Greek singer Sakis Rouvas performing at The Hellenic Initiative 9th Annual Gala at Cipriani Wall Street in New York on December 4. Photo TNH/ Zafeiris Haitidis
NEW YORK – The Hellenic Initiative (THI) 9th Annual New York Gala took place on December 4, in-person after last year’s virtual-only event, raising over $2 million to provide continued pandemic crisis relief and help foster Greek economic recovery opportunities after months of fiscal challenges.
Since its founding, THI has raised USD $17 million for grants supporting NGOs and economic development projects in Greece.
The event began with a cocktail hour at at 60 Wall Street Atrium with its dramatic columns and palm trees and then the presentation, dinner and entertainment took place across the street at the renowned Cipriani Wall Street.
Andrew Liveris, THI Chairman, gave the welcoming remarks and introduced His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros who gave the invocation and spoke movingly about THI and its efforts: “Hellenes and Philhellenes recognize our sense of and need for community… it was Aristotle who said that man is a creature of the polis… the polis and the ekklesia are two sides of the same coin and to have THI as a force for the benefit of both is a considerable blessing, therefore, I commend all of you and wish for a most successful evening. It is wonderful to be in the same room again but let us never take it for granted may the Lord bless THI on behalf of Greece and Cyprus and on behalf of unifying the Hellenic Diaspora and Philhellenes around the globe.”
Liveris noted that THI Board President George Stamas could not attend due to a personal health situation, “we are thinking of him and his family. He is a hero.” Liveris then introduced a short video honoring heroes past and present, narrated by Fr. Alexander Karloutsos, highlighting the ancient heroes, those of 1821 in this bicentennial year, and the frontline workers against the coronavirus and the wildfires today.
Liveris pointed out that THI’s wildfire relief fund acted fast and 4,200 donors from 47 countries raised over $700,000 for Greece.
This year’s event honored Johnson & Johnson Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Alex Gorsky, one of just seven leaders who have served in the dual role since the company was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1944.
From 1983 to 1984, Gorsky was stationed in Drama, Greece, as part of his military service and learned to speak Greek at the Defense Language Institute. A philhellene, Gorsky was instrumental in developing a relationship between Johnson & Johnson and THI. Johnson & Johnson has been an essential hiring partner for THI’s successful ReGeneration program since the program’s inception. Launched in 2014 to train, mentor, and place highly qualified millennials in internships at top Greek and multinational companies, the program has created 1600+ youth job placements, unlocking more than €11.5 million in salaries. Recognized as the top internship program in Greece, more than 80 percent of participants secure a contract extension or hire.
Liveris introduced Gorsky and presented him with the Prometheus Award for commitment to Greece and its future, noting that Gorsky “is truly assisting in the revival of one of the world’s greatest civilizations.”
Gorsky accepted the award, humbly pointing out that it is an honor on behalf of the organization he represents, “the 135,000 employees of Johnson & Johnson, many of whom have worked tirelessly over the last 24 months to help bring a vaccine.”
He continued, “I had the very good fortune as a very young soldier to be stationed my first post in Drama, Greece, and I was a very impressionable 24-year old and the concepts that I learned there about politics, about debate about science, technology, those Greek characteristics have really shaped who I am as a person, who I am as a leader and I know without them much of what I have been able to do just would not have been possible. As we’re talking about COVID, I couldn’t help but reflect that just a few weeks ago I was with my fellow colleague Albert Bourla of Pfizer, George Yancopoulos from Regeneron, and Roy Vagelos, retired CEO of Merck, and I think it’s no coincidence that all of them happen to share a Greek heritage but have also played such an important role in taking on COVID-19 and hopefully helping us find a path forward. And last but not least, the crew tonight wanted to try to come up with something in Greek since ‘you do speak some Greek’… and I was trying to reach into my vocabulary and one of the words I remember best was the word skarfalonoume, if I remember right, it’s about a climb, and I think that’s exactly what this represents right now we climb our way to COVID, we climb our way to help Greece, and I just want to thank all of you for your commitments and making all that possible, thank you very much.”
THI Executive Director Peter Poulos then introduced Princess Tatiana, THI Chair and International Ambassador, who stepped in at the last moment when Nia Vardalos could not attend due to a possible COVID exposure, in spite of her fear of public speaking. She highlighted THI’s programs including wildfire relief, job creation through the ReGeneration program- aimed at reversing the so-called “brain drain,” and support for farmers, and also introduced video presentations.
THI Executive Committee Member Michael Psaros introduced Dr. Peter Diamandis, physician, entrepreneur, XPrize Foundation founder and Executive Chairman, who spoke about the devastation caused by wildfires and announced the launch of the XPrize to find a solution for wildfires, to detect them as soon as they ignite and extinguish them in 10 minutes, before they cause the catastrophic damage and loss of lives we have seen all over the world. Diamandis noted that Fr. Karloutsos called him to invite him to speak about technologies to fight wildfires, adding that he had been an altar boy for Fr. Alex so he said “of course.”
He pointed out that the $700,000 raised by THI was “amazing, but how do we prevent the wildfires instead of having to give relief to them.” Diamandis said that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has agreed to contribute to the prize purse and to co-chair the prize committee. “Our hope is that this devastation will end,” he added, noting that $6.5 million has been raised of the $15 million needed and anyone interested, after donating to THI, should contact him about supporting the effort.
Greek singer Sakis Rouvas performed at the event along with the Jimmy Vali Band. Saki, as he is known to all his fans, after performing some of his greatest hits, concluded with a tribute in song to the iconic composer Mikis Theodorakis who passed away this year.
Among those present were Ambassador of Greece to the United States Alexandra Papadopoulou, Greek Deputy Minister of Health Zoe Raptis, Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras and his wife Popita Pavli, Consul of Greece Dimitris Papageorgiou, Consul General of Cyprus Michalis Firillas, Dennis Mehiel, Mike Manatos, John Koudounis, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis, Stellene Volandes, Diane Kochilas, Sozita Goudouna, Aristides Logothetis, Nancy Papaioannou, advisor to the publishers of The National Herald Antonis H. Diamataris and his wife Litsa, TNH co-publishers Eraklis Diamataris and Vanessa Diamataris and her husband Matthew Dowling.
On December 3, THI New Leaders Happy Hour was held at Thalassa in Tribeca, bringing together the younger generations to meet in a casual atmosphere ahead of the Gala. Among those present were Anthony Liveris, John Catsimatidis, Jr., Konstantine Ouranitsas, Mike Manatos, Artemis Kohas, and George Zapantis.
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