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Celebrations and Thoughts About Our Future
by Aris Michopoulos*
A few months ago, the Leadership 100 celebrated its 35th Anniversary in Boca Raton, Fl. It was a most memorable celebration as it turned an elusive dream into a wonderful reality and made the wildest dreams of its founders come true. Established by his Eminence Archbishop Iakovos, of blessed memory, thirty five years ago, the organization originally aimed at recruiting 100 members, the leaders of the Greek American Community that would each contribute $100,000 for the needs of our Archdiocese of N. & S. America at that time. The goal of reaching 100 wealthy Greek-Americans who would donate one hundred thousand dollars each and raise $10 million to support the many institutions and affiliated organizations of the Archdiocese was a lofty one. Some naysayers did not believe that was possible. The visionaries disagreed. And the visionaries, members of its Board of Trustees, proved the naysayers wrong! Indeed, the goal was a lofty one and not a walk in the park. The road was sometimes uphill, uneven, and unpaved. But within the first three years the goal was achieved.
And then a new loftier one was set: to reach 1,000 members! That was truly looking like an impossible dream! One thousand people donating $100,000 each for the various ministries and other needs of the Archdiocese seemed almost beyond reach. Still under the exemplary leadership of its Board of Trustees and the new Archbishop, i.e. Archbishop Demetrios, the new dream turned also into a resounding reality in 2016 with its 1,000th member, myself, Dr. Aristotle Michopoulos, being quite appropriately a professor of Greek language and history at our Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology. Thus in that membership we had a symbolic connection of our only Greek Orthodox College in the USA with our Education and our Greek history and culture. We had also a connection of the Greek immigrant experience of the 20th century, which sought knowledge and riches in “the land of opportunity.”
So old country values and new country dreams and aspirations merged and created the Modern Greek-American dream to serve Hellenism and Orthodoxy in the Americas and beyond. Today, the L-100 Fund has surpassed its first and second goals of 100 and 1,000 members and is racing beyond the 1,100 mark! I am sure the soul of Archbishop Iakovos and most of the original members of the Board of Trustees who have joined him in heaven, are rejoicing from above and are quite proud of their unique creation.
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Of equal value, if not more so, with the raising of over $100 million from its members and the distribution of over $51 million for the various institutions of the Archdiocese and other philanthropic organizations, is the way all these wonderful accomplishments were achieved. I do not know of any other Greek American Organization with the same length of life and the same amount of assets that has never been accused of improprieties. Indeed, L100 has never been accused of misappropriation of funds, of infighting among its members of the Board, or accusations for lack of transparency or nepotism. Every year it has its books audited, its results posted, its finances appearing on its magazine, “The Leader”, and the entirety of its operations portrayed in a serious and professional manner.
Besides the Archbishop and its Board of Trustees a lot of credit for its stellar performance goes to its Chairmen Emeriti, six of them, and the Executive Board. All of them demonstrated knowledge, tact and professionalism. But one could assign even more value and importance to its Executive Director and her staff, who are doing the fundraising and managing of the fund. Indeed, Paulette Poulos, a veteran servant of our Archdiocese having served in various key positions under Archbishop Iakovos and then under Archbishop Demetrios, has been serving as Executive Director of the Fund for over 10 years and has been involved with its development for much more. She holds that “secret recipe of success” that characterizes all successful organizations. She knows that hard work and courtesy, transparency and accountability are the pillars on which you can build something strong, long-lasting and successful. And therein probably lays the great success of this unique Greek American Organization. Something that starts small but steady and with the time and good management grows bigger and bigger and before you know it it eclipses many other organizations that have been around for much longer.
Besides the plethora of good deeds that the L100 has bestowed upon our Greek American Community, as well as on Greece, Cyprus and the Patriarchate, one should also add the annual conference that holds in various cities. Each Symposium becomes a memorable event, where you meet the rich, the strong and influential. You might encounter young and not so young, people with dreams and people that have realized their dreams and their name is not only known to the Omogeneia, but has a Pan-American and Pan-Hellenic recognition. Needless to say a large percentage of the fifty wealthiest Greek Americans, with a net worth of $50 billion, are members of the L100. And the conference concludes with a Dinner-Dance and a Glendi the day before. It is there that if you are a doubter of the future of the Greek- Americans your reservations melt away. In both events you will see young and old dancing all kinds of Greek dances and before you know it, the kefi goes up and you have a feeling that you are not in America, but in a Greek kentro in Athens or any other big city of Greece. It is an amazing scene that you need to experience to believe it and will stay in your memory for many years.
