NEW YORK – Since 1979 more than 10,000 Greek children and their families found Ronald McDonald House (RMH) to be a home away from home while they underwent the trials and tribulations of pediatric cancer treatment. On December 10 at the famed New York Athletic Club, friends of the Greek Division of RMH gathered for its annual Christmas party, which was hosted this year by John and Margo Catsimatidis.
From the start, the Greek-American community embraced the dream of the Vivian Harris and Niki Sideris, the founders of the Greek Division whose memory and spirit permeated the evening.
John P. Tavlarios, President and CEO of General Maritime Corporation, was the event chairman and the gala affair on Central Park South was also the occasion for honoring Spiros Voutsinas, the President and CEO of Atlantic Bank, and Florentia Christodoulidou, MD.
Bishop Philotheos of Meloa offered the invocation representing Archbishop Demetrios and William T. Sullivan, the President and CEO of RMH, welcomed the guests and offered closing remarks. He announced that the event raised $100,000.
Sullivan and other speakers also praised the Greek Division’s current director Spiridoula Katechis, her staff and all the volunteers, and Nikki Soteropoulos Margarites, Director of Major Gifts for RMN and advisor to the Greek Division.
Voutsinas drew upon personal and Greek history by summing up his acceptance and thank you remarks by declaring: “we cannot give up,” in the face of life’s challenges and opportunities.
Voutsinas told TNH “Look around you. It is very successful. I believe there are 400 people here.” He said the RMH “is very important. The kids need support. When they come to a strange country, they need to relate to somebody,” which is something that immigrants deeply appreciate.
In introducing Christodoulidou, Sullivan said “civilizations are judged by how people treat the weakest among them,” and emphasized the honoree’s reputation for treating her patients with dignity and professionalism.
Christodoulidou thanked RMH and the Greek Division for the honor and for the work they do, and she also expressed her apprecation to all the guests for being present and supporting RMH.
She said that “seeing a kid go through chemotherapy is brutal. It hurts you more than it hurts the child.” Nevertheless, traveling thousands of miles and having no one to speak with is terrible for children,” but she said “Ronald McDonald House changes everything. It changes desperation to hope.”
She has spoken to children and parents who have stayed at RMH and is “so impressed by the care offered to those people and I congratulate every one of you: executives, nurses, volunteers, psychologists. You offer hope to people far from home.”
RMH New York is the largest facility of the kind in the world.
Koula Sophianou was pleased to be able to join the community in the celebration of Christmas with the friends of the Ronald McDonald House. “Dr. Dia Christodoulidou is very dear friend, a special person and a dedicated physician,” she said, and added that for the four years she has known him, Voutsinas “has shown how much he cares about the community. Both serve as examples of philanthropy. They are people who really care about the well-being of the people around them.”
Sophianou knows about such things from personal experience.
“I wish there were no reason to have Ronald McDonald houses but cancer is a reality. RMH provides shelter and hope and support to the families of the children…My nephew lived in an RMH in St. Louis with his mother for four months…and I know about the wonderful work they do there…they felt there were people around them who supported them and stood buy them, and this meant a lot.”
She thanked and congratulated Spiridoula Katechis and Sullivan for their work, and all the volunteers and committees. “I am happy to see so many members of the community be volunteer. It shows how much we care about not just Greek children but children from all over the world.”
Georgia S. Galiatsatos-Kaparos, who grew up at Three Hierarchs in Brooklyn and who attends the church of the Archangel Michael in Port Washington, told TNH “tonight was a wonderful event. I am not here with a group or organization however, I am here to personally support RMH for all the children from around the world who are in need and find a home away from home.”
George Orfanakos, Director of Development of NYU Langone Medical Center, said RMH is “crucially important because it is a welcome embrace to those who desperately need a place to reside when they are enduring such a difficult time.”
He said “coming to a foreign country, which is so stressful… and to have someone welcome you with open arms and be there, and have a second home, the parea and the support system…someone who tells you you are not alone. Can you place a price on that?” The answer is obvious.
Orfanakos then added about RMH and everyone involved, “It’s priceless. It’s Christian. It’s humanity at its finest.”