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The White House Partners with Hindu American Seva Charities for Historic Gathering

Heidi Christensen, Associate Director for Community Engagement at the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, describes a recent event at The White House with Hindu American Seva Charities.
Hindu American Seva Charities Essay Contest Participants

Conference and essay contest participants join together at the Hindu American Seva Charities meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building's South Court Auditorium. July 29, 2011.

A 3-day conference in Washington, D.C., convened by Hindu American Seva Charities, recently brought together representatives from government agencies, nonprofit organizations and diverse faith leaders from across the country to discuss ways to enact sustainable community development through service.   Several Administration officials as well as the White House Office and Agency Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership Centers participated in various panels at the conference, focusing on partnership development for community service. 

The conference, entitled, “Energizing Dharmic Seva: Impacting Change in America and Abroad,”  focused on service, or “seva.”  The Hindu term “seva” refers to selfless service that is performed without any thought of reward or personal benefit.   Hindu American Seva Charities (HASC) is a nonprofit organization that aims to advance community service while promoting interfaith collaboration, pluralism, social justice, and sustainable civic engagement. 

The opening day began at the White House and focused on ways in which the government can partner with community and faith-based organizations.   Young people, military officers, religious leaders and government officials spoke candidly about the importance of community service to enact sustainable change in our communities and abroad.

Reverend Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education, spoke about the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, which invites colleges and universities across the country to commit to a year of interfaith and community service programming on campus.  She noted that this will be an excellent opportunity for people of different backgrounds to connect with each other and with members of their communities, adding that the program will “create a safe space to people to ask questions, learn from one another and discuss their beliefs, cultures, backgrounds and faith.”

There was also a strong military presence at this conference, as HASC recognizes and embraces the important role those who serve in the military play in protecting U.S. citizens and citizens of other nations. Lt. Col. Ravi Chaudhary highlighted examples of American military personnel helping to stabilize regions in war-torn countries with selfless acts of seva in local communities.  “Military service,” he remarked, “is one of the most generous acts of seva that an individual can offer.” Service members regularly sacrifice their lives to protect their country without any thought of reward or personal benefit.

The Health and Human Services Center  for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships participated along with the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) engaging members of the Hindu community on a variety of important issues including; community integration to build healthier communities and reduce poverty, provide the Diaspora support for new immigrants and refugees, and ensuring security and safety for all.

Heidi Christensen is the Associate Director for Community Engagement at the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services