NEW YORK – The turn of the New Year is a good time to pause, review recent accomplishments and stumbles, and then focus on the challenges and opportunities before us and the plans and corrections that will help us navigate them. The process is helped by looking at who we are, both individually and collectively.
For the Greek-American community in 2014 the agenda is clear: continue to move forward in America without losing touch with our roots in Greece and Cyprus. As the homelands struggle to emerge from their crises, the diaspora is ramping up its efforts to help with humanitarian with contributions to the effort to build a new Greece and Cyprus.
Archbishop Demetrios captured the general tone by combining concern and optimism in his message. “Our feelings and thoughts are many because there are challenges for the New Year and many perspectives on them. Our community continues to have a tremendous mission here to strongly project our Orthodox faith and our Hellenic heritage,” and he feels that mission must intensify “because the challenges are intensifying.
“The community also has a connection and obligation to our brothers and sisters in Greece and Cyprus.” He said the Archdiocese recently sent assistance to children in Cyprus for and the aid it has sent to Greece in recent years will continue.
He is also pleased with the efforts of groups like The Hellenic Initiative “which is working to create the conditions that will attract investment to Greece and is helping small companies with guidance and financial support.”
Dr. Nicholas Mezitis is one of the leaders of the Diaspora’s response through his two roles, as president of the Hellenic Medical Society of New York (HMS), and as one of the founders of the Hellenic Relief Foundation (HRF).
They are pursuing opportunities to help their colleagues in Greece through their recent fraternization agreement with the Athens Medical Association. The HMS is supporting people who want to come to the United States for training and research and it has expanded its longstanding scholarship program in the United States to assist young Greeks as well.
The HMS is also helping with general aid, for example, through the One Laptop Per Child project of Greek-American Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Laboratory, they sent 100 computers to the Kalamata region.
The HRF is concerned with nutritional support and they now distribute food aid in several cities in Greece.
Philip Christopher, the President of PSEKA and the Pancyprian Association of America accentuated the positive while remaining vigilant: “The major achievement in 2013 was the building of the strong relationship with all the Jewish organizations. The PSEKA Conference in Washington, DC was a joint effort with the American Jewish Committee…The new alliance between Greece, Cyprus and Israel plus the discovery of hydrocarbon gas has changed the dynamics.”
He added that more than ever “It’s in the best interest of America to push Turkey to withdraw its troops from Cyprus, reunite the Island and extend Religious freedom.”
Some of most dynamic organizations in the community are focused on women’s issues, but their contribution to the community and their needs.
Olga Alexakos, the founder president of the Association of Greek American Professional Women (AGAPW) emphasized their scholarship program, which they plan to expand, and 2013 events that illuminated important topics such as human trafficking and domestic violence.
She told TNH “We believe that strong organizations make strong individuals and communities,” and she added that “A strong diaspora can better support our motherland that is suffering so much and needs all we can give. We would like to extend our wishes for a peaceful, happy, and prosperous new year.”
Aphrodite Skeadas, President of the National Philoptochos, told TNH “As we approach the start of a new year we are mindful of our many blessings and pray that 2014 will be filled with hope and promise for all God’s children.” The society’s feats in 2013 include the purchase of a permanent home in Manhattan and record-breaking fundraising for implementation of its philanthropic mission.
She emphasized that they “have supported and stand ready to continue to serve our brothers and sisters in Greece and Cyprus who struggle to survive….Philoptochos women throughout the country offer their prayers and also offer comfort, care and assistance.”
National Philoptochos Society recently distributed $40,000 to children’s ministries in Greece and Cyprus and during the Christmas season they will distribute $150,000 as humanitarian relief in Greece and Cyprus.
Basil Mossaides, the Executive Director of the Order of AHEPA, said the Order is always looking forward and is excited about 2014, but he also focused on Greece and Cyprus
“In 2013 we sent four medical containers to Greece with a value of close to $3.7 million and an additional $350,000 in food to feed the hungry. Through the APOSTOLI/Mission program of the Church of Greece, AHEPA has fed over 10,000 underprivileged people in 2013. We are always trying to assist our friends and families back in Greece.”
Their domestic endeavors include the annual distribution of $1million in scholarships “and in 2014 we will actively seek young people to attend the AHEPA Journey to Greece for a semester in Greece.”
He told TNH that “the challenges the Greek American community face are serious, but together we can work to assure that our children and grandchildren will have the same opportunities our forefathers had.”
Tasso Pardalis, the president of the Young Professionals of the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce, represents a recent burst of activity among the community’s youth and a number of broader initiatives. “It was a very productive year for the Greek community here evidenced in part by the formation of many new advocacy groups, not-for-profits, and business-centered organizations,” he said.
Pardalis told TNH, “Our community is not only showing signs of robust growth in size and influence, but it is also penetrating into new and non-traditional areas of advocacy, from political growth to new industries such as tech and fashion.”
In 2014 he hopes to see “a stronger, more cooperative, and unified existence with greater cooperation between the newly active members and the forward thinking older members of the community…These people are the key to our growth.”
In 2013 the community bade farewell, among others, to two universally acknowledged giants, Andrew A. Athens and Nicholas J. Bouras. Their examples and inspiration live on, as was noted by Dr. Anthony Limberakis and Andrew Manatos, respectively.
Dr. Limberakis, National Commander of the Order of Saint Andrew, told TNH “the very example of Nicholas J. Bouras that inspires us to keep on pressing for justice for the human and religious rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We also note with alarm the signs of narrow thinking coming out of Turkey, especially around Hagia Sophia. Additionally, we express our deepest concerns over the continuing crisis in Cyprus, and the deepening wide exodus of Christians from the Middle East. We will continue to speak truth to power on all these concerns, resting on no laurels until the work is done.”
Andy Manatos said “I look forward to the promise of 2014 being significantly better than 2013. In this last year we lost two of this era’s greatest Hellenes and Orthodox Christians – Andrew A. Athens and Nicholas Bouras. Enough good things cannot be said about either extraordinary man.”
He is concerned that “Cyprus joined Greece in what can only be described as their Great Depressions,” and there is new concern about religious freedom in Turkey and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
On a more positive note, “Greece did make great strides correcting its structural economic problems, Cyprus began its recuperation, the bonding between both countries and Israel grew even closer.”
Manatos also noted that Washington now has a “more realistic view of Turkey. Hopefully, this development will help the government of Cyprus in 2014 as serious efforts to end Turkey’s occupation play out.”
He predicts that 2014 will be a very high profile year the relationship between Greece and America, “the results of which can only accrue to the benefit of both countries. I predict that in 2014 we in America will be afforded the opportunity to infuse over $100 million into the pockets of young unemployed Greeks and Cypriots.”
TNH also received greetings from its elected officials apropos of the Christmas holiday, whose core message is love and hope for the future. New York State Senator Michael Gianaris wrote “I wish all those celebrating a Merry Christmas and a joyous and healthy New Year. May we all enjoy this time with our families and friends and have the best of luck in the upcoming year.”
State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas send a message to the community and constituents: “Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and a New Year filled with peace and happiness.”