Boston City Hall, with the help of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, introduced its Pilot Greeter Program a month ago this Sunday. The smiling faces inside one of Boston’s most confusing buildings are creating new ways for the city’s people to experience their local government.
“There’s not [a lot of] friendliness here,” said Walsh of Boston City Hall. “Taxpayers pay for [this] building…They should be greeted with…a hello.”
The eight greeters, who Walsh said will “brighten up” the government building, are all local Northeastern students, part of the school’s six month co-op program. Among them are Elizabeth Torres, 22, of Orlando, FL. and Eugenia Soiles, 22, of Arlington, VA.
“I wanted to learn about every department quickly,” said Torres. She and her partners began their employment at City Hall in January, answering phone calls on the Mayor’s 24 Hour Constituent Service hotline.
Torres has taken a special interest in government activities throughout her college career. A senior in the fall of 2014, she also participated in a six month co-op program at Emerge Massachusetts. The non-profit organization encourages and trains women to run for public office.
“I feel attached to the city in a lot of ways,” said Torres, who plans on pursuing a career in municipal government. “I find [Boston] to be homey.”
Soiles is also in her second co-op through Northeastern and says she entered the position because she “wanted to know more about work in local government.” Soiles worked previously in congressional affairs for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which is run on a federal level.
Citing the most common requests from patrons as parking tickets and birth certificates, both Torres and Soiles laughed when they recalled a permit request to grill out in a Boston public park.
“We get to try on a lot of different hats,” said Soiles about the City Hall experience. “I think [the program] is great because we get to talk to people in person.”
Interim Chief of Information Officer Justin Holmes, who oversees the students, is extremely pleased with the pilot introduction of greeters at Boston City Hall. “The feedback…has been extremely positive,” he said.
Holmes said the greeters have initiated two crucial improvements for City Hall. Evaluating the initial month of the program, he said the first achievement was setting “a better tone” for those walking into the doors. Previously, the greeting was with a metal detector.
“The greeters help people navigate beyond what they see at the front door,” said Holmes.
Speaking more excitedly, he explained the second benefit of the new greeters. “We are observing the way people access government services…like we never have before.”
Holmes and his colleagues have used the greeters’ experience to understand the weaknesses in the building, such as ambiguous signage or architectural faults. “It can be somewhat of a challenging place,” said Holmes. “We want to create a friendly and welcoming environment.”
The introduction of greeters at Boston City Hall has many excited for the future of communication between citizens and government services. “In a time when people feel jaded about government,” said Torres “it’s really nice to be part of an entity working to help.”
By Erin P. Friar
Photographs By Joseph MacDonald