The new Devotee Care Team started in New Vrindaban, West Virginia in April 2021, is providing resources, assistance and association for residents of the large rural community.
The team is run by Lilasuka Dasi, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada who first moved to New Vrindaban in 1980 and has served there as a day school teacher, communications director and handcrafts store owner; and Beverly Nava, who came in 2016 and has served as restaurant manager and HR representative.
While working in communications, Lilasuka found that because she was a good listener, devotees would constantly come into her office to talk and ask for help. Serving in HR, Beverly had the same experience.
“So many devotees and staff would come into the office, looking for someone who would listen, give advice, or just someone to vent to,” she says. “So on top of the HR duties, I was having a lot of personal interactions. And I really liked having that open door policy.”
Lilasuka saw a great need for an official Devotee Care Team in New Vrindaban, and in April 2021, with the help of Beverly and Nityodita Das, a member of the New Vrindaban Village Council, she began putting together a proposal, environmental scan and budget.
The Devotee Care Team is a project that falls under the umbrella of the New Vrindaban Village Council and Village Association, which represent the residents of New Vrindaban. The team began offering its services in June, and in October made a presentation to the ISKCON New Vrindaban and Eco-Vrindaban boards, who agreed to co-fund it.
The team was given its own full-time office near the Welcome Center at ISKCON New Vrindaban, where Beverly serves full-time and Lilasuka part-time, with volunteers helping as needed. The team has a large community of just under 200 to care for, as well as those who stay temporarily to help run visitor services at New Vrindaban during the peak Spring and Summer seasons.
Recipients of Devotee Care include foreign residents, families, school age children, infants, teenagers, residents over 65, residents recovering from physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse, residents with no transportation, disabled residents, chronically ill and end of life individuals, married couples, single individuals and more.
“Devotee Care is very dynamic,” Beverly says. “It’s almost like an emergency room. When you go in, you ask, ‘What’s on the agenda today?’ And whoever shows up, you see what their requests and needs are. Our service could be during nine to five hours, but it could also be at eight o’clock or ten o’clock at night, or all day Saturday or Sunday.”
The team offers assistance in the areas of physical health, mental health, relationships, recreation, finances, career, spirituality, and home. They drive devotees to doctor’s appointments, liaison with doctors, pick up prescriptions, do grocery-store runs, and sponsor items for people who are in a crisis situation and can’t afford what they need. They also do laundry, minor maintenance, counseling, mediation, wellness checks, meal prep, aid during illness, and deliver prasadam. They enlist senior devotees in providing spiritual mentorship to newer devotees, and offer a helpful ear for newly married couples.
In addition, Lilasuka and Beverly are free public notaries for the community, and are preparing a list of devotees who may need help with living wills and power of attorney. They’re also helping elderly devotees qualify for rental assistance in light of the new accessible apartments that are set to be built in New Vrindaban. And they are getting elderly or disabled devotees pre-qualified for CCIL/West Virginia’s Choice programs for personal assistance. What’s more, devotees are receiving the opportunity to get certified by these organizations so that such assistance can be provided in-house by New Vrindaban community members.
Meanwhile, a number of services that were previously handled by the HR department, such as Health Right applications, charity applications, Medicaid, food stamps, and health forms have now been taken on by the Devotee Care Team.
Finally, the team have organized small gatherings for the community with a personal touch, such as Krishna conscious readings, discussion and storytelling, bhajans, talks by Prabhupada disciples, a luncheon for elderly devotees, a kids festival, and a gathering in honor of one devotee’s mother when she passed away abroad and he wasn’t able to go see her.
“In the future, we hope to establish a more organized mentoring program, and more gatherings to bring people together like Krishna quizzes, small group outings, a movie night, and more programs where we hear from Prabhupada disciples about their lives and experiences with Srila Prabhupada,” Lilasuka says.
Based on Srila Rupa Goswami’s six loving exchanges between devotees – offering gifts in charity, accepting charitable gifts, revealing one’s mind in confidence, inquiring confidentially, accepting prasadam, and offering prasadam, the Devotee Care Team has been enthusiastically appreciated by both managers and residents of New Vrindaban. It’s also deeply fulfilling for the devotees that run it.
“When I was in HR, part of the joy of the job was those moments when I got to spend time with the devotees, and just listen and connect with them,” Beverly says. “One devotee here who I’ve been spending time with said, ‘Thank you so much for letting me talk and tell you what’s been going on with me. I really needed to let that out.’ So for me, it’s all about connecting with people on an authentic level, and giving them space to share what they’ve been going through.”
For more information on New Vrindaban’s Devotee Care Team, or to learn more about how to start a devotee care team in your own area, write to Lilasuka and Beverly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jan 23, 2022
Anandini Tikunov (8th-grade student)
Jan 22, 2022
Sunanda Das, tovp.org