AHIF Hosts Tenth Annual Future of Hellenism in America Conference
WASHINGTON, DC –The American Hellenic Institute Foundation (AHIF) hosted its landmark Tenth Annual Conference on the Future of Hellenism in America, keeping the discussion of the promotion and preservation of Hellenism at the forefront of the community. This year’s conference was held in Washington, DC at The Capital Hilton, November 18-19, 2011.
Featuring more than 20 prominent speakers from across the country, conference presentations analyzed key issues including the future of Greek American organizations, the political process and lobbying, religious and ethnic identity, promoting Hellenic values through business, Greek education, and perspectives from young Greek Americans. Speakers also identified how Hellenism could be promoted in the future through these various channels.
At a dinner hosted the evening before the conference on November 18, AHI President Nick Larigakis opened the conference and welcome remarks followed from: Dinner Chairman Kostas Alexakis, chairman, Public Sector Solutions and AHI board member; Conference Chairman and AHI Founder Gene Rossides, and AHI Foundation President Dr. Spiro Spireas. Ambassadors to the United States Vassilis Kaskarelis and Pavlos Anastasiades, of Greece and Cyprus respectively, also offered greetings.
The dinner’s Keynote Speaker was Professor Dan Georgakas, who also received the AHI Hellenic Heritage Public Service Award for the Promotion of Hellenism in America. Professor Georgakas, who is the director of Greek American Studies, Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Queens College, CUNY, spoke on the topic “The Now and Future of Greek America.” The professor provided an overview of both positive and negative trends and statistics regarding the strength of the Greek American community’s identification with its Hellenic roots. In his view, Hellenism has its roots in adhering to “an independent judgment, polemical tradition, reason, due process, and multiculturalism.” While marriage outside the community has increased and the instances of Greek language spoken in the home has virtually disappeared except among immigrants and their children, Georgakas asserted that, “There are dynamic new factors in progress” that provide a counter-push. His findings suggested that 80 percent of Greeks marry non-Greeks.
In his view, the internet has provided a medium through which Greek Americans can connect and reconnect with their culture through ever-increasing methods. Online social networks are proliferating, bringing people in touch with each other and with news from the homeland irrespective of geographic location and on a real-time basis. These elements have inspired “Neo-Hellenism,” according to Georgakas, in which Hellenism is based more on cultural identification rather than geographic location.
Highlighting initiatives that the community can do to strengthen ties to Greece, Georgakas said Greek American organizations can use the internet more effectively, and the community can work to introduce Greek language into the public school curriculum. The community also would benefit from having more professionals with a Greek American consciousness working in diplomacy and the media, and it could strengthen its base by getting more young Greek Americans to Greece to solidify their ties with the country. In order to maintain culture, he emphasized the need to make the Greek American profile more contemporary and interesting for young people by stating that “Greeks must keep connection with modern Greece.” He recommended that film festivals and similar activities that combine education with leisure can be an effective means of keeping the community’s future engaged.
The conference covered the following topics (below links lead to relevant sections in Conference Summary):
The conference was held in cooperation with the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA), which was a Major Benefactor for the conference, and co-sponsored by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, a Conference Benefactor.
Each year the conference is held in a different U.S. city to spread the seeds of ideas generated at the conference, and to obtain feedback from the local Greek American community on various challenges facing Hellenism in America. Conference speakers identified key challenges facing the Greek American community today and offered suggestions for the future.
Other sponsors of the conference included Conference Benefactors James and Theodore Pedas, Drs. Spiro and Amalia Spireas, and Ted G. Spyropoulos; and a host of individual sponsors.
Click here to view photos of the event(s).
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AHI Foundation President Dr. Spiro Spireas opened the conference proceedings on November 19, 2011 with an overview of the Future of Hellenism in America Conference. He provided his thoughts about Hellenism, stating that it is not 100 percent comprised of language or genes or religion or political preferences, but rather Hellenism is a compilation of all of these different characteristics and categories. Dr. Spireas also stressed the need to convey the importance of Hellenism to younger generations.
