Tom Sakaris is President of AHEPA’s Tampa Chapter and he believes strongly in the educational mission of the Order, not only to support the educational goals of young members of our community but also to educate the greater community about our rich Hellenic history and values. The graciously agreed be interviewed.
The National Herald: You are the President of the Tampa Chapter of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association. What is the mission of AHEPA?
Tom Sakaris: The mission of AHEPA is to promote, through community service and volunteerism, the ancient Hellenic ideals of education, philanthropy, civic responsibility, family and individual excellence. Our college scholarship program is a specific example of how our chapter leads initiatives that support this mission. Since 2010 we have awarded 43 college scholarships to young members of our community.
TNH: You are also an active member of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church community. What kind of major events have you been organizing as a Greek community?
TS: We believe it’s important for our Church events to be inclusive of the greater community, so they understand that our Church and culture are more than a Greek festival with food and dance. We open our doors for all to “Come and See”, which is one of our initiatives for other cultures to learn about the Orthodox church and what our community has to offer. The result is a greater appreciation of the value we bring to this community through all our ministries. We also offer each year an Orthodoxy 101 class for all to obtain a more thorough understanding of our faith, spirituality, and traditions.
TNH: The educational mission of Ahepa is very important. What are the educational goals of the young members of the community?
TS: It’s been such a pleasure to get to know the outstanding young members of our community. Their resumes are a prime example of civic responsibility and individual excellence. When I read their future goals, I am proud to know that our culture has been very influential in their development and guides them in a very productive manner. They all seek a higher education with a purpose of not only personal achievement but also to make a difference in their communities.
TNH: How would you describe the community of Tampa compared with other Greek communities?
TS: I relocated to Tampa in 2013 and was immediately embraced by the Greek community, the church and AHEPA, which helped me cope with the transition. I was surprised to learn about the deep history of Greeks in the Tampa Bay area and the involvement of our Chapter in the community. For example, earlier this year under the leadership of past President Gus Paras, we led the initiative to formally establish a Sister Cities relationship between Tampa and Heraklion, Crete. The mayor of Heraklion visited Tampa to officially sign the agreement with then Mayor Bob Buckhorn. Events scheduled during this time showcased our heritage to all.
TNH: What are your future plans as a President of AHEPA?
TS: The members of the AHEPA Family of Tampa have so much to offer. Our members have a wide range of professional experience in many fields and we want to offer initiatives that leverage that knowledge. For example, we are discussing plans to offer classes in financial literacy and public speaking.