Lilly volunteer service day blooms into citywide effort

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The Eli Lilly Global Day of Service has grown to the point that neither “Eli Lilly” nor “day” adequately describe the full scope of its influence and its array of offshoot volunteer projects.

More than 60 companies plan to participate this year in the three-day Indy Do Day volunteer marathon, which kicks off Thursday.

The event stems from Lilly’s annual volunteerism day, which usually recruits about 8,000 of its Indianapolis workers to plant trees, collect litter and handle other odd jobs to spruce up the city.

In conjunction with Lilly's Day of Service, other employers this year have decided to do their own versions of the event and send their employees out of the office to do community service projects from Thursday through Saturday. That's "Indy Do Day."

Organizers estimate participation could exceed 10,000 people, including Lilly's volunteers.

Lilly’s staff has spent the past few years figuring out how to grow its annual service event, said Sherrie Bossung, director of community outreach.

A massive Day of Service beautification project on Interstate 70 in 2010 seemed to gain the most momentum (despite evoking ire from some commuters for shutting down the stretch of highway that day).

“It continued to morph from there,” Bossung said. “We thought, ‘Why not just have the whole city come out together and make this big statement to everybody?’”

So the company began reaching out to groups that donated people or materials to previous Days of Service to get their input.

“We sat around tables at the United Way or Keep Indianapolis Beautiful and continued to have this conversation,” Bossung said. “We grew it into this almost professional operation. I think we’re really interested in looking for civic engagement that lasts all year, not just this one-hit wonder.”

To start, the participating businesses and organizations—Indianapolis Power & Light Co., Angie's List, ExactTarget, Indiana Sports Corp. and UPS, to name a few—have compiled a list of more than 100 volunteer activities that they’re doing this week.

No one group is spearheading the effort. Every organization has planned its own activities based on its own interests, but has agreed to do so between Thursday and Saturday.

“People in Indianapolis already have a sense of civic pride and engagement,” said David Forsell, president of Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, which has helped Lilly coordinate Day of Service since it began. “And to see the power of that in one location and in one day is just affirming and probably something to build upon.”

Participating businesses are loosely orchestrating everything through the website

Commercial real estate developer Buckingham Cos., for example, plans to plant shrubbery at its CityWay property at Delaware and South streets. The firm is also working with arts group Big Car to paint a mural at CityWay, said Scott Travis, senior vice president for Buckingham.

Other activities throughout the week will include road cleanup, playground repairs, blood drives and financial literacy programs.

“The idea here is to do something simple and manageable,” Forsell said. “It may be picking up litter along the block of your business. It might be packing lunches for young people who need extra food on their plates.”

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