Panel I: Greek Education in America
Session speakers and moderator included:
- Lena Petropoulos, director, St. George Greek School, Bethesda, Maryland
- Aleco Haralambides, Esq., founding member and vice president, Archimedean Academy, Miami, Florida
- Artemis Leontis, associate professor of Modern Greek, Department of Classical Studies, University of Michigan
- Ted Spyropoulos, president, Regional Coordinating Council, SAE-USA
- Moderator: Dr. Spiro Spireas, president, AHI Foundation
Lena Petropoulos’ presentation on “Church Greek School Programs in America: Are We Meeting the Needs?” provided a history of Greek School programs in the United States and highlighted the role the schools have played to the immigrant communities and the periods of growth the schools have experienced throughout the 20th century. For example, in the 1980s, Petropoulos stated that there was a 23 percent increase in enrollment. In her opinion, the schools are meeting the needs but a lot more can be done to realize better results.
Aleco Haralambides, who is a former president of AHI, shared his experience as a founding member of Archimedean Academy, a public charter school that opened its doors nine years ago. He explained how public charter schools are administered and the challenges of a Greek language school, including the difficulty of securing Greek language textbooks for grade levels one through four. Archimedean Academy has 950 students enrolled with another 1,000 on a waiting list, he said. Less than 10 percent are Greek American, he added. Haralambides believes Greek language public charter schools can be an outlet for third, fourth, and fifth generation Greek Americans to learn Greek, and in addition, the school can serve as “feeder programs” for Modern Greek Studies programs at universities.
Artemis Leontis examined the challenges and opportunities at Modern Greek Studies programs at the university level, and she began her presentation stating, “Greece matters today more than ever.” She viewed as an opportunity that student interest in these programs is at a high level. The associate professor shared an anecdote of one of her students who took a course of hers and used it to her advantage as a graduate student of business at Fordham when studying about Greece’s current economic condition. The student’s background from the Modern Greek Studies program at the University of Michigan provided a unique perspective for the student to approach the compelling academic question, “Should Greece Default?” Leontis also provided a description of various stages that Modern Greek Studies programs can undergo. For example, a program at Stage 1 would offer two years of Greek, Stage 2, a full sequence of language studies complimented with other courses; and Stage 3 would integrate the courses into the broader undergraduate curriculum perhaps becoming a Minor. In addition, Leontis has observed a pattern of growth of programs during the past six years at both large and small universities. However, she cited examples of how the programs are vulnerable, including instructors being underpaid and teaching positions being temporary ones. Ways to support Modern Greek Studies programs are: 1) financial (through endowments, 2) engaging in a program’s activities via its email or distribution lists, and 3) encourage young people to enroll in their classes.
Ted Spyropoulos presented on the topic “The Role of Greece in Enhancing Greek Education in America.” He was critical of parents not being able to teach their own children Greek history and language. He said that we all expect the teachers to fill the gaps when we ourselves are not consistent with such efforts within our own house. Spyropoulos added that Hellenes have to create a common account, a Hellenic Fund, which would enable the community to overcome challenges. “Hellenism has to form a united front to overcome its challenges,” he said. Finally, commenting on the current crisis in Greece, he argued that this crisis presents an opportunity for us to self-examine and explore what we can do to improve our own situation and also how we can each contribute to the cause of improving our community.
Panel II: The Greek American Community and the Political Process
Session speakers and moderator included:
- Endy Zemenides, executive director, Hellenic American Leadership Council
- Andreas Akaras, policy advisor, U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland
- Nick Larigakis, president, American Hellenic Institute
- Ambassador Patrick Theros, principal, Theros & Theros LLP
- Moderator: Manny Rouvelas, partner, K&L Gates LLP
Opening this panel was Endy Zemenides who offered a presentation on “The Importance of Grass Roots Lobbying Efforts.” In his remarks, Zemenides utilized sports analogies to emphasize the importance of teamwork and having depth in achieving success in grass roots lobbying. Utilizing the same 20 to 30 persons or the same talking points will not lead to successful outcomes. “Depth is important to the success of any movement or organization,” he said. Zemenides shared his observations as a senior advisor to the senatorial campaign of fellow Greek American Alexi Giannoulias, and also spoke about the opportunities for young people to get involved in the grass roots process through a new organization he heads called the Hellenic American Leadership Council.
