A community of culture

Local nonprofit Ameriseva breaks attendance record during its Indian Republic Day celebration

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Embracing diversity: Indian Republic Day, hosted last month in Bensalem High School’s auditorium, is an annual celebration of culture and diversity. During the event, a service award was given to Bensalem Wells Fargo branch manager Himani Shah for her philanthropy, volunteerism and deep desire to improve communities across Bucks County. PHOTO: Ankit Parikh

It was talent galore in Bensalem High School’s auditorium last month. Nearly 1,000 people packed into the space to enjoy colorfully stunning performances by more than 180 local kids. But this was no singing and dancing competition. It was the annual celebration of culture known as Indian Republic Day.

Hosted by the local nonprofit Ameriseva for the past 15 years, the event recognizes the anniversary on which India became a republic on Jan. 26, 1950. Ameriseva was formed a little more than a decade ago to tackle issues facing the South Asian community. As its mission states, the purpose of the organization is to “strengthen families, grow a sustainable regional economy, cultivate leadership and philanthropy and foster respect for all.”

At Indian Republic Day, each of these goals was met as the community united for one common purpose — to celebrate culture and diversity. The event kicked off promptly at 5 p.m. with a procession led by Ameriseva executive director Sonny Parikh, who proudly carried the Indian flag, and Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo, who held the American flag.

Following Parikh and DiGirolamo were a number of local elected officials including Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo and state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson. Once they reached the auditorium stage, the national anthems of both countries were sung.

Over the next two hours, more than 180 kids from the community showed off their singing and dancing skills to attendees, which totaled nearly 1,000 people. According to Ameriseva program coordinator Ankit Parikh, this was the largest turnout the event has ever seen. As guests enjoyed a complimentary dinner, the kids performed a variety of cultural routines while donning saris and traditional Indian garb.

Throughout the evening, a number of prizes were raffled off including a Visa gift card and Nintendo Switch. Community service awards were also given by Sonny to two key players in the Bensalem community. The first went to school board director Marc Cohen to recognize his leadership in numerous organizations. Currently, Cohen serves as president of the Bensalem Rotary, treasurer of the Bensalem Education Foundation and board member of the Bensalem Village Condominium, Mud in My Cleats, Bensalem High School Community Service Club and Delaware Valley Tennis Club.

Bensalem Wells Fargo branch manager Himani Shah received the second service award for her philanthropy, volunteerism and deep desire to improve communities across Bucks County.

“I have had the privilege of working in an area with terrific people,” she said. “There is a powerful community spirit here that I want to be a part of.”

Shah’s work includes a collaboration with Bucks County Safe Kids to assist with volunteer events such as car seat inspections, and time dedicated to United Way of Bucks County and the Philadelphia Opportunity Council to successfully run major food drives to help needy families across the region.

Through the Wells Fargo initiative, Hands On Banking, Shah helps people of all ages understand money management by teaching budgeting skills, credit management and how to save for college and retirement. She regularly partners with the Bensalem and Neshaminy school districts, Delaware Valley University and the Middle Bucks Institute of Technology to provide workshops and seminars on these and other topics. In addition, Shah regularly volunteers with Habitat for Humanity in Bucks County.

The day wrapped up with final comments from Bensalem superintendent Dr. Samuel Lee.

“I am proud and honored to have this event held in Bensalem again and hope this is where it stays because it belongs in a community as diverse as Bensalem,” he remarked.

Indian Republic Day is one of Ameriseva’s oldest and biggest events, but throughout the remainder of the year, the organization will continue to help the community through a number of smaller initiatives.

Ameriseva’s annual PA Great Clean Up Day will take place in March. As its name suggests, the goal of the event is to rid the community of unwanted trash. According to Ankit, the local police and high school students play a major role — as teens get to work in clearing trash from the streets, officers block off the roads to ensure their safety. Lunch is provided at the end of the day, and student volunteers receive a certificate of recognition for their community service. Throughout the day, locals are able to gather and drop off their own trash at Firestone, the main partner for the event.

In October, Ameriseva will host its annual health camp. Thanks to partnerships with the American Red Cross and local hospitals, residents are able to receive free flu shots and other medical necessities they couldn’t otherwise afford.

Finally, the campaign widely known as Freedom From Hunger will be ongoing until December. Ameriseva is currently working with various organizations in the community, including the Bensalem School District and YWCA, to collect boxes of non-perishable food items. Last year, 100 boxes were collected with approximately 11 items in each. The goal for 2018 is to reach 500 boxes.

For information on Ameriseva and its upcoming events, visit ameriseva.org. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com