HACSI: WHAT IT DOES!
The Need for a Community Service Organization
Hindu Americans in Washington Area have always been generous in supporting worthwhile causes to help the needy, but until recently, bulk of their philanthropy was directed to educational and social welfare activities in India. However, there is a clear sign that members of the community are now increasingly taking interest in local community service activities such as feeding the homeless, assisting the elderly and mentoring children from inner communities. The economic downturn in the last two years which led to a dramatic increase in the number of unemployed persons accentuated the need for such community services. A few Hindu-American community organizations in the Washington area started pondering how best to organize themselves to provide such services for and on behalf of members of the Hindu community. What gave this matter a sense of urgency was the arrival of Hindu refugees from Bhutan.
As is by now generally well-known, four hundred Hindu refugees from Bhutan arrived in the Washington-Baltimore Area in late 2008 as a part of an international agreement under which USA agreed to accept some sixty thousand refugees. By 2011, the number of refugees to be resettled in Washington-Baltimore area is expected to steadily increase to 2,000.Those being re-settled would need a wide variety of community services to facilitate their adjustment to their new environment. Most of them are unemployed; and until they find jobs, they would need some financial support for urgent items like obtaining driving permits for at least one member in each family, and a computer to enable school-going to do their home work and some basic medical help until they can be covered by heath insurance. Volunteers are needed who can assist these new families in understanding the various facilities available from various governmental agencies, give them some familiarity to speak English, assist their children in coping with their homework, and many similar simple but time consuming chores. This would require mobilizing a few hundred volunteers to provide the needed support.
Providing community services of the nature outlined above requires a more formal organization to mobilize resources and channel support. Other Faith groups have created community service organizations which are distinctly separate from religious organizations because governmental agencies which fund community services are reluctant to channelize their funds through religious organizations. Hindu American Community Services Inc (HACSI) was incorporated in March 2009 to meet this need.
HACSI’s mission is to facilitate Hindu Americans to provide Community, Charitable, Educational and Relief services. In the beginning, HACSI will organize indigent care to needy, such as food for the homeless, regardless of religious affiliations; and help Hindu-American families in distress with financial and social needs and emergencies. As it gains experience, HACSI’s activities will extend to other areas, such as provision of Senior Services to help seniors live a secure and useful life; and extending educational facilities with particular emphasis on minority and disadvantaged students. As far as possible, HACSI will facilitate the work of existing community organizations, coordinating and supplementing their efforts with volunteers and financial support. HACSI will provide direct community services to fill identified gaps.
During the last six and a half years of its existence, HACSI has registered impressive gains in respect of its core activities. It has brought together 1500 volunteers from twenty five different organizations/groups –Temples, Social and Cultural Organizations and Religious groups in the name of Hindu Community Services. Every year new volunteers and new groups are joining HACSI in providing food for the homeless. The Bhutanese refugees look to HACSI to coordinate service activities for them. HACSI is taking part in the interfaith educational initiatives. HACSI and its volunteers are helping Hindu families in need. HACSI continues to organize cultural programs at Walter Reed and Pentagon for Hindus serving in United States Military.
In 2013 HACSI received two prestigious awards for its community service activities. On May 22, 2013 Interfaith Conference (IFC) presented HACSI with its Bridge Builders Award for its contribution to the interfaith activities and the community service provided by HACSI, irrespective of the color or community, race or religion. India Abroad wrote an article “Prestigious honor for all-volunteer desi organization in capital area”. HACSI also received the Social Service award from National Federation of Indian American on June 7, 2013. The Award was given to HACSI for mobilizing the “spirit of giving” of Hindu Americans to assist those in the local community, who find themselves in adverse circumstances. While HACSI does not perform any community service activity expecting any recognition or reward, the publicity surrounding these awards help HACSI’s mission of encouraging more Hindu Americans to perform community services to the local community.
A brief description of the activities is given below.
A: Food for Homeless Program
which is HACSI’s flagship program has now gathered momentum, and with HACSI acting as the umbrella, twenty organizations/groups—temples, social and community associations and families—are preparing meals in homeless shelters in the Washington Metropolitan area. Most of the activities are carried out in the large modern facility of D C Central Kitchen, Washington DC. Every day, 5,000 meals are prepared and distributed through homeless shelters in DC and nearby jurisdictions. HACSI volunteers work in DC Central kitchen (DCCK) 23 times annually to prepare 115,000 meals (about 5% of 1.86 million meals prepared at DCCK). About half the meals are served in the DCCK facility and the remaining are distributed through shelters housing the homeless, battered women, needy seniors and school children. HACSI and its affiliates have so far served more than 650,000 meals and donated more than $200,000 to DC Central Kitchen. On special occasions, for example in the first week of October, to commemorate the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, cooking is done by HACS volunteers in other shelters in Montgomery County and Prince Georges County.
B: Benevolent Fund
is a charitable activity to help the poor/disadvantaged members of the Hindu community which faces calamities like death or protracted illness etc. and the family does not have sufficient assets to cope with such situations.
- In 2009, HACSI volunteers, working under the leadership of another social service organization, prepared and delivered meals to members of a family in Montgomery County which faced such a calamity.
- HACSI also provided a donation of $5,000 to cover emergency expenditure to a family whose only breadwinner suddenly passed away.
- HACSI provided $5,000 to two Bhutanese families to cover immediate expenses when two of their youngsters were shot in down-town Baltimore in a robbery incident in which one of them died.
