Hard-working members of DREAMSAI Milton Keynes have been presented with the prestigious Queen's Award for Voluntary Service for their help to the community during the Covid pandemic.
The award was presented on Saturday by Countess Howe, Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire.
She said: "DREAMSAI is a small but highly organised, flexible, dynamic group that punches above its weight.
"For the last three years they have been able to rapidly respond to gaps in provisions for vulnerable people across the town of Milton Keynes. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic they immediately created effective new projects to reach out and support those in need, all of which was achieved solely by volunteers.
"The drive and energy of this group is palpable and derives from total commitment to their mission to meet the needs of people whatever their background as taught by their guru Shirdi Sai Baba.”
The Countess said DREAMSAI founder and chairman Laxman Kastala had assembled a talented and highly motivated group of people around him.
"The impact of their work has been far reaching and what is particularly impressive is that help was rolled out so quickly when Covid struck. The number of volunteer hours given is quite staggering, and even more remarkable when all of them are holding down full-time jobs or in education,“ she said.
“By fostering an organisational spirit of independent collaboration, they have enabled a rapid response to emerging needs by acting together in flexible teams. By actively partnering with many other groups in Milton Keynes they have been able to connect and build trust between communities. I would like to say that this small Indian community has had a profound impact on reducing social inequalities and building stronger community cohesion by running local, community-led inclusive projects, which involves active engagement from volunteers from diverse communities. Congratulations to all."
Mr Kastala said "DREAMAI had very humble beginning 4 years ago with just handful of us walking around in the streets of Milton Keynes doing soup run on Saturday and GuruDay on Thursday evening.
"We had an amazing journey so far. Today we have grown to having an incredible team of more than 150 dedicated volunteers of all ages and backgrounds spending thousands of hours every month to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable people and their families in our city. We are 100% volunteer run organisation with a third of them being youth volunteers.
"As an inclusive group, DREAMSAI very quickly developed positive partnerships with many other national & local organisations to collaborate and provide joined up services to widen the reach and impact while minimizing the duplication.”
Mr Kastala added: “If I have to say one thing, it is the passion amongst the team that resulted in this prestigious award in such a short span of time. We are incredibly proud of this highest accolade for voluntary groups. It’s a privilege and huge honour.”
“Milton Keynes is a diverse place and there is need for its infrastructure to be representative of its diverse population to address the desires of these emerging diverse communities and their cultural wellbeing. DREAMSAI has some exciting plans for future to address this gap.”
DREAMSAI's aim is to put into practice the teachings of the 19th Century Indian Saint Shirdi SAI. Saibaba’s teaching concentrated on moral code of love, forgiveness, helping others, charity, contentment, and inner peace.
Its key projects in MK include providing cooked meals for people who are homeless or in temporary sheltered accommodation, and delivering food parcels to vulnerable and elderly people.
Breakfast and half term food parcels are also delivered to local schools, while festive hampers are distributed during Christmas, Eid, and Diwali.
DREAMSAI also promotes blood donation in association with NHS Blood and Transplant initiatives. For young people it provides activities, volunteering, skills, and training opportunities.
More information can be found at www.dreamsai.org and support is available via the group's helpline on 01908 033541.