Commentary: City attempts world record to improve community in time of dissension

By Rob Smith

Strong communities are built by people who are personally invested in their neighborhoods, and see their investments matched and multiplied by others. At a time when communities are divided on issues that are personal and political, Indianapolis will show this week how communities can come together in service for a common goal – to make a difference in the community where you live and work. 

Rob Smith is president of the Lilly Foundation.

Ten years ago, Lilly launched its Global Day of Service, which spurred service projects worldwide but gained true momentum here where its corporate headquarters are located. In 2011, when we shut down I-70 and partnered with Keep Indianapolis Beautiful (KIB) to beautify the gateway to our city from the airport to downtown, dozens of companies came forward and wanted to join Lilly in this day of service. Indy Do Day was born–a grassroots coalition of public, private, not for profits and community leaders coming together with a goal of making Indianapolis one of the most civically engaged communities in the country. As a result, the residents of Indianapolis get to know their neighbors, take ownership of their neighborhoods and take care of one another.

The signature project for this year’s Indy Do Day is to promote Mayor Joe Hogsett’s It’s My City initiative, a three-year effort led by the City of Indianapolis, KIB and Lilly to leverage pride and engage residents to improve our city to be clean, green and beautiful. Hundreds of local volunteers will create a giant anti-litter public service announcement covering 36 miles of trails using spray chalk to bring awareness to keeping our city vibrant and demonstrating people’s personal commitment to our city. Chalk is being provided so more than 350 schools can participate, and companies have sponsored multiple sections along the trails. In one section, Lilly and Indianapolis Power & Light are working to help KIB and the City of if Indianapolis attempt to set a Guinness World RecordsTM for the “largest display of chalk pavement art.”

This project is about education, awareness and engagement.  You change culture when you get people talking about something.  The use of art developed by local Indy artists, and brought to life by local businesses and nonprofits, is something people will talk about and share on social media. 

Why should businesses get involved?  Businesses have a responsibility to serve and improve the community they and their employees call home. Community service projects like this improve employee engagement, and in turn, improve employee retention and recruitment.  When employees are engaged in the community, they stay in the community.

It’s not too late to get involved. Projects are available to join on the Indy Do Day website. This year’s goal is 20,000 people. But, it’s not just about Indy Do Day or a world record. The goal is to instill a passion in the residents of Indianapolis to find something they can do, not just on one day, but every day, to make a difference in their community. Pick up a piece of trash, help a neighbor … it doesn’t have to be a large coordinated effort to have an impact.

Rob Smith is president of the Lilly Foundation.

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