By George Matsoukas
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” Joel 2:28
For the past seven years I have been passively involved, mostly listening and offering suggestions, based on my experiences as a development director in educational institutions, to a friend, another academic type, who had a terrific dream for his retirement and relocating back to Greece.
Tom Amygdalitsis lived in the United Statesfor 45 years. He was born in Glossa, Skopelos and left Greece with his family when he was 13 years old. The family settled in the United States and Tom attended high school, college, served in the Armed Forces, and had a professional career in educational settings dealing with the transformation caused by the computer and its application to learning. He retired from Georgia Perimeter College after 25 years of service in 2013. He was the Supervisor of the Information Technology (IT) department.
His dream was to go back to his island and develop a living, active, learning center for all ages of islanders and to help them appreciate what the island once offered to sustain families. High Tech Tom never forgot the memories of his youth growing up in an idyllic setting in simpler times. He wanted the older people to reintroduce the skills by having a space to talk to younger people. He wanted individuals still working in farming and herding to have a space where they could demonstrate their working skills and transmit their hopes and dreams for the future. He wanted people who knew about fabrics to demonstrate their skills. How do you help people understand the concept of sustainability as a means to revitalize their present social, economic situation?
On his own with his limited resources and with little understanding, by others, of what he wanted to do and accomplish, he set out to make his dream concrete. He rehabbed an old piece of family property sending funds back home, working long distance with workers, untangling permit requirements and bureaucratic obstacles to make the space what he wanted. This rehab project went on long distance for at least 5 years. He developed purpose, mission and vision statements, a logo and a website, isporades.org, which are the essence of the Sporades Islands Center for Sustainable Life (SICSL)
“Our vision is to promote and incorporate our rich cultural traditions into present progressive practices the development of which constitute a proposal for a sustainable life. Our proposal has to do with the reconnection of economic activity with nature, protection of the fragile environment, and the rediscovery of traditional occupations which today continue to be evolving and productive. We believe that our proposal can be used to uplift our community’s quality of life.”
Tom had a few friends here in the United States along the way, encouraging him and offering their skill sets when they could. We wanted him to stay focused. When you oversee all these moveable parts it is easy to lose your focus. Finally, three years ago he went back and now is there serving as the full time director.
I visited the SICSL, last summer, and seeing the building and the programs up and running was amazing.This summer more programs will be presented.
Tom has found some amazing local island visionaries just like himself with big dreams making their dreams a reality. He has partnered with them and has featured them at the Center. Plum farmer Thanasis Grypiotis is building an amazing complex to manufacture products developed from the three varieties of unique plums that grow on the Island. He has over 2,100 plum trees and will grow, dry, manufacture various products and ship them from the complex he is building in a magical setting overlooking the sea. The complex will also house a hotel for visitors. Grypiotis’ vision for his complex also overwhelmed the students who could not imagine him farming and constructing the buildings with stones from his land all at the same time.
Tom was able to network with the Polytechnic Institute of Agriculture in Kalamata and have their faculty study the special nutritional properties of this unique Sporadic Island plum. An analysis has been completed and made public.
Goat farmer Spyros Gerakis is in full production with a modern goat cheese complex which is home to hundreds of the unique Skopelos goats. His myzithresare shipped all over Greece and beyond. Gerakis is a delightful, animated, and passionate agricultural entrepreneur. He delighted teenage American and local island students with his talk about his work when we attended a workshop at his farm.
John Boudalas is a third-generation boat builder. His family has been building ships since the 1870’s. Today, he uses the blueprints his grandfather and father used to build ships but he builds them as good sized models. They are museum quality. Some are for sale and others are not. Former President George H.W. Bush has one of his model ships. He has displayed them and talked about them at the Center.
James Michener would call all four of these individuals who are working within a crisis situation, an economic meltdown, the Golden Men. They understand the movement going around them. They know from despair hope rises and from defeat victory results.
To the 35-to-45-year-olds who want to leave Greece, look around and create opportunity. You are the hope of the future. Do not rely on the government. Band together and make a new order. You young men and women need to see a vision. These old men are living a dream and making it happen. Work together to make sustainable change.
George Matsoukas is Executive Director of the Orthodox Christian Laity.