A decade ago a group of Greek-American business leaders met to discuss an idea about the establishment of a new model Greek-American organization unlike others: one shying away from Church, politics, and foreign policy, yet one that embraces Hellenism’s values, ideals, and culture with the hopes of perpetuating the same. The group recognized that there is a clear nexus between the inherited heritage and legacy and impact on individual and collective successes, happiness, balance, and well-being. Moreover, the group believed that it is imperative to pass on this heritage and legacy to future generations, albeit as a symbol of the recognition of the sacrifices and efforts their forebears faced to ensure their dreams for all of us came true.
The envisioned organization would comprise accomplished individuals of the highest caliber in terms of integrity, character, and dedication. They would be invited to join and in doing so would find opportunities to meet with one another, to celebrate the hallmark joie de vivre of a collective Greek spirit and work towards developing programs that support efforts that really make a difference.
The members would be like-minded, operate in an atmosphere of transparency, accountability, professionalism, and mirror a dedication to excellence. The group’s members would gradually become extended family members and that family would be expanded to the young beneficiaries of the organization’s programs. The group would mentor, guide and groom the next generation to pursue excellence in what they do.
Today, we can all exclaim, “Happy 10th Birthday National Hellenic Society (NHS)!
What better way to celebrate a decade of accomplishments than a gift from a publication produced by Palgrave McMillan, a renowned publisher of scholarly journals that recently published a treatise titled: Educating Greek Americans – Historical Perspectives and Contemporary Pathways, Edited by Professors Fevronia Soumakis, CUNY Queens College and Theodore Zervas, North Park University.
This treatise includes a Chapter titled Promoting Heritage, Ethnicity, and Cultural Identity in Diasporic Communities: The Case of the Heritage Greece Program.
Heritage Greece is the NHS’ signature Program which has benefitted 500+ Greek American college-aged students and as of last year includes several Greek Canadian college age students sponsored by the like-minded Hellenic Heritage Foundation in Toronto. The study is the culmination of a decade of research and finding centered on the Program undertaken by Professors, Dr. Gregory Katsas, American College of Greece, and Dr. Angelyn Balodimas-Bartolomei, North Park University.
Drs. Katsas and Balodimas-Bartolomei report on the disconnection taking place today between 2nd, 3rd + generations to the Greek language, culture, traditions, identity and engagement in faith-based and secular institutions and organizations including the Greek Orthodox Church. This is especially true given the statistics: 85+ percent of marriages today are interfaith/intercultural, the number is likely greater given the growing number of marriages that take place outside the Greek Orthodox faith. Their study includes a thorough analysis of the efforts of other groups that address the challenges of reconnecting the next generation to preserve and promote language, cultural heritage, and identity.
The Heritage Greece Program is a two-week educational and cultural immersion experience hosted in Greece by the American College of Greece for Greek American/Canadian college-age students with a track record of demonstrated academic credentials. The students share their experiences with a complement of Greek students who explore their Greek heritage, culture, and shared identity. The study’s objective findings give the Heritage Greece Program exceptionally high marks for long-term sustainability looming bright for the future.
…[T]he long-term pattern indicates a robust program with strong potential for the future. There are three factors which arguably lead to these results. First, Heritage Greece is a well-structured and effectively delivered program. Second, it has clearly stated objectives which include a combination of learning with entertainment. Third, it enjoys the full support both from the NHS and the American College of Greece.…
These factors attract dedicated applicants who are self-selected to learn and actively connect to their heritage. As a result, we are able to see high scores for both cultural learning and sustainability, which overall parallel each other … the data show that the program is running strongly and indicate that the impact of the Heritage Greece program is considerable when we account for the learning of cultural identity and the sustainability of the program ... the responses across the years reveal that the Heritage Greece program has a strong impact on its participants.
The Heritage Greece Future
Assuming the present-day COVID-19 scourge we face abates allowing for a resumption of the Programs, NHS shall sponsor 100+ students on the 2021 Heritage Greece Program.
There is also excitement about the imminent NHS beta launch of the Heritage Greece Plus Program for older adult couples that make-up that interfaith/intercultural demographic cited above. The Heritage Greece Plus Program will distill the educational, cultural nuances of the Heritage Greece Program and deliver a highly inclusive, impactful, and fun experience that unleashes the Greek spirit that all of us share.
The old models and approaches for engaging the next generation are on a collision course with modern day priorities and realities. The NHS’ simple blueprint for success begins with the premise that if you bring great people together, great things can happen. Leveraging the skill-sets, know-how and resources of inspired members ensures that those great things actually get done vis-à-vis NHS’ Programs. NHS will continue to do its part to fulfill the legacy and heritage our forebears brought to this nation and the world.
Art Dimopoulos, Executive Director, National Hellenic Society