NEW YORK – Everybody loves a birthday – other people’s at least – and everybody loves Loukoumi, the main character in the children’s book series by attorney Nicholas Katsoris that teaches children always look for opportunities to do good deeds.
On June 17 the loveable lamb turned 10, and hundreds of children and adults gathered for a party that featured Olympia Dukakis as guest host, performances by Broadway star Constantine Maroulis, and special guests like meteorologist Nick Gregory.
While Katsoris’ events – he was also the Emcee – always shine in the entertainment department, it was the dozens of children singing and dancing with Maroulis that made it a special night for everyone.
Katsoris, who is the Founder and President of the Loukoumi Make A Difference Foundation, which he created to support numerous charitable endeavors, likes to mix fun with shining spotlights on exceptional children and adults.
The highlights therefore included Make a Difference Awards for the kids and the presentation to noted investor and philanthropist Michael Psaros with the inaugural Loukoumi Foundation Inspiration Award.
During his thank you speech, which included words of inspiration for the children, Psaros commended Katsoris “for standing among the righteous, for being beloved of God, and for touching the lives of so many kids…panta axios.”
He told the kids “if they want to achieve their dreams, there is nothing more important than integrity and character, and that through hard work and self-denial, you achieve success, and find self-respect and dignity.”
He also urged them to respect and honor their parents, and that their lives will be enriched by becoming people of faith.
Psaros told TNH he met Katsoris through the Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund he co-founded with John and Margo Catsimatidis. “I was blown away that that they created an organization out of thin air that has 1500 attend an event where so many kids are blessed with scholarships.”
Oscar winner Olympia Dukakis, who narrated the first Loukoumi book on CD 10 years ago, read the new book Loukoumi In The Basket to the children, which will be released February, 2016.
Throughout the evening guest were fascinated by videos recorded by children as part of their applications for the Foundation’s Dream Day contest – they described what they want to be when they grow up and the winners get to experience their desired professions and fields.
The winners included, Ava Tsapatsaris, who wants to be a Pediatrician, Sam Komatreddy who aspires to being an Olympic Swimmer, and Nicole Poulos, who wants to be a TV Reporter.
There will be a fourth winner this year as part of a Facebook contest over the summer. “We were originally going to only award one or two, but because of the sponsorship of Michael and Robin Psaros and his firm we awarded four.”
Make A Difference Awards were also received by “some amazing groups and children that truly made a difference last October as part of our Loukoumi Make a Difference Day projects” in which 40,000 people participated as part of the larger Make a Difference Day of USA Today.
The winners included Arietta Xylas, who collected 1500 books for a library in Africa; Vincent and his twin sister Siena Versaci. who collected 14 bags of clothing for the homeless, Dean Katsoris, who made and sold 400 rainbow loom bracelets, sold them for $1 each and donated over $400 to two Animal Shelters; Panagioti Pasaportis who continued Dean’s good deed and purchased and packaged 30 bracelets from Dean and gave them to his classmates for Halloween instead of candy; Melina Colonias who is an avid animal lover and visits Animal shelters all year long; and Grace LaFountain, who loves to cook and set up a bake sale at the local zoo and raised over $700 which she donated to St. Jude Children’s Hospital, which is a special Loukoumi charity, Chefs for Humanity, and the Utica Zoo.
AMAZING GROUPS TOO
Katsoris was also very excited about the organizations they honored. One is called, in Greek “Eimai – I Am” – The Center for Emerging Young Leaders. “A woman named Ellen Proutsis loves what we are doing and wanted to take the Make a Difference With Loukoumi project to Greece…she has had over 20 events all over Greece…she officially invited Loukoumi to ancient Olympia for an event.”
It’s a tribute to the power of examples and ideas. “I’m not doing anything for this. The message is just spreading on its own,” Katsoris said.
The Anne Hutchinson School in Eastchester was honored. All 600 of its students participated in projects and did amazing things benefitting institutions like St. Jude’s.
“The Chapel School in Bronxville has an amazing program pf projects,” he said, and the fourth award was presented to the National Philoptochos Society because for the last three years they teamed up with Loukoumi for a literacy awareness program and fundraisers for St. Jude’s.
He could not thank Maroulis enough for his participation. “What a showman. The kids were flocking to him,” Katsoris noted. He sang the moving “This is the Moment” from Jekyll and Hype and five songs from “Rock of Ages.”
For his last song, “Don’t Stop Believing” he called up Sophia Lotto, who got her career dream to come true by singing on a Broadway stage with Maroulis and appearing with him on the Make a Difference With Loukoumi TV special that aired on FOX last October.
“People really enjoy making a difference. It’s contagious, and it’s very exciting to me to see it take off,” Katsoris told TNH.
The Foundation is only a year old but is off to a great start thanks to “a core group of people” he said that now includes the parents of participating kids. “I can’t tell you how much they have given back to the Foundation,” he said.
For example, Lotto’s parents donated the cake for the 400 attendees.
Katsoris’ team is proving that philanthropy is contagious, and if it begins early enough with kids, it can be made a part of their lives.
“It’s become my mission,” he said.