Being of service

Tibetan Center seeks to raise cultural awareness

by Paul Smart
December 02, 2010 01:27 PM | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Steve Drago
You want a truly modern progression of utilitarian uses? What’s now the Tibetan Center, on Route 28 in West Hurley, was previously Chocolate Cheers, a business where customers could see their candies and ice cream being made before their eyes. Before that it was the home of Woodstock Harley, before it built its own headquarters farther up the state highway. It was originally built for Carpet World.

“We had been looking for a place for this purpose,” says the Tibetan Center’s Executive Director, Steve Drago, of a search that had previously led him to consideration of the old Glenford Church, as well as the Loominus building in Bearsville, soon to reopen as an antiques business. “We got this for a very, very good price. And the place was in great condition, with a new heating and air conditioning system.”

There’s a buzz of activity underway at 875 State Route 28 now. Workmen come and go from the back of the space, where Woodstock Harley once had its parts department, where three health clinic offices are being finished off for holistic practitioners set to start in January. A staff kitchen’s being put in, along with a second bathroom. Downstairs, in a large, well-lit basement, are crowds of savvy locals thumbing through hosts of books once nestled into the old Editions book store further up 28 in Olive, now overseen by the place’s co-owner Joan Levine, and racks of fine clothing and household goods donated from a local estate.

And yet upstairs, at the front entrance to this place only open since August, is all peace and tranquility. The sounds of gentle music play in a glass-walled entry foyer draped in Tibetan tonkas and colorful prayer flags. A display of large framed photographs depict scenic Tibetan sites, at first glance. To one side is a gift shop, filled with meditation aids and books, and wrapped piles of the incense sticks that lend everything a redolent sense of peaceful otherness, and separation from the world of samsara outside. To the other, also seen through the glass, are a meditation area and video-viewing nook, with chairs, and a documentary about what’s been going on in Tibet over the last half century is playing.

Drago, soft-eyed but intent on imparting the mission of his new Tibetan Center, draws our attention to the rest of the photo display in the foyer. There, he points out that the monasteries in the images have been destroyed…part of a Chinese purging of 6000 of 6200 such institutions over the last half century. He notes that the Potola Palace in Lhasa, home of the dalai lamas for eons, is empty, now.

Then he shows pictures on a third wall of Tibetan uprisings and charts showing the ways in which Chinese occupiers search published photos and websites to arrest protesters. Pictures of the Tibetan capital in exile, Dharamsala, and the frostbite injuries suffered by refugees who make the trek over 17,000 foot high mountain passes to escape their occupied homeland.

“We want to raise awareness of what the culture is about, as well as Tibetans’ current plight,” Drago says. “This is a present-day holocaust. This is how people start to help. We helped Haiti when we saw it on TV. This is a long-held dream of mine come true…”

Drago speaks of how he grew interested, years ago, in the Dalai Lama. He read his writings, heard His Holiness speak. Eventually, he sponsored a monk. Then he founded an aid organization, of which he then served as director for over a decade. Finally, he had this new idea… of helping raise awareness, and funds, in a more public way.

Charitable undertaking

The Tibetan Center will have meditation classes, weekly talks and musical events, film screenings about Tibet, and a mail order business. There will be a holistic health clinic with massage therapy, acupuncture, sacro-cranial specialists, and a Tibetan doctor on call. Eventually, a small café, in line with what the Rubin Museum in Manhattan has, is planned. And the thrift store, downstairs, which is now expecting a massive intake of warehoused clothes from Donna Karan, who keeps a home in nearby Saugerties.

Everything is designed to help the whole, to provide for eventual self-sufficiency for the Center so it can continue to raise donations for its major charities, including an orphanage for Tibetan children, and other means of aid.

“The Tibetan Center is a charitable undertaking created to raise awareness about Tibetan culture and people, and to share information about the present conditions under the Communist Chinese occupation,” reads its website, currently in progress but planned as a major crossroads for information about all things Tibetan. “Our work started more than thirteen years ago as a small charity supporting impoverished Tibetans in exile. The Tibetan Center is a place to come and experience the beauty and genius of the Tibetan culture and people.”

 Drago, balancing his way through an endless throng of well-wishers and volunteers from around the area as we talk, hands me his card and asks that I read its Mission Statement.

“… a charitable endeavor dedicated to raising awareness about the Tibetan culture and its present plight,” it repeats.

Locally-based massage and holistic healing therapist Harris Breiman speaks to me about his plans for a full-service clinic that helps pay the Center’s way while also providing some income for its practitioners.

Levine tells me how happy she is to find new homes for the many books she still has from Editions.

Drago, returning from business, notes how the Center is in contact with the KTD Monastery, with Robert Thurman’s Menla Institute in Phoenicia, and other Tibetan entities throughout the state and nation.

“Being of service in the world, that’s the key,” he says, glancing around all he’s built, and all that is still building at The Tibetan Center on Route 28.

“The vibes are good,” adds Breiman.

And so they are, for all the senses, here by the side of fast-paced Route 28 in West Hurley. ++


The Tibetan Center, at 875 Route 28 in West Hurley, is open through December most days from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. Hours will change somewhat in January and beyond. Check out its thrift store…already considered one of the best in the region. For more information, call 383-1774 or visit

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