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The Ronald McDonald House New York Greek Division Celebrates 40 Years of Service
The Ronald McDonald House New York’s Greek Division held its 24th annual Christmas dinner on December 10 at the New York Athletic Club, celebrating 40 years of offering support to children receiving cancer treatment, and their families. This year’s honorees were Spiros Spireas, Chairman and CEO of SigmaPharm Laboratories and Paulette Poulos, Executive Director of the Archbishop Iakovos Leadership Fund, Inc., a membership-based charitable organization whose mission is to support the Greek Orthodox Church in America and promote Orthodoxy and Hellenism. The evening began with a cocktail hour and sit-down dinner with opening remarks given by Spiros Maliagros, Chairman of the Greek Division of the Ronald McDonald House New York, an invocation by Bishop Apostolos of Medeia and House Remarks by Dr. Ruth Browne, President and CEO of Ronald McDonald House in New York, followed by speeches on the importance of charitable giving to the children by both honorees.
The honorees, Dr. Spiros Spireas and Paulette Poulos expressed their own sentiments on the valuable work of the Ronald McDonald House charities and its commitment to children in their speeches by drawing upon their own experiences. Dr. Spireas recalled his own frightening experience with his 3-month old daughter who had contracted the flu and was not being properly hydrated: “The worst thing that can happen to a parent is to anticipate that something bad could happen to their child.” His daughter was able to pull through with the proper treatment, which prompted him to express the value of god-thinking, which he expressed in Greek as theareston. To him it means giving money without thinking about it to help sick children. He drew a correlation between the sub-conscious of religion and children, and how deeply they are connected: “Children are the future. Helping them is the ultimate philanthropy, and this is what we should be doing all the time. Every little bit counts.” He urged us all to continue to give to the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
In her remarks, Ms. Poulos humbly expressed her own experience with the children whom she met and were suffering. She recalled the story of a young woman named Markella who was at the dinner and how she donated her bone marrow to her sister, and five years later, to her brother, to save their lives. In her words: “This is the true example of what it means to be a Christian.” Her faith in Christianity, has been, and continues to be, a big source of strength and inspiration in her life: “I felt privileged to attend the annual Christmas party this year at the Ronald McDonald House and was amazed to see the outpouring of love and guidance cared by the staff and volunteers for these children. I recall a young boy named Leonidas whose mother told me one of God’s greatest blessings is the Ronald McDonald House and I would not have survived without the love of this home. Leonidas didn’t make it and returned home to his heavenly father. Those of you who know me know that my true passion is God and the children, and I urge you to support this meaningful ministry.”
In her remarks, Dr. Browne, President and CEO of Ronald McDonald House was especially poignant in expressing the value of the work being done to support the children and families who receive treatment, economic support and housing through the the Ronald McDonald House Charities: “Our beloved Ronald McDonald House is a home away from home for families at the most critical time of their lives. Our organization is uniquely positioned at the nexus of health and hospitality, and what we are trying to do is create the partnerships that make sure there are no gaps in the services we are able to provide for our families. We couldn’t do that without the support that you all give us, and we are very grateful for that. We have saved over 7.5 million dollars in food and accommodation costs. It’s a true testament to the support we get from the Greek division. When we think about the support that families need to really get through what is such a traumatic time is the peer to peer support. It’s caregiver to caregiver, it’s family to family, it’s child to to child, and that’s really the added value of the Ronald McDonald House. Through wonderful advances in pediatric cancer that allows us to stay, we’ve done a lot to make sure that so many more children are surviving today than ever. Everything that our clinical partners can provide is saving lives. When our families come from all over the world, from all over the country to New York City, it’s because New York City has the most life-saving treatment they can have. So many of our families are travelling not only with a sick child but also with the siblings, so a lot of what Ronald McDonald does is to provide the economic assistance, the educational services, the transportation to and from appointments, the languages access, the culturally competent programs, and the wellness programs for caregivers. There’s something in our house for everybody. Our goal is to create normalcy for our families. We want our children to feel like children first and not just children with cancer.”
The honorees, Dr. Spiros Spireas and Paulette Poulos, also expressed their own sentiments on the valuable work of the Ronald McDonald House charities and its commitment to children in their speeches by drawing upon their own experiences. Dr. Spireas recalled his own frightening experience with his 3-month old daughter who had contracted the flu and was not being properly hydrated: “The worst thing that can happen to a parent is to anticipate that something bad could happen to their child.” His daughter was able to pull through with the proper treatment, which prompted him to express the value of god-thinking, which he expressed in Greek as theareston. To him it means giving money without thinking about it to help sick children. He drew a correlation between the sub-conscious of religion and children, and how deeply they are connected: “Children are the future. Helping them is the ultimate philanthropy, and this is what we should be doing all the time. Every little bit counts.” He urged us all to continue to give to the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Archbishop Elpidophoros, in his closing remarks, emphasized the importance of philanthropy by highlighting the Greek word philoptochos. It means not only a friend of those in need but it’s a person who loves those in need by being philothei. It means people who love God.
This evening of gratitude and charitable giving could not have been complete without a special expression of gratitude by RMH’s Greek Division Chairman, Spiros Maliagros, to Spyridoula Katechis for her dedication, loyalty and continued efforts as Coordinator and Administrator of the Greek Division. As the right-hand woman of this charity, she continues to go above and beyond the call of duty to help make all of it happen and continue to grow.
The great work that the RMH Greek Division continues to do would also not be complete without a timeless honor and special mention of the woman who started it all. She is no longer with us, but I will never forget the last words she said to me in her own childlike spirit of innocence and kindness: “I love children. Everything I do is for them.” She never had her own children. Niki Sideris was someone I admired as a little girl, perhaps for the wrong reasons. When she would come to visit my family in Boston, I remember thinking I wanted to be just like her. I didn’t know much about her, other than that she was a beautiful, kind, and fabulous woman from New York, married to my great uncle Michalis Sideris. My first memory of her was a relaxed woman sitting by a window reading a book on Cape Cod. I was bored and started talking to her, though I can’t remember about what. She didn’t seem to be annoyed that I interrupted her reading. Instead she put down her book and engaged me in activity, like a little girl herself who wanted to indulge in playtime with me. I remember her warm smile and the hugs she would give me whenever she came to visit. She was a genuine person. When I moved to New York, I didn’t see her much, except in her last years, when I decided to reconnect with her. I’m glad I did. I got to know who she really was as a person. She did something truly meaningful with her compassion that continues to exceed her expectations. Her spirit of kindness continues to move through the legacy she left behind. It’s a true testament to her work and the necessity of having a home away from home for children undergoing cancer treatment.
Richard Martin, Director of Development at the Ronald McDonald House New York, emphasized the importance of community support: “Mrs. Sideris was very close with President Emeritus Vivian Harris and they had a vision. Niki and her husband were making sure families in need of hospitality were coming to stay with us. Niki’s fundraising efforts helped fund the construction of our current location on East 73rd Street. There are 370 RMH Houses throughout the world. If it was just run by the corporation there would probably be only a handful. They were built from the grassroots up and through community support. The corporation understood the importance of community involvement.”
To date more than 10,000 Greek families have received assistance from the Greek Division since it’s establishment in 1979. All we can do is continue to give what we can to this meaningful charity. It’s a critical form of support that can help save a child’s life and ease a family’s economic and emotional burden.