NEW YORK – The Hellenic Initiative’s (THI) 7th Annual Gala was held at the Midtown Hilton Hotel in Manhattan with its Leadership Award presented to the Coca Cola Foundation and $2.3 million raised for humanitarian aid and support for young entrepreneurs in Greece.
Among those present were Greek government officials, including the Minister for Development and Investment Adonis Georgiadis, the Deputy Minister of Labor Domna Michaelides, and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Hellenes Abroad Antonis Diamataris. Greek-American businessmen, including John Calamos, John Catsimatidis, Harry Wilson, John Koudounis, and Michael Psaros, were also in attendance along with His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros. The event also raised funds for THI’s multifaceted efforts to support Greece. A silent auction and a live auction were also held with a variety of items up for bid to raise funds for the cause.
Greek singer Panos Mouzourakis traveled to New York to take on the role of Master of Ceremonies for the evening, putting his own stamp on the gala with his larger-than-life personality, his humor, distinctive voice, and charisma.
THI Board of Directors President George Stamas gave the welcoming remarks at the event, pointing out the many achievements of the organization since last year’s gala and the programs that are continuing to support Greece and its future. He noted the passing of two great philanthropists, Nikos Mouyiaris and Alexander Navab, and asked for a moment of silence in their honor. May their memory be eternal.
His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros gave the opening prayer and was then introduced by Michael Psaros who said, “I have the blessing and privilege of introducing His Eminence Elpidophoros Archbishop of America and Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. His Eminence was enthroned on a glorious day in June in a ceremony that none of us will ever forget. I want you all to know – and many of you do know – that His Eminence was given his name Elpidophoros personally by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew when he was ordained. As we all know Elpidophoros means bringer of hope and how appropriate that we were sent the bringer of hope in this critical time in our Church's history. Now, instead of reading you His Eminence's impressive resume I just want to share a few very personal observations from the time that I spent with him since he's been ordained. First is his faith – you realize that His Eminence is an extraordinary man of faith, a true priest, a true Archpriest, by observing his actions both large and small, not his words. Whenever you are in his presence you feel compelled to pick up your cross and follow him. Second is his humility. His Eminence's humility is as extraordinary as it is tangible; it disarms you as soon as you meet him. Third is his commitment to service. From day one in his inaugural address at the Cathedral, His Eminence made it clear that he is here to serve the people, all of us, at the Church, not for us to serve him, and ladies and gentlemen, just that alone is stunning. Fourth is his vision and his leadership. His Eminence understands the enormity of the task ahead of him to rebuild this Church in America, but not only to rebuild the Church, to build a new Church, a 21st century Church that is relevant in the daily lives of our children. And finally, as you are about to see, his electric smile – he will have you at hello. And so Your Eminence, we are so honored and blessed that you are here at your first THI event and we all proclaim you Worthy, Axios! Kai panta Axios... Despota!”
Archbishop Elpidophoros told the 870 people who packed the ballroom: “It's not easy to hear all these good words, Michael and I thank you, Your Excellencies, dear fathers, dear Archons, dear friends of The Hellenic Initiative, brothers and sisters. This evening is a manifestation of love, of the love, commitment and the power of the Diaspora, Hellenes, and Philhellenes alike, a love for our homeland, a commitment to its economic future, and the power and the success of the Omogeneia around the world. The Hellenic Initiative is leading the way with its two-fold mission of compassion for human suffering and its development of human potential. Tonight, the seventh annual gala, for me the first, this gala is a celebration [not only of Greece's extraordinary partner but of the] very diaspora itself, and this is solely because, as we pray in every Divine Liturgy...’For every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from You, the Father of Light,’ [repeated in Greek]. Tonight and whenever and wherever you express your largesse, your altruism, you, my dear friends, manifest the loving goodness of our merciful God, who is in name and in deed philanthropos. You imitate God's marvelous person and his extensive compassion, and most especially so when you give with open hands and open hearts, for that is how God gives to us always, with grace and freedom, the very essence of [his Love]. So it is appropriate and right that tonight should be an occasion of joy and celebration. Joy for the mission that is being accomplished every day by THI and a celebration because we all share in this fellowship of contribution for the future. A special word of gratitude to this evening's recipient of the Leadership Award, The Coca-Cola Foundation. With The Hellenic Initiative Coca-Cola has been funding and operating the largest internship program in Greece. We will learn more about this later, but my point is very simple, investing capital in human resources is impressive, but it ultimately counts only if it is made with our eyes always fixed on the ever-expanding horizon line that leads further and further to more distant goals that are truly generational accomplishments of this vision. For this willingness to look beyond the confines and satisfactions of the present, all of you are to be congratulated and thanked. My heartfelt, best wishes to all of you and your families for your love, for your commitment, and for your willingness to use your power to benefit those who are in need. May God bless you all.”
THI Chairman of the Board of Directors Andrew Liveris presented the Leadership Award to Beatriz “Bea” Perez, The Coca-Cola Company Senior Vice President, Communications and Sustainability Officer, who accepted on behalf of The Coca-Cola Foundation along with Nikos Koumettis, The Coca-Cola Company EMEA Group President for its leadership and support of the ReGeneration Program which has created over 1,100 internships working with 400 companies. Perez noted that the program helps develop skills for the leaders of tomorrow. During the Gala, THI and The Coca-Cola Company announced a new $1 million donation to ReGeneration.
ReGeneration graduates Ioannis Lagiopoulos and Evi Barouda also spoke at the Gala about the tremendous difference the program has made in their lives, allowing them to follow their dreams and also stay in Greece to achieve them.
"This year's Gala was our best ever and it is a testament to the enthusiasm and dedication of the Greek Diaspora who want to connect to and support the Greek homeland," said THI Executive Director Peter Poulos.
"This $1 million donation represents an intensified commitment to ReGeneration," said Poulos. "It will be used to help alleviate tragic unemployment in Greece by creating more jobs exponentially beyond the 1,100 already generated by the program."
Now in its seventh year, THI has provided grants of more than $15 million to support its twin missions of building entrepreneurial programs that help keep talented young Greeks from leaving the country and providing crisis relief for underserved communities in Greece, particularly children.
More information about THI is available online: thehellenicinitiative.org.