Andreas Akaras discussed why it is important for members of the community to become involved and engaged within the community under the topic “The Importance of Developing Congressional Relations.” He emphasized the importance of joining one or more organizations to become educated and to reach out to others to help them become educated on the issues. Akaras also reviewed a recent advocacy campaign by Greek and Armenian American organizations to block a bill in the House Committee on Natural Resources (on which Congressman John Sarbanes sits) that would provide Turkey with unique economic development opportunities with Indian Tribal Nations.
Nick Larigakis addressed the topic of “Greek American Issues: What Are They and Why Are They Important to U.S. Interests?” He contended that a majority of the Greek American community “Don’t know [the issues] that well or know them superficially.” Larigakis stressed the importance of speaking to legislators as Americans and educating them as to why it is important for the United States to support the Greek American community’s issues. He cited Greece’s strategic importance to the United States, including its role in NATO, its facilitating the use of NSA Souda Bay, and its role in the Balkan War, which was unpopular in Greece. Larigakis also discussed Cyprus’ importance to United States interests, including being an initial signatory to a PSI agreement with the United States, being a safe haven for American citizens who had to evacuate Lebanon, and the utilization of the port at Limassol for “R and R.” Finally, he touched on how effective local activism can be to achieving results on Capitol Hill and why it is crucial for all organizations to “be on the same page” with their policy statements, a role that AHI provides through its annual Policy Statements to which many Greek American organization sign on.
To present examples of whether or not the Greek American community’s messages are getting through to mainstream audiences and think-tank organizations, Ambassador Patrick Theros made several observations stemming from his participation with foreign policy think-tanks and councils as a former member of the Foreign Service. For example, he noted that among the 25 to 30 people that comprise the Commission on U.S.-Turkey Relations that the subject of Greece has not come up in discussion and Cyprus is only raised in the context of Turkey’s break in relations with Israel. “[The community] can’t keep relying on others to make mistakes for us to take advantage of,” he said. Ambassador Theros also pointed out that no comments about Greece or Cyprus have been made by the current candidates running for president of the United States. He cited two examples of problems for the Greek American community: 1) no coordination between Greek American organization unlike the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, and 2) Congress is no longer the center for the development of American foreign policy. Instead, policy is developed by bureaucracy. As a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Ambassador Theros said he believes that there are only eight people who claim Greek heritage. He concluded with three recommendations: 1) the community must increase the number of Greek Americans who enter the Foreign Service, 2) the community must revisit the approach it takes to bureaucracy, and 3) ensure that whatever message is communicated is in the best interest of the United States.
Luncheon Greetings & Speaker
AHI Board Member James L. Marketos, partner, Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe LLP, served as luncheon chairman. He thanked the conference benefactors and introduced the luncheon’s principal speaker, Ambassador Loucas Tsilas, executive director, Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation (USA). “It’s hard to think of an individual who does more on a day-to-day basis for Hellenism than our speaker, Ambassador Tsilas,” said Marketos, who provided an overview of the programs the foundation has developed to project Hellenism for the benefit of mainstream society.
Ambassador Tsilas commended AHI for hosting another successful conference and for its contributions to the rule of law since 1974. He proceeded to discuss the Onassis Foundation’s work to promote Hellenism against the backdrop of Greece’s financial crisis. Amid such challenging economic times, Ambassador Tsilas identified that it is the Classics or Hellenic Studies programs that are the most vulnerable targets for universities to cut. The foundation attempts to uphold the values of Hellenic heritage and strengthen the endeavors of the Greek American community. He identified education and culture as the two pillar values of the foundation through which it operates. The foundation tries to outreach throughout the country to bring people together and address large audiences. With regard to educational endeavors, Ambassador Tsilas identified a challenge dealing with chairs of Hellenic study programs at universities, but it does support them globally, including in South America and Constantinople. As an alternative, the foundation developed a “University Seminars Program” that brings professors from Europe and across the globe to the United States. He also discussed the Onassis Lecture Series as well as a translation program that brings scholars together to translate academic works. In addition, Ambassador Tsilas described the parent foundation’s newest cultural center in Athens which opened in December 2010. It has been successful in presenting programs that have a common denominator of Hellenic culture and artists but with new people, ideas, and creations. The foundation also offers research scholarships to both students and professors. He also stated importance of working together to present classical events, citing a recent reading at the Nashville Parthenon. Ambassador Tsilas concluded by reemphasizing that education based on Hellenic values is universal and diachronic and that “culture is not a luxury, but an imperative need.” He strongly contends that Hellenism is here to stay for many more millennia.
