By Sophia A. Niarchos
Oyster Bay, N.Y. – Wandering from place to place, uncertain of whether leases would be renewed, spending money that would never again be seen on rent, was not, according to Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society Board President Aphrodite Skeadas, the most effective way for a recognized philanthropic institution of significant stature in the United States to use time and treasure after giving 81 years of service, not only to the Greek Orthodox community, but also to many causes in the broader American landscape. And it was the acceptance of this reality that eventually led Philoptochos to purchase a home of its own in November, 2012.
“We were fine in the 74th Street offices adjacent to Holy Trinity Cathedral but the school needed more space and we had to leave,” Mrs. Skeadas said, adding that Philoptochos would never want to get in the way of the school’s growth. “It’s important to the community.”
Having to give up its space was the initial ‘growing pain’ that marked the beginning of Philoptochos’ search for a new home, a search launched by a charge from His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios just before the spring of 2009.
The driving force behind a search for such a space, as Ms. Skeadas put it, was necessity.
“We recognized that without such a space, we couldn’t develop a permanent location where everyone would know they could go to Philoptochos and be helped. A permanent space would allow us to concentrate on our mission without being sidetracked with such things as leases ending or rent hikes. Our space at 55th Street is really cramped; we can’t conduct meetings with committees and planning sessions. Last year, we had no place to pull in items used at the Children’s Medical Fund luncheon. We even need to get permission to use conference rooms for our Executive Board meetings.”
You might say that the archbishop’s suggestion went from his mouth to God’s ears. The National Philoptochos Board unanimously approved the search and launched the necessary fundraising efforts.
“I was nervous because we had never done anything like this,” Mrs. Skeadas admitted.”It was a bold move. We knew we wouldn’t raise the money 1-2-3 and find the place that was perfect for us and had everything we needed. We started fundraising in a quiet way among the Board, and there were many bumps in the road. Then the Archbishop told us we would need the approval of all the chapters.
“We did our due diligence, anticipating questions and issues that would be raised, and at the 2010 Clergy-Laity Congress, we made our presentation. After learning why we wanted to have this home in New York (we wanted to be near the archdiocese), and how we would support it (by $1,000 contributions from each of the 480 chapters nationwide and by renting out part of the space), every chapter voted to approve the applicable resolutions.
“Women were announcing their pledges both large and small, some in memory of family members who had been leaders or members in their local Philoptochos chapters. We were crying; it was so moving. In 45 minutes, they pledged or donated $85,000.”
The drop in real estate values in New York set the stage for the ideal time to buy. After looking at 30 different properties, those engaged in the search found one they were “keen on” on New York City’s West Side.
“We thought we had the deal,” the Philoptochos president recalled. “The property passed the inspection of everyone we had asked for guidance. The owner was going to hold the $1 million mortgage. Then, the broker told us that unless we did something very exciting, there was another buyer who was paying all cash. We didn’t have the cash. We lost the deal.
“I was so depressed and upset. How could they change the rules? We help people, I thought. But that’s when our spiritual advisor and archdiocese chancellor, Bishop Sevastianos of Zela, reassured us. He said it was not meant to be, that the Lord will reveal the plan. It’s for the best of the organization.”
It seems that what the Lord believes is best for the organization is a $3 million five-story brownstone at 126 E. 37th Street, where Philoptochos will relocate in May. As Mrs. Skeadas explained, “We’ll be able to develop the infrastructure going forward to deal with advances in technology and accommodate the rising standards of a truly first-class, national, faith-based not-for-profit organization. A place where we can improve and increase our services with such events as seminars on jobs, networking opportunities, and domestic violence, where we can reach new stewards, even train volunteers with better methods.
Responding to the suggestion that $3 million could go a long way in helping the needy instead of buying a building, she said, “We’d have no long-term security, no long-term planning; this is our investment in the future, so we can be stronger, greater.
“We inherited a tremendous legacy from those early generations of Philoptochos women; they taught us in our churches. But this is also a very important legacy we can leave for future generations, a center for the people we serve, whose numbers are rising every year. There is no end to what we can do.”
Thanks to a Giving Tree, (https://www.eservicepayments.com/cgi-bin/Vanco_ver3.vps?appver3=Fi1giPL8kwX_Oe1AO50jRq1PwdTcIcUaXnd77NGJqjtEOVZpPcIw91FrYieK2rA42EvVVAEjqawDomKT1pbouR1VTayUBi27JKXIYB0BB48=&ver=3 ) and additional fundraising events given by metropolitans all over the country, the mortgage is now approximately $900,000 and getting smaller every day. Chapter donations to the tree will be matched up to $500,000 by the Jaharis Family Foundation.
“In the last two months, we have raised half of what we need, an amount that is above and beyond what we usually raise, stepping up our giving these last three years.”
“That’s what the women have done, giving a Christmas present to everybody.”