With the sounds of old-school R&B in the background, representatives from the First Ward Ambassadors did not let the threat of a shower keep the portable grill off Trinity Place. After a short drizzle, the smell of hot dogs drew both adults and children out.
“This really is a family night,” said Tracy Edwards, chief ambassador. “The families and kids all come down for a bite to eat.”
This is the third year that the First Ward Ambassadors have been out in the neighborhood. Their presence came on the heels of an eventful Fourth of July in 2004.
“Three years ago it was an all-out war,” Edwards said. “Since then things have been lovely.”
The First Ward Ambassadors were founded in 2004 to aid children and teens within the central city.
“Our mission is to mentor at-risk youth,” Edwards said. “We can’t save them all, but the ones we can save can make a difference in the community, our future and the lives of other people.”
Over the years, First Ward Ambassadors has taken an active stance in providing opportunities and guidance to youth in the community.
“If we don’t have the older brothers in the community to give back to the younger brothers, we don’t have a community,” Edwards said.
Part of the group’s idea of building stronger community is by molding active representatives of the neighborhoods.
“We want these kids to respect authority,” Edwards said. “We try and make them good citizens. If you are a good role model, then you don’t have to put yourself in a bad situation.”
Don Schmidt, director of safety and security for the Columbia Housing Authority, has seen the group’s impact on their community.
“They do a great job of working with groups of kids and getting them to work out their differences,” he said. “They’ve been the best thing to happen down here.”
Although First Ward Ambassadors has been working with the Columbia Housing Authority for many years, Edwards and Schmidt were teaming up long before that.
“Donnie and I grew up together,” Edwards said. “We met in the fifth grade at Russell Boulevard Elementary.”
After going to separate junior high schools, Schmidt and Edwards crossed paths again playing on the football team at Rock Bridge High School, where Edwards played nose guard and short-yard fullback and Schmidt played tight end. Schmidt also was a disc jockey at the “Blind” Boone Community Center.
“We go way back,” Edwards said. “He would play the hits of the day like Michael Jackson, Prince, the Bar-kays, New Edition and Lionel Richie.”
Schmidt continued his work with the Housing Authority in a different manner.
“Life sure is a turnaround,” Edwards said. “When we were kids, who would have thought that he would come back and work at the Housing Authority after DJ-ing there.”
Edwards has done the same. Through the donation of his time and energy, he is able to contribute and enrich a community that has harbored him the majority of his life.
“I’ve never left the First Ward,” Edwards said. “This is my hood.”