I have seen the future, and the future is soaring like a phoenix rising from the ashes of destruction.
Very deep quote, wouldn’t you say? I would, and I like it since I wrote it, but I truly believe that I had an epiphany and witnessed the rising, once again of a great Greek-American institution from the abyss that it had fallen into. During the week of July 23-27, 2018, officers, delegates, members, and friends of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), met in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for its 96th Annual Supreme Convention. I am proud to say that not only am I a member, but I attended the convention, which is something I may not have said a decade ago.
Do not confuse my cynicism for the admiration that I have for our local chapters and the men (and the women of the Daughters of Penelope) that have worked tiringly and without complaint to raise money for scholarships, cancer research, and other noble causes. What my disappointment was over the last twenty or so years was with the Supreme Lodge.
For most people my age and older, we remember the hey-day of AHEPA from the 1960s to the mid-1990s. The AHEPA was strong and was in the forefront leading our community, like when they raised over $253 million in US war bonds during World War II or raised money and supplies for the Greek Cypriots during the illegal Turkish invasion.
The annual Supreme conventions had 10,000 to 15,000 people attending in various major cities across the United States, especially in the sun-filled State of Florida. They were unbelievable and made you proud to be an AHEPAN. What you noticed was that it was a family affair. The entire family would attend, and every night there was a Greek dance or party, and after-hours specifically for the young adults.
Then in the mid-1990s, the preverbal rug was pulled out from under the association, and it did a tailspin straight into the ground, crashing and burning. There was much blame to go around. Mismanagement and misappropriation of funds, no inspiring leadership, political divide, a membership growing older and no younger members coming into the fold. There was nothing AHEPA had to offer the young. Who wanted to hang out with a bunch of old guys who reminded them of the Water Buffalo Lodge from the old Flintstone cartoons.
The general membership took anything coming out of the Supreme Lodge with a grain of salt. No one cared. Besides, what has AHEPA done?
I’m glad you asked!
Over the past three years I have been keeping a close eye on the Supreme Lodge and have seen a different type of leadership come in; one that looked to the future, not forgetting the great heritage of the past, but discarding the old guard mentality. It started with Past Supreme President Phillip Themistocles Frangos, then Past Supreme President Andrew Zachariades, and finally the immediate Past Supreme President Carl R. Hollister. Although I am sure that supreme presidents before them have contributed greatly, and in fact kept AHEPA from becoming another Greek-American organization falling into oblivion, I see these three men pulling the AHEPA up from its bootstraps and looking forward, not for what AHEPA can do for them, but what they could do for AHEPA and the Greek diaspora and Hellas.
At the 96th convention, I learned that AHEPA is recognized by the United States government as the voice of the Greek-American community. When Greek Prime Minister Tsipras visited President Trump, it was AHEPA that was called upon to organize the reception. AHEPA has visited government officials in Greece, Israel, Cyprus, Berlin, and Constantinople Halki and the Patriarchate. This past year, it has raised over half a million dollars for Greek Relief for medical supplies and to help needy children, but what was more impressive was that in the week of 96th Annual Convention, AHEPA raised over $100,000 for the victims of the fires in Greece. AHEPA does not forget. I saw a Facebook posting of people dancing at the convention, and there was a comment that basically said, “you people are partying while Greeks are dying?” When was it pointed out to this person that those same people dancing at the convention raised $100,000 in a few days, and what did you do? They quickly apologized.
Continuing this past year, AHEPA has purchased wreaths to lie at 600 Greek-American interred military heroes at Arlington National Cemetery. AHEPA also registers and awards the AHEPA Veterans medal to all veterans who are members of AHEPA. AHEPA does not forget.
It has donated money in support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, AHEPA Milk Program in Flint, Michigan, Saint Nicholas National Shrine at World Trade Center, toys to Children’s Hospital, St. Basil Academy, AHEPA Journey to Greece for students to achieve six college credits, and a multitude of scholarships, which, last year the fund was valued at over $3 million. AHEPA has, for the past sixty years, raised money for Cooley’s Anemia research, and through their Districts, such as District 5, raised money for cancer research. AHEPA does not forget. And I am just getting started!
One of the most inspiring projects discussed at the convention was the AHEPA Service Dogs for Warriors, where they sponsor service dogs for wounded warriors with PTSD. It cost over $15,000 to train these dogs. This was started last year and the first dog sponsored was appropriately named, “Ahepa.”
The National AHEPA Hospital Relief Committee raises funds to send medical supplies and equipment to the AHEPA Thessaloniki Hospital. Yes, AHEPA sponsors a hospital in Greece! But not just one, it also sponsors the AHEPA Wing at the Evangelismos Hospital in Athens. AHEPA has procured medical equipment and supplies for a medical clinic on the Island of Naxos. There are many more programs and projects that AHEPA is involved with.
At the convention, Supreme President Carl R. Hollister said that there is a difference between being successful and being significant. Anyone can be successful. You make some money, you have a nice house, car, etc., but is that fulfilling? Helping someone in need is being significant; significant is someone’s life and this, my friend, will fulfill you. These words are truly inspiring and AHEPA, although successful, has been and, in my opinion, is again being significant, through its programs and leadership in not only in the Greek-American community, but internationally. The Phoenix has truly risen and is flying high.
Unfortunately, AHEPA is the best-kept secret. Its wondrous and incredible work must be shouted out for the world to hear! I implore all of you out there to not only to see what AHEPA is doing but get involved. Congratulations to the new AHEPA and all of its chapters throughout the world.
Congratulations to the AHEPA for all that it has done and will do. Much luck to the newly elected Supreme President, George E. Loucas, Esquire, who is cut from the same cloth as our immediate past supreme presidents, and we look forward to a bright future for AHEPA.
One last mention… to the Executive Director of AHEPA, Basil Mossaidis, the unsung hero – you kept everything together and put up with all us Greeks! You’re the best!
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