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Lokvani Talks To Dharma Center Team

Ranjani Saigal

Dr. Yogesh Rathi, Mr. Raghav Narayan, Mr. Vikas Deshpande, Dr. Darshan Thakkar, Mr. Dinesh Hegde, Mr. Ashwani Garg and Dr. Suresh Jain have established the Dharma Center of America that works to provide nutritional food and school tutoring services for everyone in the community. The first center has been inaugurated in Lowell, MA.

They shared their vision for this ambitious project.

What motivated you to form the Dharma Center? Why is it called the Dharma center?
Indian community in the United States is highly educated and prosperous.  Majority of us live in the gated communities and affluent neighborhoods, far away from the realities of hardships that many Americans face.  Though hard to believe, there are several areas/towns in the US where two square meals for many still remains a dream.  Because of the lack of resources, balanced nutritious food and rising costs of health care, the epidemic of lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes are cause of great concern.  Every time we experience these gaps and witness such miseries, it hurts us and motivates to think, what are we doing for our communities.  

The Dharma Center is giving from the purely altruistic enlightened self-interest.  It is a holistic initiative to feed the hungry, promote healthy living through Yoga, provide academic support to children and most importantly, provide a single platform for the Hindu community to serve the society.

We named the center as Dharma center, as Dharma means doing the right thing at the right time without expecting anything in return. America is the karma bhoomi for the Hindu immigrants.  It has offered us opportunities to succeed. It is time to pay back our share to alleviate the poverty and hunger from our neighborhoods.  It is time to become the catalyst of change.

Why did you choose to create a Food Pantry as the first order of business for the Dharma Center? 

As the Buddha said, a hungry person will not be receptive to any form of education. As such, we would like to see that the necessary nutrition and food is provided to the needy in the Lowell community, before we embark upon inspiring them about healthy lifestyle and education.
Why did you choose Lowell for this initiative? 

We did extensive research on various cities that have a significant population below the poverty line within MA. With such a large Indian population in Lowell, we thought we could leverage the Indian community’s help in achieving Dharma Center’s goal of serving the people.  With the large student community in UMass-Lowell and Middlesex Community College, we hope to attract lot of skilled volunteers to achieve our goal. This directly helps us to achieve one of our missions of promoting volunteerism among the youth. It is a win-win for all. 

Do you plan to replicate this effort in other cities? 

For now, our focus is to mature our services in Lowell. Eventually, we will be replicating this effort in other cities of USA.

What other services do you plan to offer at this center? 

In addition to food, we are committed to providing after-school academic support for the disadvantaged students and free yoga classes. If you think about top three important aspects to be addressed for eradicating poverty, it will be food, education and healthy lifestyle. That is why we included after-school education support and yoga classes as part of Dharma Center’s services in Lowell. 

How can the South Asian community help? 

We call upon the community to join hands to make a difference in the neighborhoods where we live. The Dharma Center requires all kind of resources and support.  Specifically to the youth, we appeal to participate in food drives, volunteer time to tutor and mentor the kids.  We are working to foster collaborations with many academic institutions so that the volunteering time could be credited appropriately. To the young professional, we urge to contribute their time to reach out and develop curriculum for academic support.  It is an unique opportunity to volunteer for a cause.   The Dharma Center is a catalyst of change!



We introduce you to Dharma Center of America’s new food pantry and tutoring initiative. This effort will particularly benefit residents who live on fixed incomes or do not have the means to afford basic nutritious meals on a weekly basis. 

We want to provide food pantry and tutoring services for our community without cost so that we can ensure all the residents who need nutritional food have access to it and their children who need educational services beyond the school day have access to free tutoring.

1.    Nutritional food is a basic right of all human beings
2.    Communities thrive when residents and service providers collaborate on important decisions to make nutritional food available to everyone
3.    Active involvement of families, community members, and service providers is essential in fostering a happy and healthy community
4.    In addition to nutritional food, children of the patrons should be given tutoring assistance and related skills development to achieve academic success and eventually become independent

To provide nutritional food and after school tutoring services for everyone in our community who needs it.

