By Vicki J. Yiannias
The glamorous Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund gala is a much-anticipated annual event. May 19 was the date for the Fundʼs 16th Anniversary Celebration held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel, a date that the thirty-five Greek American students who were awarded scholarships will more than likely remember for the rest of their lives.
Over one million dollars in scholarships have been awarded to over 500 students from across the United States since 1990, when the Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund awarded $2,000 in scholarships. The funds for the scholarships awarded are raised principally through the journal, raffle, and the generosity of the members of the community and the corporations who purchase tables for an evening that so many look forward to as a time to see friends, dance, see some celebrities, enjoy a sumptuous banquet, and generally have a terrific time while promoting the future of Greek Americaʼs youth.
John Catsimatidis, Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund Chairman, noted to The Greek News that the yearly gala benefits the futures of the young not only in the area of education, but also in another decisive area. “It feels good to be able to give away scholarships but itʼs not only the scholarships that we give out, itʼs creating an audience of 1500 people and all the marriages that end up coming out of this; it gives the opportunity for young ladies and young men to meet each other….so itʼs a ʽtwo-for!ʼ”
For Margo Catsimatidis, Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund Vice-Chairman her intensive work on the Scholarship Fund brings deep gratification . “Yes, it is an incredible amount of work, but itʼs more than worth it if we can make a difference in one of the kidʼs lives….then itʼs all worth while. Itʼs an honor for the students, as well; we have over a thousand kids every year and when theyʼre awarded a scholarship it gives them encouragement and hope in their own lives. Weʼve had a lot of kids tell us that they were going to drop out of school because of financial difficulties….they couldnʼt get loans, and it was very difficult, but because someone believed in them they plowed right through…. they worked very hard and they graduated. Many of these students worked four jobs, trying to keep their grades up. We take all that into consideration, so itʼs a real labor of love. $.94 out of every dollar raised goes to those kids. I still have to pay for costs like printing and all that, but we produce everything out of the office so we do whatever we can do to make a difference. If weʼve touched some of those kidsʼ lives it means everything to us, so itʼs really important to us. And we throw one heck of a party, too!”
Every year the HTSF presents a Humanitarian Award for Leadership and a Humanitarian Award for Artistic Achievement are presented to individuals who have proven that hard work and dedication lead to achievement, thereby setting a perfect example for the HTSF scholarship recipients to emulate. The 2007 Humanitarian Award for Leadership was awarded to benefactor Mr. Nicholas J. Bouras. Mr. Bouras expressed his positive sentiments about the large turnout for the celebration saying, “Iʼm very happy to be here and Iʼm very happy to be honored.”
The 2007 Humanitarian Award for Artistic Achievement was awarded to Constantine Maroulis, 2005 American Idol finalist, who told TGN that “Itʼs incredible that we have a mechanism to raise money for educating Greek Americans that want to go on to great things, to make a great life for themselves ….to pursue higher education, and that there are so many prominent Greek Americans in our society, and in this country, that can come together and bring awareness to these kids that really just want to learn. I think itʼs amazing.”
Nick Katsoris, President and Dinner Chairman says that the HTSF is a dream come true. “I was a student when I first started this with John and Margo, and to see it grow to the level that it has because of the support and commitment of the Greek community itʼs very emotional and very touching to me. We try to do the best we can to help as many kids as we can. Itʼs a pleasure to keep doing it every year, and as long as the community will continue to support us weʼll keep doing it.”
One of the scholarship recipients, Katerina Skiadas, who is going on to study elementary education and is currently tutoring children, said, “Itʼs a wonderful night here. To be recognized as a Greek American in such a special way is truly very thoughtful and gives new meaning to my life….about being a Greek American, and coming here and celebrating that. “
Dimitri Miliones, whose parents were also born in Greece, as were the parents of Ms. Skiadas, said, “The scholarship means a lot. Iʼm a pre-med student so itʼs hard obviously with classes and everything. And itʼs not easy for my parents. I feel bad for them; I think about it every night, you know, so itʼs nice that the Greek community helps us out and we can help them out, hopefully, in the future.”
Nick Gregory, Fox 5 Meteorologist, who presented with Alexis Christoforous (Ms. Christoforous and Mr. Gregory were 2006 HTSF honorees), said “Itʼs an honor to be here. Last year I was thrilled to be one of the honorees; this year i get to present a scholarship, so itʼs even more rewarding, because you know some well-deserving student is going to get the chance to really move forward, so having the opportunity to be part of that this year is really a thrill.”
Alexis Christoforous, CBS News Anchor, National Correspondent whose father is a Cypriot and whose mother is Italian American, told TGN that “The Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund is a great event. This is my 7th or 8th year involved in it. Last year I was honored to be an honoree. You can kind of get lost in all the excitement of the evening but itʼs totally about the kids. Nicholas Bouros really hit it on the head when he said to the kids ʽyou have to stay true to yourselfʼ, and so I hope that whatever they go on to do that these kids theyʼll remember where they came from because it will help them have a clearer vision of where theyʼre headed. Itʼs very competitive, this scholarship….itʼs grown over the years, so they should be proud to be here tonight.”
Father James Muscovites of The Annunciation Church in Manhattan spoke with enthusiasm about the positive results of the HTSF effort. “The Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund grants these young people the opportunity to continue their education and to develop into fine citizens of the country, so my hat is off to Margo and John for doing this, for being behind it all the way, and to Nick Katsoris through the years for helping to put it together. God bless them; I just think itʼs great.”
Mrs. Catsimatidis and Nick Katsoris, may take a breather for a couple of days now that the gala is over, but there is follow-up work to be done. There are thank you letters to send and pledges to collect before the cycle begins again: preparing 1,000 new scholarship applications, choosing honorees, and countless other arrangements for the 2008 Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund celebration.
THE 2007 HTSF SCHOLARS
Scholarship recipients from California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon are: Ann Marie Axarlis, Andreas Damianides, Eleni Gouvas, Mathew Christensen, Charles Comenos, Kayla Delisle, Christopher Kachulas, Joseph Dukes from Texas; Ernest Constantine, Sean Fitzgerald, Jocelyn Halikias, Maria Litsakis, Sultania Makrides, Ashlyn Michalakis, Dimitri Miliones, Daphne Panayotatos, Katerina Skiadas, Alina Tsouristanis, Raquel Verdina, Evangelia Poderos, Petros Michaelides, Theodora Guliadis, Panagiotis Koutsoupias, Thomas Nikolaidis, Alexis Umowski, Allison Georgioff, Caitlin Pangares, Konstantinos Horaites, Robert Humburg, Angela Pitenis, Maroulla Plangetis, Andrea Carras, Peter Smith, Christopher Stathis, Catherine OʼHare.