New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Itʼs a lot of fun and one of the most glamorous parties of the year but thatʼs not the half of it. The Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund (HTSF), which held its 18th Annual Gala on Saturday, May 16, at the New York Marriott Marquis makes a lasting difference in the lives of outstanding Greek-American students from across the country by awarding educational support to these future leaders of the Greek American community and the world at large.
There were 38 recipients of The Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund this year, bringing the total of scholarship recipients up to more than 650 who have received more than $1.5 million dollars since the inception of The Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund.
John and Margo Catsimatidis, humanitarians and business leaders, General Chairs and founders of The Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund, talked to the GreekNews, expressing two different aspects of this philanthropic effort, its impact on the life of each scholarship recipient and its social significance. ”If we can make a difference in just one of the studentʼs lives, for the rest of their lives, that they, in turn, help other students…. but hopefully we do a lot more than that,” said Mrs. Catsimatides, “And not only for the students but that the grown-ups realize how important it is to stay together and to stay in touch and to feel,”
For Mr. Catsimatidis, Chairman if the Red Apple Group, the Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund is also a way to “give back to our community”. “You know, weʼre Americans who do a lot of stuff in the New York world…in the American world…but we should not forget our heritage, in giving back to our own people a little bit. I think itʼs something that has to be done,” he said.
There were more than 1200 guests at the Gala. Gala Honorees were business leader George Behrakis, recipient of The Humanitarian Leadership Award and the Food Network’s Iron Chef, Cat Cora, recipient of The Humanitarian Artistic Award.
Guest host was Frank Dicopoulos, star of the daytime drama, Guiding Light, who was also a scholarship presenter along with FOX-5 News anchor Ernie Anastos, CBS News anchor Alexis Christoforous, Meteorologist Nick Gregory, CSI:NY star Melina Kanakaredes, Judge Nick Tsoucalas, and big-screen presenters actor/singer Constantine Maroulis, and actresses Elizabeth Perkins and Nia Vardalos.
Guest artists were Kalomoira, Eurovision finalist, Fame Story winner, and Host of Big in Japan, and The Trammps, featuring their hit Disco Inferno. Kalomoira, congratulated the scholarship winners, adding that she went to Adelphi College in Long Island. She sang in Greek and English and was a hit with the audience, and was “better than Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus,” according to guest Tony Antonopoulos.
Accepting his award, Mr. Behrakis talked about the importance of education to Greek immigrants citing his parents, who considered a college degree to be a sign of success, “to come into the great society of America.” In this era of globalization, he said, the issues that will need to solved by these future leaders are energy, or oil — and noting that he was involved in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry, whether healthcare can be provided for everyone in the country and that the future will be personalized healthcare — the geopolitical problems of the world, “how world business will look in the next 10-15 years and what will we do about climate change.”
Mr. Behrakis spoke to the GreekNews about his high regard for The Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund. “I love it…I think itʼs great because I give scholarships on to kids; I think itʼs very important.” On receiving The Humanitarian Leadership Award Mr. Behrakis said, “When I receive an award from the Greek community Iʼm more honored than receiving an honorary degree from a college or university, or Washington or Boston or Greece …which I have received. But when itʼs your own people honor you, itʼs a greater tribute.”
Accepting her award, Cat Cora thanked John and Margo Catsimatidis, congratulated Behrakis on receiving the HTSFʽs Humanitarian Leadership Award, and congratulated the scholarship recipients, saying that this was “the start of a wonderful, very exciting journey.”
“Iʼm humbled to be receiving The Humanitarian Artistic Award for what Iʼm doing, which is tirelessly striving to help elevate the awareness of our Greek history, culture, cuisine, and Greek people, said Cora, “Iʼm a proud Greek American. I was raised in Virginia by my American mother who embraced Greek Orthodoxy and Greek culture from the moment she met my father, Spiros. I have to say that now sheʼs more of a Greek than he is! My Greek family, my father, my grandfather, actually, when he came over from Skopelos to Ellis Island, our familyʼs name was Karagiozos and still is, when we go home to Greece. This award is not just for me, itʼs for my parents, itʼs for my family in Greece, for my grandfather and my grandmother – my Yiayia. What they instilled in me is a true love of Greece that will always be part of my spirit and passion. In turn Iʼll pass it on to my children, my boys, teach them the beauty and the power of my Greek heritage. Itʼs important to me and to all of us that we evolve, in the next generation, while always keeping the flame of our history and traditions alive. I will continue to back our Greek community while helping others throughout the world with my charity and love of humanity.”
Addressing the scholarship recipients she went on to say, “Believe in yourselves…take advantage of this opportunity, always strive to be the best at what you do…be good at what you do, persevere, and never give up. Iʼm a little, petite girl from Mississippi who grew up in a Greek American family in the South. I have a funny accent and I always tell people – especially the young generation – that if I can do it, anyone can do it. God bless Greece and God bless America.”
Margo Catsimatidis and Dinner Chairman and President of the HTSF, Nick Katsoris (General Counsel of the Red Apple Group) work on every detail of the scholarships and the Gala throughout the year leading up to the event. Preparations for the coming yearʼs Gala begin just a couple of weeks after the Gala.
Nick Katsoris told the GreekNews, “I am so grateful to the community for coming together for this 18th annual HTSF Gala. In these tough economic times we didn’t know what type of response we would get, but in the end we were thrilled with the support we received.”
Katsoris noted that, “We were also thrilled to honor two such exemplary individuals in George Behrakis and Cat Cora that are perfect role models for our students by demonstrating to them that hard work and dedication lead to achievement. The Trammps and Kalomoira were a true pleasure to work with and the fact that past honorees like Ernie Anastos, Alexis Christoforous, Melina Kanakaredes, Frank Dicopoulos, Constantine Maroulis, Elizabeth Perkins, Judge Tsoucalas and Nia Vardalos gave of themselves by presenting scholarships means a great deal not only to our organization but also to the students.”
The dramatic effects of educational support are made clear in the responses of the recipients receiving their scholarships. Casey Cokkinias, of Winchester MA, an honors student at Mount Holyoke College told the GreekNews, “I am very thankful for the generosity of everyone involved with my scholarship,” she told the GreekNews, “The money will be a great help as I pursue my academic, musical, and community endeavors. The scholarship encourages me to continue to work hard so I can pursue my dream of becoming a clinical psychologist.”
Nicholas Murchison of Los Angeles, California, said, “My mom pushes me to work as hard as possible which has had the effect of teaching me a strong work ethic and I’m very grateful for her doing so. I’m in the Peter Stark Producing Program, a fantastic, challenging program at USC’s graduate film school. This scholarship will make a tremendous difference in a number ways: I’m paying for 100% of my education through student loans, so this scholarship will not only lighten my financial load…but more importantly it will free my mind so I can completely focus on school work instead of worrying about financial matters.”
The sole fundraiser for The Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund is the annual Gala. The funds for the Scholarships awarded are principally raised through the journal, raffle, and the generosity of members of the community and corporations who purchase tables and make donations. All money rose after event expenses and operating expenses (only 6 cents out of every dollar go to these) go directly to scholarships.
John and Margo Catsimatidis are publishers of the Hellenic Times newspaper and are involved in numerous charities: the Police Athletic League, The National Alzheimerʼs Committee, The Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, are among them.