In two days time, the Greek diaspora and philhellenes internationally will virtually attend The Hellenic Initiative’s (THI) 8th Annual Gala.
In between finalising last-minute preparations before the big day, Greek City Times spoke to Peter Poulos, the Executive Director of The Hellenic Initiative, a global not for profit organization that raises funds to support Greek NGOs and entrepreneurs.
- Where abouts in Greece are you from?
My great grandparents, from both my mother’s and father’s sides, left Greece circa 1900. Like many Greek Americans they came from Sparti and Mani. The villages are Reheia, Arna, Karvelas, and Konakia. Before it was Americanized, Poulos was Poulemanakos, a well-known Maniatiko surname.
- Can you talk about your Greek background.
We grew up in a very Greek and American household. My father was born in Brooklyn and my mother in Southampton, New York, so they were already the second generation in the States. Greek was not spoken at home, so it was a bit of a disadvantage for me having to learn as an adult. Nevertheless, we attended our church regularly, went to Greek school, took Greek dance class, and had a large Greek paréa. We were not the Greek family that travelled to Greece every year, but our home was filled with books on Greece, watercolors from Athens and the islands, icons, and an abundance of Greek food and love.
- Do you believe your Greek background has influenced you in your life?
My Greek background is one of the most important influences in my life. In fact, I cannot imagine not being Greek. I’ve often thought that if I’m reincarnated and given the option to choose my nationality, I would request to be Greek again.
A strong sense of philotimo (“love of honor”) was instilled in all of us, my siblings and I, at an early age. All adults were to be respected, you never did anything to shame the family name, you were expected to study hard, work hard and achieve all that was humanly possible. And of course, you always helped and looked out for your fellow Greeks.
- When and how did you first become involved with THI?
It was my good friend George P. Stamas, one of The Hellenic Initiative’s founders, who first introduced me to THI. It was due to his vision and leadership and the respect I had for other members of the board, including Andrew N. Liveris, Father Alex Karloutsos, Dean Dakolias, Michael Psaros, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, Drake Behrakis, Dennis Mehiel, John Georges, John Koudounis, John Calamos, and others that I became more involved.
- Are you able to recall the first event you helped plan as part of THI.
I was retained to help produce and fundraise for THI’s very first Gala in New York City back in 2013. That was exciting in part because THI had no idea what to expect as to fundraising, attendance, speakers, and so on. We built a budget with a fundraising goal of $350,000. That was a huge sum for an organization that didn’t yet have a track record. The response to the Gala was overwhelming and, when the final tally came through, THI had raised more than $1.8 million! The feeling was exhilarating, and it made us realize that our community was ready to come together in a serious way to help Greece.
- What do you hope THI fulfills this year?
THI is a crisis relief organization and Greece is in a crisis. After having suffered for so many years during the financial disaster, COVID arrived at a particularly cruel moment — in the midst of the country’s economic recovery. So once again thanks to strong board leadership and THI’s dedicated staff, we doubled down on providing support and rallying the Greek diaspora. The results have been outstanding — so much so that our grants this year will be significant.
- How has planning this year’s virtual gala been different to other years?
Yes, the planning for the Gala has been different and challenging. We are sailing into uncharted waters, but are confident to be heading in the right direction. The silver lining in hosting a Virtual Gala is that it enables people from all over the globe to tune in. Moreover, our speakers and entertainers need not be in New York City to participate. Finally, tickets may be purchased right up to the start of the event.
- What do you hope this year’s gala achieves?
We are hoping to achieve multiple outcomes for this year’s Gala.
- Reach our fundraising goal of $1.5 million.
- Connect with even more diaspora Greeks and philhellenes from around the world while introducing them to THI’s vital work on the ground in Greece.
- Radiate a message of hope and inspiration.
- Final message for the Greek diaspora?
Thanks to the thousands of friends who have put their trust in THI and supported its mission, we are helping Greeks in need. Our extraordinary heritage is a gift that needs to be cherished and safeguarded. THI is committed to building a strong, resilient, and lasting bridge between Greece and the global Greek Diaspora.
‘Radiate: The Hellenic Initiative Virtual Gala’
THI will host its first-ever virtual gala on Thursday, November 12, in an event titled ‘Radiate: The Hellenic Initiative Virtual Gala’.
The 8th Annual Gala will provide pandemic crisis relief and help Greek businesses and entrepreneurs who took an economic hit when pandemic travel restrictions ravaged Greece’s all-important tourism industry — a sector which is normally recession- and disaster-proof.
Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will remarks and popular Greek artist Sakis Rouvas will co-host and perform.
But it doesn’t just stop there. This celebrity filled event will also include special performances from:
- Rita Wilson, Greek American actress, singer, songwriter, and producer
- Christos Mastoras, lead singer of Melisses, the popular Greek rock band
- Monika, one of Greece’s most acclaimed indie artists
- The Greek Youth Symphony Orchestra, featuring young Greek musicians
Time: New York 6–7pm EST and London 11pm-12am GMT
- New York Tickets: Individual $250, New Leaders $100 (21-40 years old). For U.S. sponsorship, please click here.
- London Tickets: Individual £200, New Leaders £50 (21-40 years old). For U.K. sponsorship, please click here.
THI has organised both luxury and charitable pledge auction items that, particularly this year, focus on giving to those in need.
Some of the items up for auction include a 3 day charter in Greece aboard crewed motor yacht Aquila, Celia Kritharioti’s Haute Couture wedding gown, artwork by Stephen Antonakos, Jean Prounis earrings, Ancient Greek Sandals, dinner for six at Loi Estiatorio in New York and 2 nights accommodation including breakfast at one of the Belvedere Mykonos properties.
Click here to visit the auction website for art, jewelry, fashion, home, spirits, food, and luxury destinations. Note: the auction will run until Thursday, November 12, 7 PM EDT / 12 midnight GMT.
Founded in 2012, THI is a global, nonprofit, secular institution mobilising the Greek diaspora and philhellene community to support sustainable economic recovery and renewal for the Greek people. THI’s programs address crisis relief through strong nonprofit organisations and build entrepreneurial skills in a new generation of business leaders. Since 2012, THI has committed or distributed $5.7 million in direct crisis relief and $10.1 million in economic and entrepreneurial development. Last year’s Gala raised more than $2.2 million, making it the most successful fundraising event in the Greek diaspora globally.