By Catherine Tsounis
We are building for our future.” Our forefathers laid the foundation. On this tradition we build,” Rev. Paul Palesty, pastor of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in flushing, N.Y. at the Dec. 6th Groundbreaking day for the Michelis Hellenic Cultural and Educational Center. His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of America, performed the liturgy and groundbreaking ceremony on the Feast Day of St. Nicholas church. Prominent persons who attended included: Borough president Helen Marshall; Catherine Bouras, Consular General of Greece; Peter T. Boudouvas; Rev. John Lardas, Assistant Pastor; Rev. Anastasios Diakovasilis. Over eight hundred persons attended the church services.
A luncheon followed in the church hall. The program consisted of the following: Invocation, by His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, assisted by Rev. Paul Palesty; Welcome, Andrew Tsiolas, Master of Ceremonies; Mrs. Lena Varis and Mr. James Mihalios, Groundbreaking Coordinators; Greetings, Stephen Cherpelis and Christ Stratakis, fundraising chairpersons; Emmanuel Kratsios, Building Committee chairman; Christos Pantazis, Parish Council President; Presentations by Gregory Michelis, Rev. Paul Palesty, Archbishop Demetrios; and Benediction by Archbishop Demetrios, assisted by Father John Lardas. Archie and Mary Mavromatis donated the luncheon. Pier 25A catered the event with desserts by Oasis Cafe. Rainbow Florist donated floral arrangements. Further fundraising followed because of the enthusiasm for this unique expansion project. Over four million dollars in pledges have been raised.
The lead donators and donations that amount to about three million dollars are as follows: Petros Sarandakos, School Auditorium & Parish Hall; Gregory and Eustachian Michelis, Michelis Hellenic Cultural & Education Parish Center; Stephen & Arete Cherpelis, Greek Afternoon School; Vinita Lorries, Venita Lorras School Library; Christ & Mary Stratakis, Youth recreation Level; St. Nicholas William Spyropoulos PTA, Day School administrative Offices; Nikolaos Pashalis Art Room & Christina Pashalis Music Room; Nick and Mirene Tsoulos, Greek Afternoon School Administrative Offices and other generous donations from the entire community.
“Patriarch Barthomew sends his blessings to the community of St. Nicholas Church,” said His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios. “The Patriarch said he will always remember his visit to St. Nicholas Church last spring.” Archbishops Demetrios commented on the extraordinary expansion drive of the church across America. “In less than two months, I have attended five cultural center groundbreakings. It is much better to give than to receive. This is the trend of our Greek American parishes.” Borough president Helen Marshall thinks “it is wonderful to see this huge support for the church’s expansion project.” The huge support for the expansion project can be traced to a psychological change in the attitude of Greek-Americans. Few are immigrating back to the old country. They view America as their home. The Greek Orthodox Church remains as the center of their religious and cultural heritage. By expanding the Orthodox Church, a future will be built for the perpetuation of Hellenism among their children and grandchildren.
Mrs. Lena Varis, Groundbreaking Coordinator, said “we have an obligation to commit ourselves towards the success of this project. As a parent of the school, I am convinced of the merits of this project. Its primary goal since day 1 has been to secure the needs of our children. We are providing the tools that will propel the next generation of Hellenes to surpass and achieve excellence. As the former PTA president, I feel proud to have been a part of this process and to have encouraged the support of the PTA for the Michelis Educational and cultural Community Center.”
The dynamic Groundbreaking Coordinator credits “Father Paul Palesty, who deserves a tremendous amount of credit for having the foresight to select individuals like Mr. Stratakis and Mr. Cherpelis as Chairpersons of the Building Project. Father Paul has given to this community his true commitment and love. I would like to thank His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios, for presiding over today’s historic blessing. A special thanks to my co-coordinator James Mihalios and the committee who have assisted us in making this day complete.” Ms. Varis concluded her presentation by saying “those who have the ability to take a stand, have the responsibility to take action. We all have that responsibility…..to preserve our culture, heritage and language.”
Venita Lorras, donator of the Library; is a strong, family woman who has been helping the Senior Citizens for over twenty years. “I am very excited. It is one of the high points of my life, the December 6th Groundbreaking. I did this for St. Nicholas Church. My children are very happy for me. This is the greatest gift I can give my children: to help out my church through the expansion project.”
Alex Koutsoubis, contractor, was one of the original founders of William Spyropoulos School and the Annex. He donated one hundred thousand dollars during the Luncheon’s exciting fundraising activity. “I had my fingers involved in every corner of the William Spyropoulos Annex,” said Alex Koutsoubis. “I became involved in the school the second year it opened, that was 25 years ago. I spent many nights in the parish council and P.T.A. discussing plans to improve the quality life of our community.” Donations of all amounts were gathered from every parishioner.
“The first phase of our expansion plan is nearly completed,” explained Father Paul.” The parish council and school parents renovated the school building with central air conditioning, fire sprinkling system and removal of all asbestos. The tiles and walls are all new in the school building. In the old school gymnasium, a new floor, cafeteria and hall were created. Six new classrooms were built on the ground level floor. An ingenious utilization of space was created.” Father Paul said the church and school expansion project “is a seven and a half million project.”