Ambassador program seeks support, poised to expandThe Royal Ambassadors realize that some people perceive they’re just pretty people riding a parade float.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
The Royal Ambassadors realize that some people perceive they’re just pretty people riding a parade float.
But the truth is the four ambassadors work an estimated 800 hours per year attending events, promoting the city and volunteering for community service.
And they do it in addition to schoolwork, athletics and other extra-curricular activities.
The annual competition takes place just before River Falls Days, happening this year on Thursday, July 12.
And this time, two males will compete for an Ambassador title.
The program has also added sponsorship opportunities this year.
Its operating committee and other supporters hope to educate people about how much more the ambassadors do than smile and wave from a float.
Current Grand Royal Ambassador and recent graduate Kasey Manche, as well as the 2009-2010 Grand Royal Ambassador Elizabeth Covelli, confirm that when they’re out in other towns, people ask about River Falls.
They rarely realize how much the Kinnickinnic River offers -- top-rated trout fishing, scenic kayak and canoe trips, hiking, bird watching and more.
They tell people about all the fun festivals, beautiful parks, rich farming history and scenic surroundings.
The ambassadors describe to the “outsiders” all the different businesses in town, plus highlight all the places to see, hike, eat and play.
Jolene Sullivan, who owns and operates the American Family Insurance Agency in River Falls, said she didn’t realize all the ambassadors do until she became involved in an elementary-school fundraiser.
She needed volunteers to paint kids’ fingernails, and the girls gladly agreed.
Sullivan, who recently joined the Ambassador committee to focus on fundraising, said as a businessperson, she appreciates the young women’s promotional efforts.
Chaperone Denise “Dee” Sempf, who’s guided the Ambassador groups since 2001, said the scholarship amounts have not increased since 2007. The Grand Royal receives $600; the First Royal gets $400; and both of the other ambassadors receive $300 each.
Sullivan confirmed, “We’d like to see the scholarships increase.”
Sempf knows well all the expenses: Gas, parade vehicles, trucks to pull the float, meals at festivals and events, clothing, float upgrades, an annual tea…and others.
“Out of town, they’re probably at 40-50 events per year,” she said.
That doesn’t count the dozen or so local events or fundraisers or community service volunteering. Sempf said the group’s biggest fundraiser each year is selling $8 tickets to the Ambassador competition. Those ticket sales plus in-kind support and a few other smaller fundraisers are what keep the program going.
For example, Jerry’s Towing has always stored and maintained their float for free and makes sure it is mechanically sound to run in all those parades. Other professionals donate photography services, loaner cars for parades, banner embroidery, occasional chaperoning, meals and more.
Sempf said, “The Lions Club has probably been our biggest supporter,” adding that the club enabled the program to restart in 2001 after it had ceased in 1998 as the Miss River Falls contest.
Sullivan asked Sempf if there was anything she could do to help, so the chaperone mentioned fundraising and sponsorship development. After learning more about the ambassadors, she said to herself, “They’re doing so much for the city, why can’t businesses help with some of this?”
Thinking it made sense to collaborate the promotional efforts of the city, chamber, local businesses, and the ambassadors, she assembled a structured sponsorship program.
For amounts that vary from $250 to $1,000, business can be recognized at programs and events, on the float and web site and in the Ambassadors’ social media.
Sponsors also get a commemorative picture with the court or an individual Ambassador, plus tickets to the annual competition-coronation event.
Sempf, Covelli and Manche talk about the positive impact the Ambassador program has on the high school seniors who serve it.
Sempf said, “The rule is family and school come first.”
Covelli said she gained confidence and realized she not only learned how to be prepared and present herself, but also discovered she enjoys public speaking.
“I’ve been applying for internships and jobs for the past two years and they always ask about that,” said Covelli.
She said employers usually seem interested to know about her people and organizational skills, which all the Ambassadors sharpen through participating in the program.
Manche said, “I would say the greatest thing for me that has come as a benefit of it is, as you go through the year, you become more confident. It also helps you get to know yourself.”
She says the three other girls in the court have become her best friends -- and people she might never have gotten to know otherwise.
“I was very, very, very, scared for college,” said Manche, “but this has actually helped me. I feel ready.”
Sempf says each year brings a new group, a new dynamic, and fresh lessons about how to get along and respect people’s differences. Manche said she’s educated a few classmates, especially those who will compete for titles this year.
She tells them before explaining, “It isn’t a beauty pageant, it’s community service.”
She said most people who learn what they “really do” think the program is “pretty cool.”
The competition requires candidates to do an application, an essay, a judges’ social during which candidates are evaluated, and on stage -- a 60-second introduction, personal presentation, and impromptu question taken from the candidates’ application.
Sempf said each competition opens with all the candidates performing a song-and-dance number together. She said judges are always from out of town, so that the competition is not a popularity contest.
Covelli said the ambassadors not only represent the community but also serve as role models.
She said, “I feel like a lot of people think it’s four pretty girls on a float. If they knew about the community service and other events, they’d know it’s more.”
For more information about sponsorship opportunities contact Jolene Sullivan at 715-425-8485 or Dee Sempf at 715-222-6477.