- HACSI provided $1,000 to two Bhutanese families who were victims in a fire accident in their home.
- In 2013 and 20145 HACSI volunteers are helping Hindu families where the main bread winner is seriously ill and hospitalized for a long time. The volunteers provided, food, accommodation, transportation, medical and legal help and financial support.
- In 2015 HACSI and its volunteers are helping a family with young child who are victims of domestic violence and donated $1,000 for their legal aid.
- Governmental agencies like social workers from Maryland Department of Social Service in Baltimore are calling HACSI to provide financial and other support to Hindus suffering from domestic abuse and violence.
- HACSI aims to build $100, 000 in a Benevolent Fund to exclusively provide financial relief for such family emergencies.
C. Rehabilitation of Hindu Refugees from Bhutan
HACSI is very involved in the welfare of Bhutanese refugees who have been resettled in the Washington-Baltimore region through International Relief Council. The families who are predominantly Hindus (some Buddhists), originally hailed from Nepal. Most of them left Bhutan as refugees and lived in refugee camps. US has agreed to grant asylum to 60,000 + refugees, and they have been arriving since October 2008. About 1,750 have arrived in the Washington-Baltimore region.
HACSI supports the refugee families in the following areas:
- Donate groceries, clothing and cooking utensils to new arrivals;
- Organize job fairs and intercede with local employers to locate employment opportunities to refugee families;
- Provide monetary assistance for a limited number of young people to obtain driver education and driver licenses to facilitate employment;
- Provide free six-week computer education program for students and seniors of all ages; Donate computers to school-going children;
- Conduct periodical health fairs for free medical check-ups, flu-shots for children and seniors;
- Organize monthly Sat-sanghs (meetings) to provide a venue for the Bhutanese families to keep in touch with their religious and cultural heritage.
D. Inter-faith Educational Outreach
One of HACSI’s aims is to encourage a balanced presentation of Indic religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism),so as to remove some of the stereo-typical views about these faiths contained in some of the school text books used in US.
HACSI’s efforts in this regard consist of:
- Funding the distribution of the PBS documentary ‘Asian and Abrahamic religions:
- A divine Encounter in America’ produced by Auteur productions, an award-winning documentary-maker with assistance from several HACSI volunteers. This documentary is now being broadcast over several PBS stations nationwide. HACSI has presented the DVD with a Teaching Guide to 350 high schools in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. This program will be expanded as and when more funds become available. Auteur is currently preparing a program to conduct a series of workshops in major US metropolitan areas with the help of National Council of Social Studies experts to train Social Studies teachers in the use of the documentary and the study guide in their classrooms. Council of Hindu Temples of North America has provided $25,000 as seed money for Phase 1 of the training program costing $75,000. A few individuals interested in interfaith education have provided $26,500 to HACSI to support this effort. These funds will be disbursed in installments as the project progresses.
- Teaching about Religions (TAR) is a publication of Interfaith Conference (IFC) of Metropolitan Washington. TAR discusses the beliefs and practices of eleven major religions of the world. To ensure authenticity, each chapter on a religion is prepared by scholars/practitioners of that religion and reviewed by IFC for objectivity. D.C. Rao, a director of IFC and a former World Bank staff member has spearheaded the TAR efforts. HACSI has earmarked $5,000 towards IFC’s efforts to disseminate its STAR publications, of which $3,000 was distributed in 2014. Additionally, HACSI provided $5,000 to IFC in May 2013 to strengthen IFC’s overall budgetary resources. Please visit www. Ifcmw.org for further information.
E. Supporting the Hindu soldiers serving in the United Sates Military
We enjoy our freedom because of the sacrifice made by the soldiers serving in the United Sates Military. It is our duty to make them feel that we care for them. HACSI is facilitating it by sending Care packages to Hindus in active duty and by organizing cultural programs. Pratima Dharm is the first Hindu Chaplain in the United States Military. Through her, HACSI has sent Well Care Packages to Hindus serving in the military. HACSI helped Pratima Dharm to celebrate Makar Sankranti, Holi and Krishna Janmashtami festivals for the first time in Walter Reed Military Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. HACSI organized devotional music, dance programs, and provided Indian food. HACSI has also donated funds to National Military Medical Center Bethesda Religious Offering Fund to help them conduct future Hindu events.
HACSI’s Governance Structure
HACSI was incorporated on March 12, 2009 in the State of Maryland as a non-profit corporation.HACSI’s Articles provide for a Board of Directors not exceeding seventeen members. The present Board consists of eight members who have long years of experience managing faith-based organizations. To expand and diversify the Board of Directors, HACSI has inducted Captain Pratima Dharm and Harihar Singh as directors.
HACSI regrets to inform you that R.G. Nagarajan, one of the founder directors and Treasurer passed away in December 2013. Mr. Umamaheswaran has been appointed as the Treasurer.
HACSI will accept donations from individuals and like-minded institutions, and will try to access support from various Federal, State and local government agencies. HACSI has received Internal Revenue Service approval as a 501( c ) (3) entity so that donations can enjoy tax-exempt status. HACSI participates in Combined Federal Campaign of National Capital Area (CFC # 81387).
For further information, please write to:
HACSI, 11412 Swains Creek Ct, Potomac, MD 20854
Phone: (301)-983-6858 Fax: (301)-983-685