In December 2004, then Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Manager John McCarthy and future beach ambassador Jane Phelan developed an idea for a volunteer service that would welcome visitors to Siesta Key Beach and provide them with information about what the area has to offer.
With their “embassy” a tiki-hut near the concession stand at the public beach, 10 volunteers began working on weekends in what would become the Siesta Key Beach Ambassadors program. Today, more than 45 ambassadors work seven days a week, to keep visitors and beachgoers in the know, with an emphasis on the community’s rich arts scene.
Sponsored by the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau, Sarasota County Parks and Recreation and the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, the Beach Ambassadors served more than 40,000 visitors in 2011 — an impressive jump from the 5,000 visitors it saw in its first year.
Ed Schmidt, who co-coordinates the program with his wife, Sandy, says he has no shortage of volunteer ambassadors and has noticed their shared delight in educating visitors about Siesta Key and Sarasota.
“People love it,” he says. “Our volunteers really have a passion for welcoming people to the beach, and they just enjoy being out here.”
Ambassadors work in pairs in two daily shifts. They distribute literature and answer questions people may have; for example, “What’s a good rainy-day activity?” and “What is the origin of Siesta Key’s famous fine sand?”
The latter answer is the quartz base.
“It’s rewarding to be able to welcome visitors to our beach,” Schmidt says. “We’re happy to provide them with answers, and they seem really grateful to have the service here.”