Jack Georgalas: Increased membership and “aggressive” investments are key
By Sophia A. Niarchos
OYSTER BAY, N.Y. — “It is a basic law of nature: You grow or you die,” says AHEPA Supreme President Jack Georgalas. Since his election to the top post of this more than 80-year-old Hellenic-American institution last August, Georgalas had made membership growth and financial stability a top priority for the organization. A member of AHEPA for 45 years and the CEO of the Virginia-based Tri-Cities Beverage Corporation, Georgalas applies such business practices as the establishment of quotas and objectives in leading what he recognizes is an aging AHEPA. His interest in “building things, making things grow” is reflected in the weighty goals he has established for it.
“To keep our membership numbers level, we must initiate 1,000 new members a year nationally. In order for AHEPA to experience long-term growth, I want to get 2,000 new members a year.”
Under the leadership of the newly appointed Director of Membership Development Leon Stavrou, AHEPA is making progress toward achieving that goal. The latest figures available (through November, 2003) indicate a national membership increase of more than 1,300 people. AHEPA’s goal is to increase membership in the next five years from the current 18,000 members to 28,000 members.
In addition to Georgalas’ establishment of quotas, the national membership drive has been aided by a waiver of reinstatement and initiation fees through the year; the establishment of chapter-based membership coordinators for the grass-roots campaign; the campaign’s use of the Internet, including an on-line membership application at www.ahepa.org, an on-line brochure outlining the organization’s history and its contributions in the arenas of philanthropy, education, Hellenic pride and civic leadership, and a national, “first-ever,” advertising campaign whose on-line “opening salvo” is a photograph of George Stephanopoulos, an AHEPA scholarship recipient in the late 70’s.
The message accompanying the photograph of the ABC journalist and former senior White House advisor in the Clinton administration touts the fact that “for more than 80 years, AHEPA has been a proud part of the Greek American success story.
“Every year,” the caption reads, “AHEPA provides scholarships to hundreds of promising young Greek Americans on their way up — helping them write their own success stories.”
In his on-line motivational message focused on growth, Stavrou also encourages AHEPAns to ask themselves an important question: “Does this [meeting, newsletter, event, debate, e-mail] help us grow?”
In AHEPA’s District 6 (New York), District Governor Theodore Manoulios reports that membership in the 39 chapters of New York had dropped by about 400 members from a high of 1600 to 1200 two years ago. Last year, however, an increase of 150 new members was experienced.
“It is the role of the District Lodge to conduct visitations to all the chapters of the state and help them to promote membership in AHEPA,” Mr. Manoulias said, noting that membership is open to Christian Hellenes and non-Hellenes alike who are interested in Hellenism.
“Scholarships are a major focus of AHEPA’s work, and in District 6, an estimated $20-35,000 are given annually by all the chapters, $3,500 by the district last year.
“Upcoming events include the Maids of Athena and Sons of Pericles Miss AHEPA Pageant on March 6 and the annual Greek Independence Day Parade on Fifth Avenue, in which the district has always had its own float.
New York District Lodge Secretary Dean Moskos, the chairman and former president of the Flushing-based Estia-Pindus chapter, one of the most active AHEPA chapters in the country, believes that a chapter’s activities and contributions to their community is an integral component of a membership drive. He notes that the Estia-Pindus chapter’s membership doubled in the period from 1995-2003 and a large percentage of its membership (“perhaps 40%”) is in the under-40 age bracket.
Moskos is especially proud of the 12-week, high-school level English-language course in modern Hellenic studies (including Greek literature of the 19th and 20th centuries) the chapter provided to ten students of the William Spyropoulos Day School in Flushing following their junior high-level Greek education. The effort to provide the course was organized by Committee Chairman George Sarafaglou.
The program garnered interest from AHEPA chapters in other parts of the country, and Moskos hopes that it can be continued in an accredited format.
Other recent Estia-Pindus activities include contributions to Operation USO Care Packages and participation in the District Christmas party hosted by the Staten Island Chapter for the Ronald McDonald House Greek Children’s Division, the disabled Greek children of YASA, and the youth of St. Basil Academy, attended by more than 400 people.
It is activities like these, and so many others, that, AHEPA Supreme President Georgalas believes distinguish AHEPA from other Hellenic-American organizations.
“AHEPA is involved in so many different projects; it doesn’t just concentrate on politics,” Georgalas, the former chairman of the Cyprus/Hellenic Affairs Committee, notes.
In addition to erecting a statue of John F. Kennedy in Cyprus, a project estimated to require an AHEPA contribution of between $25-30,000 by September, AHEPAns are involved in many other programs.
“The AHEPA National Housing Corporation is the third largest recipient of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants, receiving more than $400 million from HUD and providing senior housing throughout the country. We recently donated $36,000 to St. Basil Academy for new windows for the boys’ dormitory there,” Georgalas notes.
But when he was asked whether there are new projects he’d like to see AHEPA undertake, the long-time AHEPAn expressed his desire for a conservative approach.
“We have to be cautious and careful about how much we try to do. All of our efforts demand a lot of time and money; we have to be careful not to stretch ourselves too thin, and we need to be stronger financially to undertake new efforts.
“This national organization is supported by only a half-dozen people in Washington, D.C., and we can’t overburden them,” he adds.
If AHEPA’s activities and membership growth are the foundation of its survival, its investment policy is the key to its expansion. Georgalas, a graduate of the University of Virginia with a degree in commerce, is a proponent of an aggressive investment policy for the organization. He believes its current policy is “very conservative” and has asked AHEPAn Steve Georgalakas, of Washington, D.C., to conduct a financial review, including an examination of “how [AHEPA] makes investments.”