Local organization highlighting a trend in Hindu American community service

At a time when more Hindu Americans are engaging in community service and interfaith dialogue, Hindu American service organizations have begun establishing themselves in cities and regions across the country.

Hindu American Community Services Inc. (HACSI) is a relatively new organization, having started seven years ago as an independent offshoot of the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Lanham, Maryland. However, in that time, HACSI has become a force in fighting hunger and homelessness, while providing education and employment opportunities for low-income groups, including the Bhutanese Hindu refugee population. HACSI co-founder Ram Nagula notes that the group's effectiveness and growth in such a short time is due to its volunteers, since it is a solely volunteer-run organization.

While HACSI started as a way of helping the homeless and providing resettlement services for the roughly 1750 or so Bhutanese Hindu refugees living in the Baltimore-DC region, Nagula notes that its scope has expanded. He credits the organization's growth to its ability to mobilize volunteers.

"Very quickly we learned that constant communication is the hallmark of any voluntary organization, " he said. "We had to motivate and organize multiple groups to provide food for homeless at D.C. Kitchen. The result now is that some 30 community groups - temples, social organizations, dance schools - are affiliated with HACSI in preparing 4,500 meals a day on 24 days in a year there. Similarly when we provide a health fair and flu shot program for Bhutanese refugees, multiple groups of volunteers consisting of physicians, lab people and pharmacy personnel have to be coordinated."

Such coordination has been critical in engaging American born Hindus in the DC area, especially those who are not regular attendees at temples. Instead, the practice of selfless service, or seva, has helped HACSI draw from a large volunteer pool. Nagula said this has become critical for Hindu Americans to become integrated into their larger communities, and for Hindu organizations to become more viable as first points of call and assistance.

"This is a positive phenomenon among Hindu Americans who are enthused about providing seva," he said. "It is much more so among the young and second generation Hindu Americans. The affiliation of several community associations with HACSI, many of them engaged in community service for the first time under HACSI's auspices, augurs well for their enhanced engagement in seva activities."

HACSI has been recognized by the local interfaith community for its work in helping others. The Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan DC awarded them with their prestigious Bridgebuilder Award in 2013.

As HACSI seeks to grow in order to meet increased demands, Nagula noted it will be important for community members to invest in this seva. HACSI's success is likely to spur other local Hindu American organizations to replicate the seva model in other cities around the country.