The Downtown Indy, Inc. Street Ambassador program, in partnership with HVAF (Helping Veterans and Families), seeks to provide Hoosier veterans experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness with work experience, career guidance and mentorship that will help them graduate on to higher paying jobs. Since its inception in 2019 as a pilot program, the initiative has grown in size and scale thanks to funding from the Lilly Endowment’s Enhancing Opportunity in Indianapolis grant. Under HVAF’s broader “VetWorks Program,” Downtown Indy, Inc. acts as a key player in helping at-risk veterans cultivate necessary skills for employability. The program now allows for up to 12 Street Ambassadors at a time, and has successfully “graduated” its first three veterans to a post-program.
Over the course of six-to-twelve months, DII Street Ambassadors participate in a paid 40-hour work week schedule and perform manual cleaning, landscaping, power washing and other duties to upkeep Downtown’s infrastructure. In addition to various cleaning responsibilities, ambassadors work alongside an HVAF Employment Specialist to build their resumes and interviewing skills and master soft skills training modules that focus on professionalism, communication, teamwork and problem solving. From here, ambassadors can hone in on a desired career path and pursue a VetWorks-funded certificate program, industry-recognized credential or postsecondary education to fulfill this goal.
Following this all-encompassing checklist, veterans will then graduate from the Street Ambassador program after being placed in a full-time job or Work-Based Learning (WBL) opportunity. This August, Navy Veteran David Whitlock became the most recent to complete the program and is currently working now as a Peer Support Specialist at Community Hospital East. David’s achievement stems from a larger 22-month initiative called the Marion County Veteran Court program, built to help at-risk veterans complete benchmarks including employment and housing stability.
David’s story and that of other DII Street Ambassadors speak volumes about the need to serve and offer resources to vulnerable populations in Central Indiana as they seek to restore employability. This past June, ambassadors Brent Alexander and Johnny Cowherd successfully completed the Street Ambassador program and have progressed to higher paying employment. Brent works as a Production Assistant at Plastics Recycling while Johnny operates as a Weld Line Operator at OMR Automotive. David, Brent and Johnny each will continue to meet and check-in with their HVAF Employment Specialist over the next year to ensure job retention and gather suggested improvements to the Street Ambassador program.
As the Street Ambassador program continues to grow, the Indianapolis community thrives through workforce recirculation and care for our urban core. DII and HVAF will continue to focus on serving our at-risk veterans to foster workforce skills and increase employability. For more information on the Street Ambassador program, visit: https://downtownindy.org/services/ambassador