Panel III: Are Greek American Organizations Meeting the needs of the Community?
Session speakers and moderator included:
- Dr. James F. Dimitriou, past supreme president, Order of AHEPA
- Rev. Dr. Stephen Zorzos, presiding priest, St. Sophia Cathedral, Washington, DC
- Angelyn Balodimas-Bartolomei, Ph.D., associate professor of Education, North Park University, Illinois
- Moderator: Professor Van Coufoudakis, rector emeritus, University of Nicosia, Cyprus, and former president, Modern Greek Studies Association
Opening speaker of the panel, Dr. James Dimitriou, shared his thoughts on the topic, “Are Greek American Organizations Meeting the Needs of the Community?” He recounted how Greek American organizations such as AHEPA formed to meet the needs of the Greek immigrant in the early 20th century, who was looking for help with jobs, language, and housing. Dr. Dimitriou also offered his views about the needs of contemporary Greek American community, describing it as “highly mobile, suburbanized, and geographically dispersed.” He touched on the ever-growing need for professional organizations and the need to band together politically in a unified voice. Dr. Dimitriou concluded by recommending that thought be given to creating a Center for American Hellenism.
Rev. Dr. Stephen Zorzos addressed the challenges facing the Greek Orthodox Church in America. He identified pluralism as the “true challenge” for the Orthodox Church. “America suffers from a surplus of religion, not a deficiency,” he stated. Today, in a “world of consumerism,” a single religion cannot take for granted an individual’s allegiance to his/her religion, he added. Father Zorzos explained that for the first time in its 2,000-year history, the Greek Orthodox Church finds itself without any external pressures (i.e., occupying forces), and it is the first time its history that it is operating in a “free market” of religious choices. This means the Greek Orthodox Church in America is forced to compete in the “free market of pluralism,” he explained. Father Zorzos believes that this is the last generation of Greek Orthodox who are going to die Greek Orthodox simply because they were born Greek Orthodox. He stated the church ought to engage American pluralism and be competitive in the marketplace. Father Zorzos believes there is no other choice.
An examination of how second, third, and third-plus generations of Greek Americans view their Greek ethnicity was provided by Angelyn Balodimas-Bartolomei, Ph.D. Dr. Bartolomei shared data from a study taken from 2008 to 2010 of 181 second and third generation Greek Americans. The findings show that 1) family is important to these generations and 2) that they are proud of their ethnicity. The data also demonstrated there is a big decline in use of Greek language between second and third generation Greek Americans as well as a decline the numbers who attend Greek school. However, third generation Greek Americans want to travel and did express a desire to study Greek. Dr. Bartolomei believes it is “time for us to wake up” and recommeneded that the community bolsters university study-abroad programs and Modern Greek Studies programs.
Panel IV: Current Perspectives on Current Challenges
Session speakers and moderator included:
- Melanie Maron Pell, director, American Jewish Committee, Washington Regional Office
- Nicholas G. Karambelas, partner, Sfikas & Karambelas LLP; AHI Foundation Board Member
- Antonis H. Diamataris, publisher, The National Herald
- John Sitilides, principal, Trilogy Advisors LLC
Melanie Maron Pell opened the session addressing the topic “The Jewish American Community: How Do We Compare?” Pell provided demographic figures about the Jewish American community in the United States, citing the population at between 5.5 to 6.84 million, or roughly 2 percent of the United States population. She also identified a few challenges the community is facing, including zero population growth. With regard to Jewish American organizations, she offered that the community tends to be “hyper-organized” with multiple organizations that tend to overlap. Much like the Greek American community, Pell stated that a sense of volunteerism is “a pillar of the Jewish community.” She added that the AJC has recently embarked on missions to Greece and Cyprus, and she viewed our collective agendas as intersecting.
