NEW YORK – The American Farm School of Thessaloniki, the premier educational and research institution in Southeast Europe for agriculture, food systems, and the environment raised more than $280,000 for scholarships at its annual New York Gala in the Empire Ballroom of Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt hotel on October 22.
AFS grand benefactress Aliki Perotti, who addressed the guest through a touching video message was the gala’s special honoree. Her granddaughter Theodora Valentis accepted an award in behalf of Perotti, who was described as the driving force behind Perottis College, ASF’s entry into higher education, through her 1995 gift in memory of her late husband.
Also honored at the Gala were The Jim Henson Company President & COO Peter H. Schube , who was presented the Distinguished Greek Summer Alumnus Award.
Christos Zafeirakis, wine maker at Domaine Zafeirakis, AFS Class of ’95, and Alexandros Chatziioannou, Perrotis College class of 2015 and U.S.A. Operations Coordinator for Greek food company Yoleni’s, were given the Young Entrepreneur Alumni Awards.
Gala Chairwoman and Trustee Joannie Danielides again served as the gracious Emcee. She introduced AFS and Perrotis College President Dr. Panos Kanellis, who emphasized the critical thinking and entrepreneurial spirit inculcated in its students, and Chairman of the AFS Board Robert W. Uek. Both offered overviews of AFS and thanked all who contribute to its success.
Danielides beamed as she described how proud she and her fellow Board members are of the school and declared “we are working hard, producing future leaders,” for Greece.
According to its website, afs.edu.gr, AFS, founded in 1903, “applies its hallmark learn by doing approach to educate students of all ages…The School comprises a preK-6 primary division focused on environmental education, the historic High School, and the Perrotis College of Agriculture, Environment and Life Sciences. The College’s new Center for Agricultural Entrepreneurship assists new and developing agro-food businesses to bring innovative ideas to fruition.”
Every dimension of AFS is proving to be especially valuable to a Greece striving to overcome its economic crisis and build a new future.
VP for Institutional Advancement Joanne Ryding discussed AFS’ current initiatives with TNH. “We started the Center for Entrepreneurship and Agriculture three years ago and we have more applicants than ever. We educated about 900 individuals over the past year.”
AFS offers business and technical courses, for example, for people interested in producing cheese, wine or beer, or cultivating aromatic plants, and there are courses the help people create business plans.
“As they startup businesses we also go through the process with them – they have a mentor…and we have had a number of successful business start from the Center” she said.
There is an adult continuing education program for people who want to practice agriculture on a non-professional basis. There are no online classes, “but we provide information online… it’s really about the experience and the learning by doing,” Ryder said.
AFS’ youngest learners in pre-school and elementary school enjoy program in environmental education that cultivates a respect for the Earth and an interest in the natural sciences at a young age.
AFS is also excited about its partnership with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. “We will work on SNF’s Recharge the Youth initiative with Rutgers University, and the Agricultural University of Athens,” Ryder told TNH.
They are in the studies phase and AFS is exploring 10 thematic areas, such as bee-keeping and aromatic plants, to see if there are viable career opportunities in those areas.
The second phase will involve technical and business training for interested young people.
The Captain Vassilis Foundation, which is focused on agriculture and it partners with AFS in developing a center for entrepreneurship in Kalamata.
AFS is also undertaking training collaborations with businesses such as pasta producer Melissa Kikizas and Ryder said, “We have been training wheat farmers in producing high qualities of standard wheat. The company’s select pasta line will feature the AFS logo on its packaging.”
Consul General of Greece Amb. George Iliopoulos attended with his wife Anthousa. He told TNH “AFS is one of those institutions that is offering what Greek society needs at this time, especially professional training and a sense of direction for young people, so that they can enter into a more creative world in Greece…with greater productive potential that will generate exports and grow the economic pie for all.”
Told that AFS not only offers Greece’s youth things of value but also believes in and love its students, Iliopoulos said “that is why they succeed. Only when you love what you are doing are you good at what you do.”
Olga Alagiozidou told the guest told TNH “it was a life-changing experience…living in a village in Northern Greece and working the land opened by horizons and inspired me to set high goals. I thank all of you for continuing to change people’s lives.
The event annually draws Manhattan’s standout philhellenes. Dr. Joan Bretton Connelly of NYU and author of The Parthenon Enigma introduced Zafeirakis and Chatziioannou, and TV journalist Donna Hanover introduced Schube, who said his Greek Summer experience yielded “friendships that have lasted and informed a lifetime.”
Entertainment by The Alex Donner Orchestra included American standards and Greek favorites that drew many into the dance circles.
Left to right: Trustee David Acker, Trustee John Cleave, Laura Cleave, Eva Kanellis, President of AFS Dr. Panos Kanellis, Joannie Danielides, Chairman of the Board Robert Uek.