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But before the happy ending of “wine and roses” you have other meetings, discussion of serious matters pertaining to the L100, its distribution of funds to the various Archdiocesan organizations and affiliates, etc. I attended one such meeting where the subject of discussion was Hellenic College/Holy Cross (HCHC). There were various views expressed about enrollment, finances, administration, etc. A member of the audience raised the question, if it would be advisable for HCHC to reduce some of its majors, to cut expenses, and focus on Theology. It should be stated that this view is not something new. Personally, coming from a background of a holistic approach to education I was opposed to it and to my mind came Werner Jaeger’s monumental work “PAIDEIA” that he describes as “all rounded excellence.” A German scholar of the first order, who fell in love with the ideals of the Greek Civilization, devoted a good portion of his life to the research and writing of this monumental work.
I thought of Jaeger’s deep respect for the Greek language and culture at that moment, and on the other hand, I reflected on a potential curtailment, a potential clipping of the wings of many dreams in order to balance the HCHC budget. And while I am a strong believer in balanced budgets and economizing when needed, on the other hand, I am a strong believer in the ideals of Werner Jaeger and of all the other titans of academic scholarship, who consider the Greek civilization as the foundation of Western Civilization.
Being in a room filled with millionaires at a conferene with several billionaires, right away I thought what we could do about it. And then the other special biblical race, the Jews, came to my mind. Having being persecuted for over 2,000 years they have survived and thrived thanks to their omonoia, their solidarity, their mutual support and philanthropy. And then I pondered: here we have two of the oldest and most celebrated groups, the Greeks and the Jews. Both have contributed a lot to world civilization. But while the Jews are extremely successful and contribute their fair share to their communal goals and purposes, we, unfortunately, are wasting our time and energy in petty staff. While as “units” we achieve miracles, as “teams” we tend to disagree, to bicker and fight and sometimes to dissolve our organizations.
This is not the case with the Jews. They have created a “superstructure,” the AIPAC, where all their organizations and wealthy persons contribute a fair share of their wealth and then the AIPAC undertakes the fair distribution of this wealth to its many organizations and affiliates. The Athenians did something similar on the political scene with the creation of the DELIAN league, after the Persian Wars, some 2,500 years ago.
We don’t have such an umbrella organization and we sorely need one. What good is it to have $50 billion and not be able to use a tiny portion of it to fund many vital programs and services? With one percent of fifty billion, i.e. $500 million, our Omogeneia could do a lot of things. Our Schools are living on a shoe-string, our lobbies in DC are underfunded and understaffed and many other of our institutions (Old Age Home, Museum, etc.) are feeble and suffering. While we struggle to maintain a viable College, the Jews support 15 Colleges, 5 of them dealing with Theology and 10 being secular. Their top Theology school, i.e. Yeshiva University in New York City, boasts some 3,000 students and half a billion endowment, while their top secular, i.e. BRANDEIS University has over 6,000 students with all kinds of undergraduate and graduate majors and an endowment of over $1 billion. We, on the other hand, have an endowment of less than 30 million, although we started during the same time with Brandeis and the Greek-Americans appeared as the second wealthiest group, after the Jews, in Bernard C. Rosen’s research (1970) and the most educated.
Actually the difference in wealth between the two groups is not so much in their earnings, as is in their approach to philanthropy. While the Jews consider it natural to give their “tithe” (10%) for the good of the Community, we pay lip service to our filotimo and our philanthropy. If someone is a true believer in filotimo and philanthropy, he is automatically involved in giving and contributing for the “common good”. Unfortunately, we have turned too much to our inner circle and overlooked the bigger picture, which is the wider world of philanthropy, patriotism, and giving. It is not enough to extend your filotimo and philanthropy to your family and friends and to a church or school here or in Greece. We have to rise above that. We have to embrace a wider and more philanthropic world. It is good to enjoy your souvlaki and syrtaki, but equally good if not more so, to try to fly high and soar like an eagle supported by the spirit of “aien aristevein” and your service to the Hellenic ideals and culture!
These then are some of the crucial questions that we have to deal with in the near future, if we truly are concerned about the long-term future and viability of our Greek American Community and our moral obligation towards Greece and Cyprus. The AIPAC has already shown us the way. It is time to learn from them and emulate them.
Dr. Aristotle Michopoulos (B.A. University of Athens, M.A. Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y., Ph.D. Florida State University) devotes his time to teaching and researching in the area of Greek Studies. Before his appointment at Hellenic College, he was the Associate Director of the Center for Greek Studies at the University of Florida. At Hellenic College he served as Dean for six years and as Greek Studies Director for over twenty years. Additionally, for a number of years, he served as the representative of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese to the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, DC and as the U.S. coordinator for the Paideia Omogenon project of the University of Crete. Dr. Michopoulos has translated extensively from Greek into English and vice versa and has authored an array of publications (books, book chapters, articles in Journals, etc.) Currently, he is engaged in research in the area of Education, Immigration, Wealth and Philanthropy in Greek America.