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November 28, 2018
Giving Back: Hector Lopez
in 2014, when Hector Lopez was interviewing to manage the SouthSide Ambassadors—a national program facilitated by downtown improvement company Block By Block, and engaged locally by the Bethlehem Economic Development Corporation—he took a walk around the south side of Bethlehem. He asked himself: what would I do, to take care of this place?
At first, “it was overwhelming,” the Allentown native says. But, to the self-proclaimed “neat freak,” the possibility was exciting, and the potential for change couldn’t be denied. Four years later, Lopez and his dedicated crews—a morning cleanup crew, and an evening safety and hospitality crew—have made a difference. Sidewalks are cleaner. Buildings are free of graffiti. If you’re new to the area, a person in a friendly yellow uniform might approach and offer directions, or recommend a terrific sandwich shop. The south side is experiencing tremendous new growth, and the Ambassadors are a part of that.
And this is their home: most of Lopez’s crew members were born and raised in Bethlehem. Now “they’re getting paid to clean up their neighborhood,” says Lopez. “And they’re taking pride in that.”
Lopez is still picturing the future. “One day,” he says. “I want to see lights and hear music in the streets [on the south side]. I want to see it bright, and shining, and for my ambassadors to be walking around and through it, helping folks feel comfortable.” Big changes are possible when people care, and when energy and passion lead to simple actions. “All we did,” says Lopez, “was come in and clean.”