No one in my community will sleep hungry and every child will succeed in school.

We are a group of highly motivated volunteers with a social purpose of helping residents of communities such as yours with their weekly food needs at no cost to them. In addition, eventually, we’d like to add free tutoring services for children in this community to help them with schoolwork and achieve educational success. We have sufficient number of volunteers and donors so human resources to run the facility or finances to stock the food pantry with groceries are not issues. In time, we will also enlist colleagues with tutoring skills to offer educational services. In addition to financial and other materials that we control, our resources include the individual and collective knowledge and experience in community service (see our bios for information about our team). Everyone in our team trusts one another’s motives and we all share a commitment to doing everything we can to serve as many people in the community as possible to lead them towards self-sufficiency and independence.

The Team:

Here’s the short profile of team behind Dharma Center of America.

Dr. Yogesh Rathi is an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston. He works in the field of brain imaging with the aim of developing and understanding therapies for mental disorders. He is also actively involved as a joint general secretary of a non-profit socio-cultural organization called the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), New England Chapter. He is also volunteers his time with SEWA International. He has volunteered with Cor Unum and Cradles to Crayons in the Boston area, apart from being involved with several fund raising drives for disaster relief.

Dr. Darshan Thakkar works as an assistant superintendent/Chief Academic Officer in the Haverhill Public Schools. He is also an adjunct professor of education at American International College and Northern Essex Community College. He has 13 years of experience in urban public schools working either as teacher or principal with low income and non-English speaking students and families.  He is a volunteer (15+ years) for Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), where he is active on education related projects. He also volunteers on Academic Council of Hindu University of America advising top level executives in developing curriculum and research agenda.

Mr. Dinesh Hegde is an Engineer at Juniper Networks, working on Computer Networks Technologies.
Active volunteer working with people and institutions who support education of economically
Disadvantaged children in India. Dinesh has been very active and leads various food drive campaigns for local food pantry for the past nine years.

Mr. Ashwani Garg is an IT professional and works as Vice President with State Street Corp in Boston.  He has been a social activist for past 30 years serving in numerous local organizations in Massachusetts. Serving needy people is his passion. Ashwani holds a B. Tech. in Electrical Engineering from IIT Kanpur and an MBA from Boston University.

Dr. Suresh Jain is a successful biotech entrepreneur with an impressive track record of building effective organizations. He has over 25 years of experience in Academia and the Pharmaceutical industry. As the founder and former COO and CSO of Acylin Therapeutics, Suresh has successfully raised “Series A” funding for the Company and has over the years has recruited eminent thought leaders to his Company’s Board. He is a recipient of several International Awards and has published over forty scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals and has been granted various patents. Suresh is a community leader, involved with several social voluntary organizations with an extensive track record of service.

Mr. Raghav Narayan is a Senior Advisory Manager with PwC and he has over 30+ years of experience in IT solutions for high-tech and healthcare industries. He is an active volunteer in organizations such as Sewa International, Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh(HSS). His main focus is to involve and engage youth groups in local service activities and he has been successfully running ‘Food for Hunger’ program for SEWA International by serving organizations such as Cor Unum Meal Center in Lawrence, MA for the last seven years.
Mr Vikas Deshpande (aka Vithal) has 20+ years of public-private experience in energy, environment and sustainability project initiation and management. Vikas was founder member and later served as co-chair for TIE Boston's Social Entrepreneurs group where he was instrumental in promoting social entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurship in the fields of Public Health, Micro-finance, Education, and Environment. He has mentored several startups in the field of energy and environment from Boston Mass, London, UK, Russia and Columbia. He is national public relations coordinator for Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), USA and also serves on Board of Directors for local 501(c)(3) Groundwork Somerville and Indian non-profit Shashwat Eco-solution foundation.

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