Indo-American Center Raises Over $100K for Needy Immigrants

Chicago IL: On Sunday evening, September 29, 2013, Indo-American Center (IAC), located in Devon, hosted its annual fundraising banquet at Chicago Marriott, Oak Brook, Ill. Keynote speaker was Dr. Vishakha N Desai, Special Advisor for Global Affairs to President of Columbia University and Professor of Professional Practice at School of International and Public Affairs. She focused on the pressing need for Indians to study diligently their age-old traditions and value-systems, and make them relevant for our global future. Among the dignitaries attending were Consul General of India Ausaf Sayeed, Air India Midwest Manager Rishikant Singh, Illinois State Senator Ira Silverstein and his wife Alderman Debra Silverstein (50th Ward), State Rep. Louis Lang, Thomas Joy on behalf of Illinois Comptroller, Teresa Mah from the Illinois Governor’s office, and Alderman Joe Moore (49th Ward). These two wards include ethnically diverse Devon, West Ridge, and Rogers Park, where most of IAC’s clients reside.

MC Maitreyee Barthakur Angela pointed out that IAC is serving an increasing number of the needy from Eastern Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Haiti. Teresa Mah read out a message of support from Governor Pat Quinn. IAC President Basanti C Banerji recognized major supporters, thanked sponsors (including Air India and BM Harris), IAC Staff especially Melissa Tracy, and the Indian American Bar Association. Marking 23 years of service, she mentioned new programs, including expanded space to respect privacy and an elevator that would benefit seniors.

Consul General Sayeed recognized IAC’s extraordinary work for Desi and other immigrants. Emphasizing the reverence that Indians have traditionally held for all that has nurtured us, he cited Gandhi: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it takes care of its weakest.” He lamented the loss of reverence towards elders even in India. Given the predicament of soon-to-be 70M seniors, the Indian Government has passed in 2007 a statute obliging citizens to take care of parents and criminalizing neglect. Rural joint families are being abandoned first for cities than for foreign shores. Thousands of the elderly are now living alone and forced to look after each other in housing colonies, while their sons are abroad as NRIs. Even the parents who come here soon become isolated and bored. He commended IAC for catering to their needs and ensuring they live with respect and dignity.

Vishakha Desai also serves as Senior Advisor for Global Programs to the Guggenheim Foundation. From 1990 to 2004, she held senior positions at the Asia Society, a leading global organization dedicated to strengthening partnerships among peoples of Asia and the U.S. From 2004 through 2012, she became its President and CEO. Desai, who has moved in the world of Not-For-Profits all her life, chose to focus instead on the challenge of global leadership in 21st century: what India could contribute on the spiritual, moral, and cultural plane. Measuring her projected wealth in purely economic terms does injustice to her legacy. Going back a century to Gandhi’s moral authenticity, Tagore at the confluence of Hindu, Muslim, Western streams, and Vivekananda’s 1893 universal message on tolerance to eight-minute standing ovation here in Chicago, she asked: “Where are the Tagores, Vivekanandas, and Gandhis of today?” She lamented the state of humanities in India and also among the diaspora because of the middleclass opposition to children doing liberal arts. The Philosophy Dept. of Mumbai University is shutting down due to lack of interest, especially on the part of “GDP junkies. We need to study our millennial and diverse traditions because not just India but the world needs this integration of mind and body that goes beyond the Cartesian dichotomy of the West. The world needs a new way of thinking and what it means to be human.”

Established in 1990, not-for-profit IAC is Chicago’s oldest South Asian organization, founded to promote the well-being of immigrants by facilitating integration into the wider society, nurturing their sense of community, and fostering their culture and heritage. All services are offered free, excepting nominal fees for immigration assistance. In 2012, there were over 42,000 client service contacts made and 4,000 unduplicated clients were assisted by IAC’s nine programs. IAC BOD member Radha Patel listed in greater detail the nine ongoing IAC programs (and their coordinating staff) with the help of the following video. Among them: English as a Second Language (Susan Chaudhri); seniors program (Geetha Chawla); immigration counseling (Pauravi Hefner, who stressed the need to fund legal training); adult literacy program (Renuka Sharma said IAC clients speak 34 languages from 22 countries); computer literacy (Chirag Shah); flagship programs, viz. immigration and senior vegetarian lunch, which is also a socializing opportunity (Sherma Rajput); and civics education (Loknath Agarwal).

MC Angela, later joined by Kamal Hans, conducted the live auction for raffle tickets, which included Air India roundtrip ticket to India for a couple; American Airlines round trip economy class ticket, ABC7 Chicago Tour with anchor Ravi Baichwal, “Watching the Clock” artwork, gift certificates for Gaylord and other restaurants and for various other services, and autographed memorabilia from celebrated players at Chicago teams White Sox, Blackhawks and Bulls.

Interim Executive Director James Lemonides and Sher Rajput brought the fundraiser to a close by thanking supporters and members of the media. Guests could be heard throughout relishing and praising the food, starting with the delicious appetizers, catered by Gaylord Restaurant.
Photo captions (in order of priority):

1) #16 = Vishakha N. Desai being interviewed after her keynote address
2) #12 = Consul General of India in Chicago Ausaf Sayeed ending his impromptu speech
3) #01 = Opening speech by IAC President Basanti C Banerji
4) #19 = Maitreyee Barthakur Angela emceeing the IAC fundraiser
5) #04 = Audience at the IAC fundraise at the Oakbrook Marriot