Nicholas Karambelas turned the focus of the session to the pressing issue of the day with respect to Greece, “The Greek Debt Crisis: Challenges and Responses.” He offered, “We need a group of prominent people with resources that will study each aspect of how is it that the U.S. and Greeks in other countries can assist Greece and assist themselves.” Karambelas presented suggestions for such a group to examine, including 1) a U.S.-Greece tax treaty that could be amended to benefit commerce between the U.S. and Greece similar to one signed recently by Canada and Greece, 2) make available to Greek nationals with businesses in Greece Treaty Investor (E-2) visas that would allow them to establish businesses in the U.S. with which they can conduct business with their businesses in Greece. A bilateral investment treaty (BIT) between the U.S. and Greece, which is needed to make the E-2 visas available, does not exist, and 3) facilitate a bi-national research and development agreement that would establish a foundation that provides a matchmaking service and funding for commercial ventures between American and Greek high-tech or energy companies. The foundation would fund upwards of 50 percent of the project development and commercialization costs. Such an agreement exists between the U.S. and Israel, he pointed out. In addition, Karambelas suggested the exploration of special programs in the Export/Import Bank of the U.S. government which funds the cost of exports from the United States for projects in foreign countries. A final suggestion that he viewed as very important would be the establishment of private equity fund by the Greek diaspora to fund Greek-related ventures in or outside of Greece. Karambelas concluded by recommending that a central organization, such as AHI, be utilized to facilitate and coordinate business and commerce among Greeks living in all countries. The goal would be to bring companies together to benefit Greece. “The more business being done by Greeks abroad will bring benefits to Greece as well…may be able to amass enough capital to invest in Greece.”
“The Role of the Greek Media in Facilitating Hellenism” was the topic of discussion for Antonis Diamataris, publisher, The National Herald. “I believe Hellenism will survive in Greece as well as in the United States,” he said, citing the important conditions needed to perpetuate Hellenism that includes being part of a community. Diamataris provided circulation statistics for The National Herald of 27,000 and the daily Greek edition of 40,000 readers. In addition the online versions of the paper have 15,400 and 9,500 subscribers for the English and Greek versions, respectively. However, despite the progress that has been made, he believes that the community has to work harder to reverse certain perceptions. “We are better than 99 percent of the ethnic media in the United States,” he said. Despite serious problems the good news is that for the first time in the history of the paper, which dates back to 1915, the technical means are available to reach deeper into the community thanks to the Internet.
Panel V: Looking to the Next Generation of Greek Americans
Session speakers and moderator included:
Panel A: Greek American Organizations Study Programs to Greece and Cyprus
- Dr. James F. Dimitriou, program director, AHEPA Journey to Greece Program
- Endy Zemenides, board member, National Hellenic Society
- Nick Larigakis, president, American Hellenic Insitute
Panel B: Perspective from Young Greek Americans
- Aris Chronis, co-founder, DCGreeks.com
- Constance Baroudos, AHI Foundation foreign policy trip participant
- Aphrodite Bouikidis, program director, The Next Generation Initiative (HelleNext)
- Moderator (both panels): Andrew Kaffes, president, A.G. Kaffes & Associates LLC
Panel A: Greek American Organizations Study Programs to Greece and Cyprus
Dr. James Dimitriou opened the panel with a presentation that provided an overview of the AHEPA Journey to Greece Program. The Journey offers students the ability to earn up to nine transferable college credits by studying about ancient and modern Greece at the University of Indianapolis, Athens, AHEPA’s partner in the program. The program has had 382 students participate representing 28 states and Canada. In sum, 71 universities have accepted credits from the AHEPA Journey to Greece Program since its re-birth in 2006, according to Dr. Dimitriou. For the 2011 session, the program had 42 student participants representing 11 states and Canada. Highlights included the unique opportunity for students to enroll in a Service Learning course and offer their volunteer services at the Special Olympics Games for credit. Dr. Dimitriou noted the generous support of sponsoring organizations to the Journey program, including the American Hellenic Institute Foundation, the National Hellenic Society, and HelleNext.
