Downtown Indy Inc. to boost temporary jobs for at-risk veterans with Lilly grant

A Downtown Indy Inc. program to train and employ at-risk veterans plans to triple its internship opportunities after receiving more than $1.8 million in grant funding from Lilly Endowment, the not-for-profit downtown advocacy group announced Wednesday.

Downtown Indy collaborated with not-for-profit Helping Veterans and Families on a joint grant proposal to fund a workforce development program, VetWorks, for veterans either experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The Lilly Endowment’s Enhancing Opportunity in Indianapolis initiative awarded VetWorks $4.7 million, HVAF announced last Thursday. The Street Ambassador program will get $1.85 million over five years, enabling it to hire more participants.

The program currently employs four people but will boost that to 12 over the summer, said Timothy Boruff, Downtown Indy vice president of finance and operations.

Participants are primarily tasked with keeping downtown sidewalks presentable by cleaning up litter, stickers, graffiti and grime. Over 12 months, the program’s current four employees will have collected nearly a thousand 50-pound bags of debris, according to Boruff.

“Imagine if we were to, or once we do,  increase that three-fold,” he said. With more employees, the program will be able to expand coverage beyond the pedestrian-heavy, highly-visible areas in the Wholesale District to Mile Square as a whole … The significance of cleaning a wider footprint is huge.”

Why? Downtown Indy is hoping to coax back businesses and visitors as Indianapolis continues to reopen from pandemic restrictions.

“Especially with this recovery period, as more employers come downtown in the next two to four months, I think it’s important that they’re greeted with a clean, safe and beautiful environment,” Boruff said.

That makes the timing of the grant “absolutely a blessing,” Boruff said.

And it’s also a boon to the at-risk veterans that VetWorks is centered on.

Street ambassador positions are full-time internships that last six months to a year. Over five years, the program will provide consistent hours and pay to 60-120 veterans, according to Downtown Indy. The organization hopes the positions lead to new careers.

“The goal at the end of internship is referral to a sustainable position in partnership with our corporate community,” Boruff said.

The organization might refer participants who’ve picked up maintenance skills to a property owner, he said, or those who’ve worked with the plant beds downtown to a landscaping company.

“Not only are we able to keep downtown clean, but we’re also able to make a difference for individuals most at risk,” Boruff said.

Downtown Indy launched a pilot of the street ambassador program in October 2019. Last week’s grant to the program was part of more than $93 million in Lilly Endowment awards to 28 Indianapolis-based organizations.

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