NEW YORK – The 8th annual Gala of The Hellenic Initiative (THI), the global, nonprofit, secular institution mobilizing the Greek diaspora and philhellene community, was a virtual affair this year, but the event has so far raised 1.6 million real dollars in support of sustainable economic recovery and renewal for the Greek people and COVID-19 pandemic support for families and fledgling startup firms.
The inspiring and entertaining broadcast co-hosted by ABC News anchor and political commentator George Stephanopoulos and Greek entertainer Sakis Rouvas on the evening of November 12 began with the traditional invocation, offered this year by Archbishop Elpidophoros.
“We ask your blessings,” His Eminence said “upon this assembly of Hellenes and Philhellenes, and especially upon the members of The Hellenic Initiative. Prosper their work in Greece and throughout the world as they bring the Diaspora together and closer to our precious Hellas. Guide their programs and initiatives to benefit those most in need and lead us all to a brighter future.”
The co-hosts then immediately set the dual tone for the evening: compassion and enthusiasm rooted in the Community's love for Greece and Cyprus. Stephanopoulos, from the ABC studio in Midtown Manhattan with Times Square traffic in the background narrated a photo tour of a Greece in the midst of a pandemic and Rouvas, live from Syntagma Square in Athens, introduced the incomparable Nana Mouskouri, who opened the evening's musical offerings with the poignant `Hartino to fengaraki – Paper Moon.”
The program continued with Rouvas' introduction of THI President George Stamas, who addressed the guests while standing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC. He noted, “it is a symbol of Democracy and the rule of Law. It is no coincidence that it looks like the Parthenon … it is a living embodiment and constant reminder of everything Greece has meant and means to the world.” He invited viewers to learn about THI, “but not tonight, because tonight we honor, we celebrate, we radiate the Greek people.”
Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis, with the Acropolis shining behind him, said “thank you for affording me the opportunity to speak with you tonight. I'm sorry only that we cannot be together to highlight the work of The Hellenic Initiative and celebrate the incredible contribution of the Global Greek Diaspora makes to our country.” After noting Greece's recent progress and his confidence that it will be boosted by “harnessing the immense power of the Greek Diaspora,” he noted both the importance to Hellenism of the celebration of Greece's bicentennial in 2021 and the government's continuing to work with THI.
THI Chairman Andrew Liveris began his welcome while standing on the shores of the port of Sidney, Australia by acknowledging the extraordinary nature of 2020. “It's been a tremendous year in terms of change and response and everyone stepping up and saying `it's time to help all of our friends and people around the world who have needs, and nowhere moreso than in our homeland of Greece.” After thanking the participants for their support, he reminded that “it's in our DNA to show resilience – it's what Hellenes are.”
The 2010 the Gala raised more than $2.2 million, making it the most successful fundraising event in the Greek diaspora globally, and it is remarkable that last year's number will approached even in a virtual format in 2020 as donations will continue after November 12.
The virtual event featured video messages with expressive scenes demonstrating what THI donations do on the ground for Hellenes in need and for promising entrepreneurs and start-ups, making it an informative and inspiring as well as an entertaining event.
Stephanopoulos put this year's Gala into perspective by saying, “Greece has fallen ill. Look around at empty streets that should be bustling with tourists … the virus that steals the breath of the people it infects is suffocating our country … COVID-19 has stolen much from Greece, but it cannot take our pride, our heritage, our strength as a community, or our compassion. We ask all Greeks who are able: Please, share your love for Greece, help out your fellow citizens in need with your generosity, to keep our country healthy, and together, we will make it strong again.”
The invitation described the event as “a call-to-action that will illuminate a Greece of innovation, strength, and resiliency by telling the business success stories of THI's many grantees, which include organization and initiatives like Prolepsis, HOPEgenesis, The Greek Food Bank, Agigma Zois, Enaleia, Venture Garden, The Ark of the World (Kivotos tou Kosmou), The Venture Impact Awards, and The Greek Youth Symphony Orchestra.
The presentations were punctuated by delightful performances from leading artists such as Rita Wilson who performed with Christos Mastoras, lead singer of Melisses, the popular Greek rock band. Also performing were Marina Sati with her a cappella group `fones', Monika, one of Greece's most acclaimed indie artists, and the Greek Youth Symphony Orchestra.
This celebrity-filled event included messages from actress and director Nia Vardalos, Peter Diamandis, founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation, and Diane Kochilas, Greek-American cookbook author, celebrity chef, and cooking school owner, among others.
During the Gala THI hosted a silent auction with both luxury and charitable pledge auction items that, particularly this year, focus on giving to those in need.
tHI Executive Director Peter Poulos noted that this year's event proved challenging yet rewarding. "So many philhellenes and Greeks from around the world heeded the call for support and together we hit a real home run for investment in Greece. Thanks to robust board leadership and a dedicated staff, results exceeded our greatest expectations," Poulos said. "The unseen benefit in going virtual was that it enabled people internationally to stream our event. Moreover, speakers and entertainers didn't need to be on hand in New York City or London to participate."
Founded in 2012, THI THI's programs address crisis relief through strong nonprofit organizations and building entrepreneurial skills in a new generation of business leaders. Since 2012, THI has committed or distributed $5.7 million in direct crisis relief and $10.1 million in economic and entrepreneurial development.