New Vrindaban Board Meeting Reflects Cooperative Spirit

New Vrindaban Board Meeting Reflects Cooperative Spirit.

By Madhava Smullen

From the very beginning, this spring’s Semi-Annual Joint Boards Meeting at New Vrindaban reflected the cooperative spirit that has been growing in the community since its current transformation began.

Held on Saturday March 22nd and Sunday March 23rd,  2014 at the Palace Lodge conference room, the Meeting introduced two significant changes.

The first was the addition of two new Board members, Bhima and Kevala, both second generation gurukulis. Bhima is a member of the Eco-Vrindaban board, while Kevala is a member of the ISKCON New Vrindaban board.

“As part of its transformation New Vrindaban is engaging the next generation, which historically hasn’t happened as much as it should have,” says ECOV board member Chaitanya Mangala, himself a second generation devotee. “So this was a conscious move in that direction.”

Bhima and Kevala, New Vrindaban Board members

Bhima and Kevala, the 2 newest Board members

Becoming a Board member has had a positive effect on the life of Kevala, a 35-year-old software tester for JP Morgan Chase who grew up in New Vrindaban and now lives in Philadelphia.

“Growing up in New Vrindaban I didn’t participate so much in the community — I was kind of a taker,” he says. “But being part of the Board, I started to feel the community spirit, and to feel like more of a giver. Like I was participating. And I really enjoy it.”

Since he has been on the Board, Kevala says he has also received a lot of thoughts and suggestions about New Vrindaban from his peers. “I think it gives a voice to the second generation,” he says. “They feel like they’re getting heard.”

The second significant change to this spring’s Meeting was to the structure. Previously, the Boards held a dialogue presenting what they had talked about with the community at the end of the weekend.

“This time, we decided to turn that on its head and share our topics with all interested members of the community first thing on Saturday morning,” says Chaitanya Mangala. “Then we’d get their feedback, and use it throughout the Meeting as part of the decision-making process.”

New Vrindaban Chaitanya Mangala

Chaitanya Mangala

Thirty to forty community members attended the session from 10:00am to 1:30pm during which Board members presented a number of projects to focus on for the next five years, and asked for feedback on which should be prioritized.

One high priority was to create a devotee care department that puts the same level of resources and energy into caring for devotee residents, as that which is currently put into congregational development.

Another was making sure there is enough manpower and funds to care for New Vrindaban’s protected cow herd, which aims to maintain the current number of eight milking cows at all times and to have a projected herd of 100 cows in the next five years.

Onsite food production is another area of New Vrindaban which will get a lot of attention this year. “We just hired Kacey Orr, a local Wheeling resident who ran her own organic farm in the area for five years,” says Chaitanya. “She’s excited about going from a small operation with few resources to heading up a five-acre garden with significant resources supporting the effort.”

New Vrindaban’s infrastructure, neglected for decades, is also a focus. The Palace Lodge, which received a major renovation of its guest rooms early last year, will now see its ground floor space converted into more guest rooms and conference rooms of different sizes. And Srila Prabhupada’s Palace, which is undergoing a complete restoration in the long term, will have its front stairs and entranceway renovated this year.

Another infrastructure problem is the lack of housing in New Vrindaban for residents. Board and community members discussed plans to buy existing housing in the area and build new apartments and houses – essential steps to have more devotees move to the community.

Additionally, the Deities’ kitchen and dressing rooms will receive upgrades, and a heating and cooling system with temperature control will be installed to make both the Deities and the devotees caring for them more comfortable.

With all these priorities discussed, Board members took a break for lunch before going on their bi-annual tour to parts of the New Vrindaban property.

This time, new gardenerKacey Orr took everyone on a tour of New Vrindaban’s gardens. First came the smaller Teaching Garden, which Sunday guests often tour as their guide leads a spiritually-minded chat about the importance of simple living and local produce.

“The Garden is getting a makeover this summer,” says Chaitanya Mangala. “Its eight-foot fence for keeping out deer is twenty years old and needs to be replaced. The beds will be reconfigured with a layout that works better for giving guest tours. And we’ll start growing fresh flowers for the Deities, as well as perennial herbs to use in cooking and developing homeopathic tinctures.”

Next the Board members followed Kacey to the hill behind the temple, where the seven acre Garden of Seven Gates lies. There Kacey laid out her plans for planting different kinds of vegetables and supplying the Deity, devotee, and restaurant kitchens with fresh produce.

Next, Board members took a tour of the temple barn, where all the eight milking cows are kept, along with their youngest calves. “We’re now at a point where we have a surplus of milk,” Chaitanya says. “So independent devotees living in their own houses can use some too.”

New Vrindaban Cow Protection Goshalla

New Vrindaban Temple Goshalla

Finally, the tour went on to the main ECOV barn in the valley, where devotees have been steadily renovating and improving facilities. While in the late 1980s they housed 400 cows, there are now only about fifty, allowing for much more space and attention for each cow.

With more financial resources now available at New Vrindaban, veterinary care has also vastly improved, allowing devotees to put up the large amount of money needed to, for instance, set and repair a cow’s broken leg – something they wouldn’t have been able to do before.

Wrapping up the tour at 5:30pm, Board members then attended the monthly sanga with Srila Prabhupada at his Palace. After kirtan, Chaitanya Mangala – who met Srila Prabhupada several times as the child of devotee parents – and Tamohara Das, who remembers Prabhupada spending time with his own children, shared their memories of the ISKCON Founder Acharya.

It’s a wonderful space to do that kind of thing, sitting in the small temple room, spending time with devotees and appreciating Srila Prabhupada in his Palace,” says Chaitanya.

The next morning, New Vrindaban’s fifteen department heads each took five to ten minutes presenting how they planned to continue improving their areas of responsibility in 2014.

Highlights included a presentation by head cowherds Ananda Vidya and Lalita Gopi, who milk the cows twice a day, seven days a week. Reporting that the number of milking cows had gone up from six to eight this year, they pointed out the importance of maintaining quality care and avoiding rapid expansion.

New Govinda’s restaurant manager Vasudeva Das then spoke about introducing more Western-friendly dishes to his menu, to appeal to the Western tourists Prabhupada’s Palace managers hope to attract. This year Govinda’s also plans to increase its use of protected cow dairy products and locally grown produce. And the staff will begin wearing uniforms – Govinda t-shirts with dhotis – that will add to customers’ unique exotic experience.

Vasudeva’s son and Palace Lodge manager Gaura Bhakta Das then outlined his plans for focusing on the quality of service offered to Lodge guests. These include a standard uniform with nametags so that guests know who to approach for information, and personal service such as carrying guests’ bags and showing them right to their room.

The Sunday Feast program followed the presentations. In the evening, there was a lively two-hour community dialogue in which the discussions and conclusions of the weekend were presented. Board members plan to move this dialogue, and the department heads’ presentations, to Saturday morning at the next Meeting in November, for a less repetitive feel.

Jaya Krsna, Community President

Jaya Krsna, Community President

Overall, however, the Meeting was productive and reflected positive progress at ISKCON New Vrindaban.

“You can see that the level of energy and enthusiasm is increasing, and there is a greater mood of cooperation amongst the devotees,” says Chaitanya Mangala. “Underlying everything is a growing level of awareness and respect for each other – for the years that everybody has dedicated to making Srila Prabhupada’s vision a reality. Seeing that evolve is the most enlivening thing for me.”

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