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Left to right: THI Board President George Stamas, honoree Ted Leonsis, and THI Chairman Andrew N. Liveris. Photo by Eleni Sakellis
NEW YORK – The Hellenic Initiative (THI), the largest global non-profit uniting the Greek Diaspora – with supporters in over 47 countries – hosted its sold-out 11th Annual New York Gala on December 2, raising over $2.65 million to support THI’s vetted humanitarian partners and economic/entrepreneurial development in Greece. The black tie event also honored entrepreneur and philanthropist Ted Leonsis, the founder, chair, principal partner, and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, one of the world’s most valuable regional sports and entertainment companies with one of the most diverse ownership groups in all of sports. Leonsis is the Majority Owner and Chairman of the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the NHL’s 2018 Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals, and 2019 WNBA Champion Washington Mystics.
Guests enjoyed cocktails and the silent auction item viewing at the premiere event space 48 Wall Street, followed by a walk across a red-carpeted Wall Street for dinner, the award presentation, and entertainment at Cipriani Wall Street.
To further honor Leonsis, a portion of the evening’s proceeds will help fund the THI Summer Youth Academy, a leadership program designed to empower youth with limited resources in Greece. THI has partnered with basketball training and sportsmanship organization Eurohoops to create a life-changing summer experience for 100 young people who deserve every opportunity to succeed. The program, which will debut in July 2024 with Leonsis serving as the 2024 Academy Honorary Chair, will offer intensive basketball coaching, life skills workshops to foster personal growth and resilience, and mentoring from basketball idols and special guests.
THI Board President and event co-chair George P. Stamas, who was suffering from laryngitis, gave the welcoming remarks at the Gala, thanking all those present for attending, and introducing Fr. Alexander Karloutsos, THI Honorary Advisor, to lead the opening prayer.
Fr. Karloutsos first read a message from His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros who said: “Although I am absent in body due to an ecclesiastical commitment, I am with you in spirit, the esteemed members, friends, and supporters of The Hellenic Initiative. Your work in Greece and Cyprus and throughout the Diaspora is reigniting the passion for the ‘patrida’ is not only noble but vey necessary. THI fills a void that existed for years and has been ably met from the time that you gathered your strength in the economic crisis in Greece over a decade ago, but the pride you have brought to Hellenism and the unity you have brought to the Diaspora are truly exemplary, I pray for your continued success and I congratulate you for this gala evening and especially Ted Leonsis, for you will bring even greater outcomes to your lofty efforts even as you bind the Omogenia together with pride and love, may the Lord ever bless you.”
Stamas then noted that “this New York Gala is really the hallmark every year of our worldwide activity, there are so many people to thank tonight and it starts with our amazing staff.”
He added that “we have raised over $2.65 million in one night that, of course, is for economic development and philanthropy for the people of Greece.”
“Since the founding of THI 13 years ago, our outside consultants estimate that THI’s contribution to the Greek Gross Domestic Product since we started has exceeded $500 million euro,” Stamas continued, noting that “THI would not be successful without the extraordinary support of our amazing Board their time, their resources, their hearts.” Stamas then introduced a video presentation which featured comments from family members, friends, and colleagues, and highlighted the inspiring life and work of honoree Ted Leonsis, whose family name was originally Leontsakos.
Following the video, Stamas introduced the honoree, noting that “when we started THI 13 years ago, Ted was one of the first to sign up and then when we launched the Summer Academy, Ted jumped right on board. Ted’s charitable instincts really know no bounds… Philanthropy, the love of mankind, philotimo, the love of honor, this is how you live you life Ted, so Axios!”
