NEW YORK – “Zito I Ellas” rang early and often this year in the historic chambers of the City Council at New York City Hall. Councilman Costa Constantinides of Astoria hosted the annual celebration of Greek Independence on March 7.
Every year the City Council shines the spotlight on Greek-American individuals and organization who distinguish themselves in public and community service. The honorees, who received City Council proclamations, included Andrew S. Gounardes, Legal Counsel to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the Eleftheria Pancyprian Youth Soccer Club, the Greek Orthodox Council of IBEW Local 3, represent by its president Vassilios Papadopoulos, and the Papageorgiou Family, proprietors of the popular Astoria venue and catering service Zenon Taverna.
Constantinides, who declared “it’s great to see all the blue and white in the people’s house in City Hall,” offered opening and closing remarks and introduced young Georgia Catechis, who sang the national anthems, and Fr. Anastasios Pourakis who gave the invocation, a prayer for peace in the world and for strength courage to its political leadership as they face the great challenges of these times.
Constantinides also asked for a moment of silence in memory of George Patouhas, the Astoria businessman who was stabbed the day before as he tried to defend a customer from attack.
In his brief remarks, Greek Consul Manos Koubarakis connected the struggle of 1821 to the challenges Greece faces today, and expressed hope that the nation’s youth resolve “to be part of the solutions and not part of the problem.”
The event’s purpose is the honor “those who fought to preserve what it is to be Greek in 1821” and to celebrate ancient Greece’s and Greek-Americans’ contributions to America Constantinides said, who also emphasized the importance conveying the Hellenic heritage to the younger generations.
In that spirit songs inspired by the Greek War of Independence were presented by the always entertaining and inspirational St. Demetrios High School Youth Choir, led by music teacher Vangelis Chaziroglou.
The prize for best pronunciation on Greek by a non-Greek was won by Councilman Paul Vallone, whose Queens has a strong Greek presence – Fr. Rev. Fr. Dionysios Anagnostopoulos, the presiding priest of Holy Cross Church of Whitestone was in attendance – and his father and brother, Peter Vallone Senior and Junior, respectively, represented Astoria for decades.
Councilman Vincent Gentile began his introduction of Gounardes with a hearty “Kalispera sas!” He expressed pride that the latter began his political career working for him. “Even then I knew he was a rising star” he said.
Gounardes expressed both his appreciation and sense of obligation when he said “community plays an important role in our family and our community is a family. They are inextricably linked,” he said, and Greeks are called to be part of them “not just as members but as active participants.”
Papadopoulos expressed his appreciation on behalf of the electrical workers who are members of the organization that was established in 1975 by Jim Klekis, Bill Dekroney, and Mike Bouzakis.
Tziazas Pancyprian Youth Athletic Teams President Nikos Tziazas, spoke about the importance to the upbringing of the community’s children of the values of “teamwork, discipline, and sportsmanship instilled by the Eleftheria soccer club, which was echoed by Billy Antoniou, who added that the skills and values taught to the children benefit them in school and the world of work.
Constantinides introduced follow Cypriots Stelios and Theodora Papageorgiou, whom he praised not only for their commercial success but for giving back to the community. “The whole family has done so much” he said.
Dr. Steven Gounardes, Andrew’s father, is a dentist and his mother, Dianne, an educator. She is a district director who supervises eight pre-K centers, a program that will grow to 111 classes in 2018 and is part of the strong Greek presence in NYC education paced by Executive Director of the Office of Early Childhood Education Sophia Pappas.
“Andrew had a drive in him from childhood” for public service driven by his passion for history,” Mrs. Gounardes said. The family is active at Holy Cross Church of Brooklyn, which was represented at the event by its pastor Fr. Gerasimos Makris where Gounardes was an Eagle Scout and proud member of Boy Scout Troop 715 and an altar boy.
His dedication to excellence was also instilled by his parents in his sister Patricia, who works for NBC sports and his brother Gregory, a seminarian at Holy Cross.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s greetings were conveyed through Constantinides, Public Advocate Letitia James was present, beginning her greetings with a ringing “Yiasou!”