I am amazed, in awe, and inspired by the way many nonprofit leaders – many of whom are women – are leading their organizations through the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19. So much so, that I’ve decided to do a special series about Nonprofit and Small Business Executive Women who are living in the trenches, working to keep their nonprofit running, and doing critical work to continue to serve individuals and families during this crisis. I’m curious about their work and the people they’re serving, their biggest concerns, and how they are taking care of themselves and those around them. So I asked!

Sherry Seiwert, President of Downtown Indy

Sherry joined Indianapolis Downtown Inc. (IDI) – known now as Downtown Indy, Inc. (DII) – as the President in August of 2012. She has dedicated her career to building a better community in Indianapolis and is known for creating new ideas for the City. Prior to joining IDI, Sherry served nearly eight years as the Executive Director for the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority for the State of Indiana where she managed over $500 million annually in affordable housing and community development programs. Today, she’s managing how the coronavirus is impacting Downtown and very much looking forward to the city returning to its vibrant self.

Q.  Who are you serving and how are you serving them during this crisis?

A.  Downtown Indy, Inc. is the urban place-management organization for Downtown Indianapolis, focused on advancing Downtown as a great place to live, learn, work, and play. DII manages, markets, and activates Downtown with an additional focus on the development of the urban core. Our stakeholders include businesses, restaurants, residents, civic institutions, and more.

Our marketing team continues to update our stakeholders through digital communications that provide resources for businesses and their team members. This update invites and encourages everyone to connect, support, and engage. All of our messaging going forward is focused on the theme “A Dose of Downtown.” One important effort is supporting our incredible Downtown restaurants and eateries. We’ve created a comprehensive list of Downtown takeout and delivery options and encourage people to order carry-out or even purchase a gift card for future use to their favorite place. See what’s available here.  The site can also connect people to Downtown programs, classes and gatherings.

Q.  Have you added, changed, or deleted any services because of COVID-19?

A. We are managing much of our work during this time into three categories:

1.  Shining A Light: We’re utilizing our Shining A Light technology to illuminate love and hope from the heart of Downtown Indianapolis, with special thanks to Conrad Jones Principal Trumpet, and Riley Giampaolo, Bass Trombone, with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. We are excited and proud of the video and invite you to view and share.

2. Street Ambassadors: Like most downtowns across the country, our crews continue to work on the streets and sidewalks of Downtown and have been deemed “essential” as they go about their work. I am very pleased we are keeping them employed. Their work is focused on cleaning up after our homeless neighbors, serving as a friendly face to residents and guests walking our Downtown (from six feet away) and addressing winter filth, sticker removals, etc.

3. Events: We, like everyone else, had to postpone previously scheduled events for the foreseeable future. However, we want to stay connected, so we are making some of our programming virtual. We’re taking our Urban Blend program to Instagram Live. We’ll host quick 15-minute conversations with leaders vital to our urban core. We also held a community e-forum with our Downtown City Councilors to keep our community informed.

Q.  What are your biggest concerns right now?

A.  The fact that I can’t fix so much of what we are dealing with is frustrating. I worry a lot – not only about our organization’s health – but also our partners and the impact this pandemic will ultimately have on their economic health. I know that this virus, like those before it, will eventually be contained, so I want to make sure the decisions our organization makes ensures that we are prepared to return to a level of activity that is close to what we did during most of 2019. Currently, we are putting together a contingency model that includes the suspension of all nonessential discretionary spending except for necessary disbursements and looking at a reduction in staff salaries.

Q.  How are you taking care of yourself, your staff, and your clients?

A.  All our staff have been able to set up shop at home. We are able to respond to member inquiries, connect with our partners, update communications, and run most of the organization’s functions remotely. Staff connect daily in small groups via Zoom. I’ve been so impressed with their resiliency to adapt to their new work environments, think strategically about what essential work needs to get done, and take the initiative to make it happen.

Q.  What is your biggest need right now and how can people support your organization?

A.  Our community health as a whole depends on working together, and our small businesses are the lifeblood of the downtown Indianapolis economy. We want to make sure they continue to stay successful while maintaining appropriate public health and safety measures. Please continue supporting them even if you cannot visit them physically. If you do not need anything specific at the moment but still want to support local businesses, buy gift cards to spend later in our various storefront businesses. And again, I encourage everyone to order takeout or delivery and tip the same amount as you would if you were dining in (or more)! See our running list for carry-out or delivery. See what’s available here

Q.  What are you reading, watching, listening to, or doing to get through this?

A.  Like many other dog owners, my two pups are getting consistently worn out with multiple daily walks. I have to admit they have been great co-workers through all this. However, I’ve found they don’t demonstrate a very strong work ethic and try to lull me into daily naps.

I’ve always enjoyed tinkering and fixing things around the house, and I have a lingering (and growing) list of projects. Now that I have a little more free time, it has allowed me to start a couple of those overdue projects. Checking off a few things on my list gives me a sense of accomplishment and is a great source of motivation for me.

I’m probably one of the few people in this city that hasn’t watched The Tiger King, so all this talk about Carole Baskin is lost on me!


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