Where can you find purpose in a cynical age? What brings you meaning when the culture aims to overthrow the great inheritance of American history and values? Many young adults today express little hope for a better life than their parents, a sad reflection on their faith in the American dream. Social media offers quick hits of affirmation, but that dopamine doesn’t last. Humanity was made for more than staring at a screen. At the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), we think the best path to finding meaning for today, and hope for tomorrow, begins with embracing our American roots – including the great heritage our country shares with Greece.
The American idea of a citizen who plays an active role in strengthening democracy has a Greek origin. Thousands of years ago, in ancient Athens, Greek philosophers and statesmen advanced the concept of the polis, a city-state in which citizens were expected to take an active part in their government. It was the beginning of the time-tested idea which Abraham Lincoln expressed as “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
When it came time for the American Founding Fathers to forge a new form of government, they looked to the rich Hellenic tradition of democracy and independence for inspiration. In correspondence with his Greek friend, Adamantios Korais, Thomas Jefferson referred to the Greeks as a “splendid constellation of sages and heroes…whose merits are still resting, as a heavy debt, on the shoulders of the living and the future races of men.”
History came full circle in the early 19th century, when the American Revolution inspired the fight for Greek Independence, which was proclaimed on March 25, 1821. Greek freedom, like ours, was a working-out of the commitment to democratic ideals, republicanism, and patriotism. In 2008, President George W. Bush remarked that “all free people stand on the shoulders of Greece.” In this declaration, he echoed the historical reality that many American and Greek leaders have long acknowledged – that democracy is a gift from Greece to the world.
AHEPA is devoted to sustaining that democratic legacy. As the largest and oldest U.S.-based Greek heritage organization, AHEPA has promoted the principles of Hellenism, unity, and assimilation into American society since 1922.
In 1924, AHEPA was the first organization of its kind to meet with the President of the United States at the White House, a tradition we maintain to this day.
During World War II, AHEPA answered the call and raised over $300 million for war relief efforts. When President Truman gave aid to Greece through the Marshall Plan, he looked to AHEPA to assist him. More recently, AHEPA has helped provide places to live for 6,000 elderly Americans, donated thousands of gallons of milk to the people of Flint, MI where their water supply has been contaminated, and even organized relief efforts to help those affected by the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. AHEPA helps to carry on Greek traditions while supporting the non-partisan values that make America a glorious land of liberty and prosperity.
And while we aim to serve everyone, we also keep a special focus on the next generation. Our annual scholarship programs award over $2 million to thousands of students on an academic or need-based system. We have a proud history of awarding scholarships to a number of deserving scholar-athletes competing at the high school and collegiate levels. AHEPA also offers a variety of educational opportunities for students, including the AHEPAcademy, the Journey to Greece Program, our Odyssey in Athens semester abroad program, and even an MBA program.
We do this because we know that our young men and women are the future of democracy, and they should be equipped with both classroom knowledge and real-world experiences that will serve them well throughout their lives.
People of all ages – especially young people – are searching for meaning in uncertain times. Many are also searching for a place where they can affirm the timeless values of patriotism, family, tradition, and care for their neighbor – things that we know are the fabric of any healthy society.
Involvement in our philanthropic efforts that help others can provide that. And you don’t even need to be Greek to join AHEPA in our mission to serve our neighbors – many of our 1 million members since our fouding, spanning 400 chapters, are ethnicities other than Greek-American.
Various voices in our society would have you believe that young Americans have given up on American values. But as a father myself, I know firsthand that’s not true – the next generation just needs places where they can channel their enthusiasm for their country. American exceptionalism will only fade if we allow its light to go out. At AHEPA, we are committed to keeping the torch burning for centuries yet to come, and we hope that you will join us in that mission.
Basil Mossaidis is the Executive Director of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association.