street as the weekend concierge. “The Porch was the only ambassador position that wasn’t on a bike at the time. Shaun ended up being a perfect fit and a great compliment to Roy, the full time Porch concierge.”

Shaun spent his first six months working part-time at The Porch, but decided in order to get more hours he needed to acquire additional skills. “Shaun came to realize one of his weaknesses was talking on the radio, so he asked if he could do dispatch,” Alan says, laughing at the memory. “He stressed that forcing himself to do it would make him be better.”

Dispatchers are tasked with answering phone calls when the UCD office is closed—after 5 pm and on weekends—for people seeking walking escorts, jumpstarts, or vehicle jumpstarts. The dispatcher gathers the information and then passes along instructions to ambassadors on patrol so they can offer assistance. They also record all notable occurrences—escorts, incidents, and locations—reported by ambassadors during their shifts.   

Once he had that position down, Shaun realized he still needed another skill if he really wanted to excel at the position. So in the summer of 2014, Shaun started teaching himself how to ride a bike. “I would do dispatch, and then on my lunch break I’d get relieved, grab my relief’s bike, and practice riding in the UCD parking lot. Units would come in from their lunch break and give me pointers. ‘You can’t be looking at your feet,’ ‘you gotta relax,’ or ‘it’s all about balance.’ I didn’t understand how people stayed straight without falling over. Once it happened, I was like, ‘I can’t believe I didn’t know how to do this before.’ It felt like magic.”

Shaun had to go back to the same trainer who had sent him home years earlier and try again. “We went to the top level of the Fresh Grocer and go through drills like doing a serpentine pattern through a series of cones. You had to ride in a circle around a nine foot box without stopping. You have to learn bike safety and all the bike parts, and then show you can brake and balance yourself.” This time, Shaun passed and was able to go out on bike patrol.

“A lot of your efforts when you’re patrolling can go unrecorded,” Shaun says. “What you’re supposed to be doing is working as a deterrent to crime. You can’t see a deterrence happening. Someone might be about to pull on a door handle, but since you’re standing there they walk away. A lot of it is riding around, being visible, answering questions and giving directions. Depending on where you’re stationed you might have to do a lot of escorts—Drexel students are always calling for them.” Shaun got to know different students who would call for escorts every night, and he enjoys knowing he’s working to keep people safe.

“He’s always challenging himself,” Alan says. “First it was getting a job, then it was getting better on the radio, then it was learning to ride a bike, and recently it was getting his driver’s license so he could apply to be a supervisor.” Not surprisingly, Shaun got the position. He now works as a dispatch supervisor, overseeing ambassadors on the night shift and being accountable for a crew working under him.

As much as Alan would love to see the best of our ambassadors stay on indefinitely, the reality of the program is that many of the ambassadors use their experiences with UCD to eventually move to other positions.  “We’ve had multiple ambassadors move on to other positions with Allied Universal, become police officers, or go on to successful careers with the military or in other fields,” Alan says.

When asked to share specific stories of safety ambassadors excelling on the job, Alan has to think for a moment. “It’s hard because there have been so many.” He references the time last year when Penn Police officer Ed Miller and Philadelphia Police Sergeant Sylvia Young were shot by a suspect, and UCD ambassadors as a group received a unit commendation for their response during the crisis. “A real impressive response from our team.”

Ambassadors have helped prevent robberies, and domestic disputes, and countless other crimes. But for Alan, it’s not the big, rare incidents that prove the worth of the program, but the daily interactions with neighbors and employees that happen every day. “Shaun embodies all of what we want in our team, and we’re lucky to have him.”