In his acceptance speech, Leonsis said that “when THI was started, we were internal, we really needed to get out of the crisis, and pretty much the world forgot what we stood for, what ethos, what power that we exported to the world and made the world… being Greek, while it’s to be low key and respectful, we can brag a bit, I went to one of our researches, and said ‘let me have it, let’s hire a PR agency and say it’s cool to be a Hellene again, we matter, what we do can help heal the world, so what did we invent, what did we discover?… Math and algebra, astronomy, medicine, the humanities, the navy, chemistry, engineering, western philosophy, rule of law, the alphabet, analog computing, the bathtub and the shower, central heating, soccer and gymnastic, ethics, labor law, sporting events, the Olympics- they stopped war to play in the Olympics, artificial intelligence, demos, the wisdom of crowds all flows from the Greek gestalt that people collectively are smarter than any one ruler, ecology… we really care about nature, theatre… the vending machine, you could put a coin in and be delivered Holy Water.”
Leonsis then referred to Henry Kissinger who passed away earlier in the week, “a professor of mine at Georgetown and someone who became friend… his favorite quote was ‘the strong must do what they can and the weak suffer what they must,’ that came from a poem written at the massacre of Milos… and I would ask him- ‘what does that mean, why is that so important?’ and he said ‘from strength, from conviction we can help the poor, we can help the weak, we can heal the world.’ So we must stay strong as Hellenes, we must continue to help the weak, take away their suffering, and we have the opportunity through this world view and through our helping young people to build a better world for our children, thank you for your generosity tonight everyone here is a Hellene in spirit.”
THI Chairman Andrew N. Liveris then shared his remarks, thanking everyone present for their energy and support, “$2.65 million for a New York night that’s pretty special… Oloi Mazi is what we say a lot and it was 11 or so years ago when we came up with this mad idea, George, the two of us, that this is a time for the diaspora to stand tall in Greece’s moment of need, that it was a time for Hellenes and Philhellenes around the world to show the gratitude for the forebears, to the heritage, to the traditions, but also to the motherland as it was going through a hard time.”
Liveris called on THI’s New Leaders to stand up and be recognized and encouraged the young people present to join them. He noted Greece’s success emerging from the crisis but added that it will “take another 11 years before we get GDP per capita to pre-crisis levels, another 11 years, jobless rates, incredible hardships still abound, yes, Greece has risen but we’ve got much more work to do.”
Referring to his book Leading through Disruption, Liveris said “we’d like to think that this century is like last century, it isn’t, Ted was there at the beginning of AOL, digital has arrived as a disrupter, if you don’t think geopolitics is a disrupter, go around the world and look at what’s going on with wars and hardships, environmental issues… our generations need guidance and mentorship and leadership to help them guide themselves through this period of change and… it’s opportunity driven, Greeks do look to optimism, we’re resilient, we make the hard yards and we don’t look for the pat on the back, we drive the answers because we have got 2,500 years of survival under all sorts of adversity, so it’s important that not just the work of establishing philanthropy and economic development and in fact sports, but that we bring us together collectively. The diaspora of the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK are awakened… we just recently launched a chapter in Monaco, we’re talking to the Zimbabweans and the South Africans, the diaspora number around six million, we’ve barely scratched the surface, if you think that we can raise in a single night this amount of money in this room with 900 of you and a waiting list of 600, imagine what we can do if you all become ambassadors to enlist the diaspora, we’ve done tremendous work on aid, we’ve done amazing work in economic development… it’s just the start… for the Board, as George already said, we are blessed to have this amazing group of leaders who are giving time and effort and self, join us… our pride in celebrating one of Greece’s sons, Ted Leonsis and his family is unbelievably huge and yes, I’ve taken on the Brisbane Olympics… but why? Because if you can, you should, if you don’t try, you won’t achieve, if you don’t close the circle and give back, as this great country does, then what are you here for, the Olympics , the Greece connection… the fact that we can do this is why we should do it and I ask you to aspire and be inspired and yes, perspire to get the job done, join us we have a lot of work to do.”
Interim THI Executive Director Peter Poulos then thanked his “dream team,” beginning with Michael Printzos, Princess Tatianna, and Artemis Kohas who joined him onstage for the evening’s closing remarks, and noted the effots of the staff members Xeni Kouveli, Tania Myrsioti, Christina Maroulis, Nick Tsismenakis, Dean Sirigos, and John Mindala.
The evening continued with music by the Jimmy Vali Band and dancing well into the night.
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