Corona resident Tashi Choephel just won big bucks to help a Queens organization build a community center for New York’s large Tibetan population.
Choephel, 35, won the money through Uber’s Project Jumpstart, a program that helps drivers “spark change in their communities.” The $7,000 check was given to Choephel at a ceremony in Manhattan on Nov. 29.
It will go toward renovating a community center in Woodside that will be run by the Tibetan Community of New York and New Jersey. Located at 32-01 57th St., the 26,000-square-foot building was purchased by the nonprofit in 2014 but “requires a lot of renovations to comply with the law as well as for our own need and purpose,” Choephel said.
New York has one of the largest Tibetan populations outside of Tibet, China, India and Nepal, and many Tibetans are concentrated in Queens. The Office of Tibet in New York estimates that there are approximately 9,000 Tibetans living in New York as of 2008.
The organization provides many important services for New York’s Tibetan community, according to Choephel. Founded in 1979, it offers Tibetan education for 5- to 18-year-olds, where children are taught how to speak the Tibetan language, practice Buddhism and celebrate important holidays such as the Tibetan New Year and the Dalai Lama’s birthday.
“The purpose of this organization is to preserve and promote Tibetan culture and tradition and along with that comes promoting compassion, non-violence and all these values that [are] very much in Tibetan culture,” he said.
He also added that the nonprofit’s lack of an official community center makes it very inconvenient for parents to bring their children to programs. The organization usually rents different spaces throughout the city.
“This year, Sunday School is in one location [and] next year it’s in another location,” he added. “That’s why we were very much in need of a community center.”
Choephel said the organization helped him when he moved to the United States by himself in 2008.
“When I first came here I was away from home and then I came across this organization,” he said. “Through this organization’s platform I was able to meet more Tibetans and practice my own language, culture, tradition and my Buddhism. It’s a very important organization for me.”
Choephel grew up in a nomadic family in Tibet. He herded sheep and yaks for a living and his family lived in a handmade Yak-wool tent. He eventually left Tibet to go to school in Nepal and went to college in India to study business.
“I moved to Nepal for education and for freedom because Tibet doesn’t have much freedom under [the current] administration,” he said.
When he’s not driving for Uber, Choephel works for an agency that supports people with intellectual disabilities.
The community center is still in the process of being renovated and should be completed in 2017.
“I felt very happy and very excited and very grateful to Uber that I was able to provide this fund through them,” he said.
All driver-partners in New York City can submit an application for sponsorship and Uber will award up to $20,000 in funding each month.