WASHINGTON, DC – Greek-Americans and philhellenes from across the country filled the grand ballroom of the Washington Hilton for the Hellenic Heritage Achievements and National Public Service Awards Dinner and the 39th anniversary of the American Hellenic Institute.
International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) was honored, along with Congresswoman Dina Titus, Leadership 100 Executive Director Paulette Poulos, Former Executive Director of the Order of AHEPA Timothy Maniatis, and entrepreneur Jerry Couvaras.
One of the evening’s highlights was the announcement of the publication of Kissinger & Cyprus – A Study in Lawlessness, by AHI Founder Gene Rossides.
The annual event blended fellowship and live music and dancing into a celebration of Hellenism and the achievements of Hellenes in America.
Nicholas Karambelas, Treasurer and member of the Board of AHI, welcomed the guests, acknowledged the dignitaries, and introduced the evening’s MC, Larry Michael, the voice of the Washington Redskins.
Fr. Dimitrios Antokas, pastor of St. George of Bethesda, attended with Presbytera Maria Antokas and presented both the invocation and the benediction. Blessings were also offered by Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey, who was thanked for his presence by numerous speakers.
Soprano Maria Forakis Pearce, a member of the band Revma, which provided the live music, sang the Greek and American national anthems after the presentation of the colors by the Marines of Headquarters Battalion.
Michael set the tone for the evening and expressed the feelings of many when he said it was a pleasure to be part of AHI’s endeavors. “AHI has a lifetime friend in me because it keeps me in touch with the Greek-American community,” he said.
Spiro Spireas, chairman and CEO of the pharmaceutical firm Sigmapharm Labs, who serves as president of the AHI Foundation, declared that “in bestowing these prestigious awards we also seek to recognize the extraordinary culture and ethos that gives birth to such industrious, creative and generous people…it is really our Hellenic heritage that is being honored.”
Nicholas Larigakis, the President of AHI, spoke next and said “I would like to begin with a ‘thank you’ to the guests, benefactors and board members of AHI, “and our hardworking staff,” whom he introduced by name.
When he spoke of Maniatis, who has coordinated nearly 200 events in the U.S. and around the world, he thanked him for his contributions to the community and personally for the mentoring and support he received.
Larigakis briefly outlined the work of AHI in support of justice for Cyprus through an end to Turkey’s illegal occupation and the pursuit of a just and viable solution, peace and stability in the Aegean, and freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, all in the context of vital U.S. interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Congresswoman Titus emphasized the importance of AHI’s continued presence in Capitol Hill – some guests noted it more important given the Greek and Cypriot crises and the growing volatility in their region – and declared “we must stay united.“
Constantine (Dean) Triantafillou, the Executive Director and CEO of IOCC, accepted the award in behalf of the organization and cited its founders.
Prior to the Greek crisis, he had an experience in the aftermath of the horrific fires in Greece in 2007 which symbolized the humanitarian commitment of the organization and its supporters. When Triantafillou, veteran of many natural and man-made disasters, surveyed the devastation on one mountainside, a priest who noticed he was shaken up pointed a single mass of green, a young tree that emerged from the ashes, and said to him “look: Life!”
Michael began his introduction of Poulos by marveling how “someone responsible for prying so many Greeks from so many of their dollars, remains one of the most respected and admired Greek-Americans.”
When she reached the podium she declared, to many smiles, “I promise not to ask anyone for any money tonight.”
She said “it is with great humility that I join the outstanding recipients of the AHIaward,” and before acknowledging the work of AHI, Poulos acknowledged her debt to Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory for lessons in leadership and the appreciation of her Hellenic heritage, but she added that none of her accomplishments “would have been possible without the untiring love and guidance I received from my own beloved parents, Charles and Rebecca Poulos, “who instilled in me the faith, Hellenic ideals, and the importance of integrity.”
“AHI stands for Hellenism in America for Greece and Cyprus and Hellenism around the world. They always alerted us to the challenges we face and actions we must pursue as good citizens, true to our Hellenic heritage, she said.
After thanking Archbishop Demetrios , who chose her to lead Leadership 100 endowment fund, she noted the presence of its new and youngest ever chairman, George Tsadikos, under whom she said, “we will continue to advance Orthodoxy and Hellenism in America.”
Maniatis demonstrated the importance of a sense of humor in exercising leadership in the community by announcing “since I’ve been coming to these events for 33 years, I have the right to keep you here until 2 AM.” In fact, Michael’s wit kept the program moving forward and ended it on time so that the dancing could begin.
Maniatis congratulated his fellow honorees, and recounted his journey to Washington to begin his service to AHEPA around the time of the community’s response to the invasion of Cyprus. He smiled as he described the role played by the man who became a lifelong friend but prompted his initial response of “who the hell is that” – Leon Stavrou – one of the pioneers and stalwarts of the Greek-American presence in Washington.
Stavrou and Gene Rossides offered him guidance, and “After 35 years I met some truly wonderful people and feel that something was accomplished.”
He concluded by acknowledging the work of AHi, AHEPA and Manatos and Manatos in placing the work in Washington on a professional basis.
Maniatis added that he is pleased with the unity that now prevails in the community “but we have to unite ourselves more…an organized community is an effective community.”
Jerry Couvaras, the President and CEO of the Atlanta Bake and Bread One food service companies, said that “since coming here 20 years ago, this magnificent country has afforded my family and I with an abundance of opportunities that have exceeded our wildest expectations.“
He then thanked his wife of 27 years for “her headaches, support and tolerance,” and honored the memory of his father, who was from Ithaka, and his Peloponnesian mother.
For Couvaras, the invasion of Cyprus was a life changing event. He was 16 years old and was visiting Greece at the time. “It changed overnight from a summer vacation spot to a country at war and he watched as friends and family were conscripted for an anticipated conflict with Turkey.
“I will never forget the sense of solidarity, patriotism, and bravery,” he said, and was inspired to establish a Friends of Cyprus group in South Africa,” where he lived at the time, which and lobbied its government on behalf of Cyprus.
He soon learned about AHI and Gene Rossides. “The conversations of Greeks in backyards” and restaurants, “were now being heard in Washington,” he said with admiration.
Couvaras concluded by congratulating Larigakis, and saying “I salute American Greeks for all they do to enhance the live of Hellenes all over the world.”
Retired Senator Paul Sarbanes led the list of distinguished guests who paid tribute to the honorees, including IOCC, which he helped become established and which he said “does terrific work,” adding “they were deserving of recognition over a long period of time.”
The Senator agrees with Larigakis, who often says that it is a tribute to the success and commitment to excellence of the members of the community that it is never difficult to find people worthy of being honored at the gala.
“As usual AHI does a wonderful job bringing out the Who’s Who of the community,” AHEPA Executive Director Basil Mossaides said. “We commend all the honorees, including one of our own, Timothy Maniatis.”
Also present were Tom Miller, former U.S. Ambassador to Greece, Ambassador Christos Panagopoulos of Greece, George Chacalli of Cyprus, and Dean Emeritus of St. Sophia, Father John and Presbytera Harriet Tavlarides.
Paul Kotrotsios, the president of the Hellenic American National Council, who is preparing for the next Hermes Expo International which promotes products and companies in Greece the, echoed the words of praise of many guests and speakers at the event when he praised AHI “ for the work it does representing the community on Capitol Hill on all our issues.
He emphasized the importance of all community organizations cooperating with each other while each contributes what it does best. A recent success is the teleconference and meetings which he reports raised $200,000 for the completion of the Paidea center in Rhode Island.
Kissinger & Cyprus – A Study in Lawlessness can be purchased at the AHI website, ahiworld.org.