Endy Zemenides followed with a presentation about the National Hellenic Society’s Heritage Greece Program, which is patterned after “Birthright Israel.” Now in its third year, Heritage Greece provided 20 students with an experience to visit Greece for the first time in an immersion program designed to fortify their respective knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Greek language, culture, and history. NHS sponsors Heritage Greece in collaboration with DEREE - The American College of Greece, which allows participants to receive three academic credits that are transferable to the student’s home institution. The program’s itinerary includes visits to important archaeological and religious sites, tours of the Greek countryside, spending time with a host Greek family, and visits to other Greek sites and participation in many cultural activities. Heritage Greece is the only Greek American program that conducts a pre and exit survey of its participants to measure the program’s effectiveness and impact on the students’ appreciation and understanding of their heritage and modern Greece. Zemenides added that NHS is proud to provide support to the AHEPA Journey to Greece Program and AHI Foundation’s foreign policy study abroad program because it is important to send students overseas to study. In addition, Zemenides spoke about the merits of Greek America Foundation’s Hellenic Legacy scholarship for study abroad as well as the foundation’s National Innovation Conference (NIC) that will be held in Athens in 2012. He added that NIC would provide a wonderful forum for study abroad participants to attend and meet industry leaders and innovators.
To close the panel, Nick Larigakis spoke about the “American Hellenic Foundation Foreign Policy Trip to Greece and Cyprus.” The difference of this trip is that college-age students travel to both Greece and Cyprus with a specific focus on foreign policy. The goal of this two-week program is to help facilitate a better understanding of these issues with future Greek American leaders. “We provide a living classroom,” he said describing the program’s ability to provide its intimate group of 10 students with real-world, first-hand experiences such as visiting occupied Cyprus to witness Turkish troops and desecrated churches. The small number of students also allows for proper dialogue and discussion with policymakers and diplomats to explain their foreign policy practices. Meetings with ministers and deputy ministers of Foreign Affairs and high-ranking military officials within Greece’s “Pentagon” equivalent were examples of those the students will experience. It is also important for the students to write about their experiences upon their return and share them with their peers in university publications. He cited two examples of participants one of who had her account published in a school newsletter and a second who helped organize a panel discussion at his university. In addition, three students sought out internships in congressional offices upon their return. “We are going to need these students as foot soldiers going forward and this program provides a small opportunity for them to become educated on the issues and become proactive in the community,” Larigakis concluded. He also commended all the study abroad programs that are offered.
Panel B: Perspective from Young Greek Americans
Aris Chronis began the panel with a discussion on “Promoting Hellenism by Directly Connecting Greek Americans Online and in the Real World.” He touched on the conditions that led to the launch of DCGreeks.com 10 years ago, which included the inconveniences of subscribing to several email lists and duplication of emails. “DCGreeks.com was started with the goal of simplifying and organizing Greek American social young professional’s social experience in the DC area,” he said, adding that uniting Greek Americans across the DC was also an objective. The web site evolved from an events calendar to picture galleries and eventually a member directory, he explained. DCGreeks.com became an independent online source for Greek information and promotion of everyone’s events equally. Eventually, the web site became a promotion site for national Greek American events, such as AHEPA and YAL conventions, as well. He added Facebook has been detrimental to the effort to centralize all Greek American community events and information because it has added a dimension of diffusion to the attention span of the audience. Chronis explained that now there is not a central place for information, and furthermore, people believe the ways to promote Hellenism is to simply re-posting news items instead of engaging with other Greek Americans. “Original thought and discourse has gone away,” he said. He concluded that young Greek American professionals would like to interact w/ Greek Americans in settings that make sense to them and is affordable. Chronis believes organizations must rebrand their events to appeal to young professionals. The Pan-Hellenism Weekend, which is organized by DCGreeks.com, offers organizations the opportunity to partner with them in the effort to reach young professionals.
