By Sophia A. Niarchos
Oyster Bay, N.Y. – Even before the last page of the 2004 calendar is turned, we consider our past accomplishments and begin to direct our attention to the aspirations we have for 2005. The ecclesiastical year 2005-06 has been proclaimed “The Year of the Family” by Archbishop Demetrios; and for one relatively new organization in our community and one long-established institution’s newest program, future plans continue to be focused on the family.
Through its network of more than 125 volunteers, Hope for Life has, since 2000, provided financial and emotional support for people from Greece and here in the U.S. who are dealing with serious medical conditions. President and founder Irene Drakopoulos believes the establishment of this organization was a “thelima Theou,” something God wanted.
“When I was inspired to begin Hope for Life, I found among my friends other working mothers who thought that this was a worthy goal, and agreed that while one person cannot help many people, many people can help one person,” Mrs. Drakopoulos said.
Since Hope for Life was established as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization four years ago, it has collected and disbursed more than $150,000 toward medical, housing, and travel expenses. Two radio-a-thons, with airtime donated by HELLAS Radio, were held in 2002 and 2004; and the women also raise monies by holding bake sales and low-cost luncheons (with food donated by Hope for Life members) at the Sts. Anargyroi Church in Washington Heights. They have also held an annual dance with net proceeds going toward the assistance of those whose situation demands it.
“People see what we’ve done and they contribute freely, knowing their donations are going directly to those who truly need help.”
Among those who have found support through the helpful work of Hope for Life are a mother and her blind and severely disabled daughter who came to New York from the West Coast and received the funds needed to cover their rent expenses, help with the paperwork necessary for public assistance, and the companionship of Hope for Life secretary Georgia Papadopoulos during the surgery done on her eyes as well as transportation to doctors’ offices provided by other members.
Another recipient of Hope for Life’s attention was a 16-year-old girl with a facial and upper palate deformity that impacted her ability to breathe. She came with her mother from Greece and with the assistance of Dr. Kyriacos Kyros, a rheumatologist, was referred to a Long Island hospital where specialists in the type of reconstructive surgery she required treated her. Hope for Life’s first radio-a-thon raised the funds needed for two trips to and from the U.S., room and board, and medications.
The most recent beneficiary of Hope for Life’s work is George Pappas, who was reintroduced to a long-lost friend from his stay at Memorial Sloan-Kettering a decade ago as a result of a television interview Mrs. Drakopoulos did. She expressed the need for a kidney donor for George and the woman who would be the perfect match for him, Chrysoula Zikopoulos, responded.
“Hope for Life introduced them and stood by them for emotional support; we also helped George and his family financially,” Mrs. Drakopoulos said.
In addition to assisting individuals, Hope for Life has also donated funds to help the families of those who perished in the attacks of 9/11, women with breast cancer, and AIDS victims.
Today the organization is asking for donations to help Savvas Iliadis, a 27-year-old man who needs dialysis three times a week, and to continue to assist George Pappas and his family.
Looking toward the future, the organization’s biggest dream is for a house of their own in which they can provide accommodations for families who need them “so we won’t have to pay for hotel rooms.”
“While we don’t have the funds necessary to buy a house, there may be someone in the metropolitan area who owns a house that needs work who will come forward and donate it to our cause,” Mrs. Drakopoulos said.
Grateful for the support of the community and the media, Mrs. Drakopoulos noted that increased publicity leads to more people seeking Hope for Life’s assistance, with the corresponding need for more members and additional funds.
“We would like to increase the number of doctors, psychologists, translators, and people in the insurance business who are members of our organization, so we can broaden our network of support; and because until now our funds have come from small donations – the largest single donation being $2,000 – we also need the long-term support of major benefactors.”
To become a member of the organization (dues are $20 and meetings are held monthly), contact Georgia Papadopoulos at (646) 772-6263. To donate to Hope for Life, send your contribution to Hope for Life, P.O. Box 6156, Long Island City, NY, 11106-0156 or, for more information, contact Irene Drakopoulos at (718) 956-7559.
As Hope for Life seeks to have its own home, St. Basil’s Academy, now in its 68th year of service to children whose parents or guardians are for one reason or another unable to care for them, is expanding its programs through the recently created Center for Family Care. Planned as “a model institution for the advancement of healthy, happy, and dynamic Orthodox families, and for the full incorporation of interfaith marriages into the life of each and every Parish,” the Center was established to “develop programs and resources to address questions and issues related to preparation for marriage, marital difficulties, mixed marriages, clergy families, and families of divorces,” according to its Web page at the archdiocese site (www.familyaschurch.org).
St. Basil’s Executive Director, Fr. Constantine Sitaras, is confident that the Holy Spirit has been behind the great progress the Center has made in the two years since Archbishop Demetrios announced its establishment.
“As Jesus said, ‘Where two or three are gathered, there am I also,'” Fr. Costas said. Members of the Roundtable, the name given to the group of 25 or so individuals who have been working to implement the Center’s plans, have met five times in the last two years and have already implemented the first segments of a multifaceted program.
“We have produced monthly programs for parish family nights in local communities as well as the Weekly Family Night resource, intended to encourage families to come together for prayer and fellowship once a week. The resource includes lessons and activities based on the Sunday and Feast Day Gospel readings, guiding the family in Bible study and worship. The family will be encouraged to plan the evening with a family meal and fun, family-oriented activities.
“In addition, we have published and distributed 3,000 copies of a Table Prayer Guide, a prayer book intended for placement on the kitchen table; and a reprinting of 5,000 more requested copies has recently been ordered. The Guide provides a collection of Orthodox prayers and meditations for daily use, for special occasions and needs, and on family topics. It can be used when the family prays together or when one family member prays alone. A beautifully designed folio describing the elements of a home ikonostasion (a place in the home for prayer) has also been prepared,” Fr. Costas said.
Outreach to families and parish communities has also begun with the establishment of a counseling center within the Center for Family Care, where one full-time and two nearly full-time clinical social workers are available, currently for people in communities near the Academy. There are also plans to make counseling possibilities available via telephone or the Internet.
Members of the Center’s Roundtable, which comprises, clergy, clinicians, and educators, can also give one-day seminars on topics related to family spiritual care at parishes throughout the archdiocese.
“We believe this Center, which serves as a support system for all of the organizations of the Church, is a natural fit for St. Basil’s Academy, which through its child care activities has a long history of impacting the family,” Fr. Costas said. “The Center for Family Care’s programs will help enrich the spiritual lives of our families.”