Constance Baroudos a second-generation Greek American, shared her first-hand experiences as a young Greek American looking for categorized three factors that allows her to stay close to the Greek American community: 1) her parents and her upbringing, 2) the community itself, including the foundation it provides, and 3) the individual. Her parents encouraged her to attend Greek school and learn Greek and her upbringing in the church provided events that brought the community close together (festivals and dinner-dances). “I believe that the church community has given a lot to me,” she said. In addition, Greek dance and music plays a significant factor in influencing young people, motivating many of her friends and family members to study cultural anthropology and learn the history of folk dancing. “It allows them to stay in touch with the different regions of Greece,” she said. Baroudos views the third factor, the individual person, as the most important. “You can have great parents and a great community, but the truth is that it comes down to you and what you want,” she said. Baroudos recommended a few changes that she would like to see including more of an involvement in Greece. “It is our duty to apply our passion and talents to help or contribute to Greece,” she said. In addition, successful Greek Americans must reach out to young Greek Americans to help them make connections and meet the right people. In turn, younger professionals can help give back to the greater community.
The panel closed with Aphrodite Bouikidis who spoke on the topic, “The Next Generation Speaks: An Update on Our National Survey of Young Hellenic-Americans,” which was a survey conducted by The Next Generation Initiative (HelleNext). She believes it is important that we are asking the next generation what Hellenism is and how to connect to it. “And if it is different to them then it is to us I think that’s ok,” she said. The mission of HelleNext is to connect the next generation to leaders and to their communities. The initial findings of a nationwide survey of 1,000 Greek American undergraduates and graduates yielded some interesting results. Fifty percent identified as a priority knowing more about ancient Greece or marrying a Greek, but close to 80 percent identified as a priority finding a Greek American mentor, securing an internship with a Greek American professional, and networking with other Greek American young professionals. In addition, 60 percent believed that it was somewhat or very important to be a part of the Greek Orthodox Church, but 90 percent believed that it was somewhat or very important to be proud of their Greek heritage. The preferred means through which they would like to connect with their heritage is by meeting young professionals or traveling to Greece and Cyprus rather than involvement in the church or Greek American organizations. Moreover, a survey of 17 student associations found that only two have cooperated with Greek American organizations to coordinate an event. “The survey is critical overall and to developing new programs,” she said. HelleNext will work with students to develop the next steps concluded Bouikidis.
An important example of how this survey helped restructure their existing Athens Fellowship program is though the HelleNext Reinventing Greece media project. This trip involved three weeks in Athens in July. She noted that “This summer, HelleNext took a chance, and let the Fellows do the work in Athens.” The organization invited them to play a leading role in promoting new dialogue, change and partnership. They met and interviewed officials, entrepreneurs, investors, business leaders, researchers, journalists, editors, youth, civil society activists and others about all the changes taking place in the country, and the ideas/solutions they have for addressing these challenges. Other than producing solution-oriented articles and identifying additional contacts to interview, the fellows established strong contacts with several organizations who asked to collaborate with HelleNext and the network of students and young professionals in the future. With guidance from an experienced mentor, the fellows posted their stories and interviews on the Reinventing Greece website, www.reinventinggreece.org.
Following the series of sessions, Professor Van Coufoudakis provided an overview of the day’s proceedings and identified the common themes that were presented. He noted areas where positive developments had occurred and offered ideas for how the Greek American community can take action. Dr. Coufoudakis noted as a positive addition the contribution of the Jewish American community’s perspective on their issues and questions it faces many of which are similar to the issues and questions the Greek American community and other ethnic groups face. He also touched upon the theme of “where do we go from here?” “Do we carry the discussion back to our communities, our churches, our homes?” he asked. If not, we may have wasted our time, he cautioned.
AHI President Nick Larigakis, AHI Foundation President Dr. Spiro Spireas and Professor Dan Georgakas fielded questions from the audience for this wrap-up session. General topics and issues touched upon included the recession affecting the United States and its impact on Greek Americans, including job placement; the current political situation in Greece and its effect on the Greek American community, and how does the Greek American community help Greece, including with investment in Greece. Moreover, organizational challenges, including overcoming financial hurdles were discussed. Attendees also shared what they have done to promote, preserve, or project Hellenism in their communities.
2011 Future of Hellenism Conference — Friday Dinner photos
2011 Future of Hellenism Conference — Saturday Conference photos
For additional information, please contact Demetra Atsaloglou at (202) 785-8430 or at [email protected]. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org