An exclusive interview with the new supreme President on the organization and its recruiting efforts, the Greek American Youth and his family tradition to fight for our national issues
New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
The election of the new Supreme President of the AHEPA Nick Karacostas received high remarks from the Greek American Community of the New York Metropolitan area. Not only because he is the first New Yorker to take the highest post in the largest Greek American organization, in the last 38 years, but also because Nick Karacostas represent the grass roots of our community. From the GOYA of the St Nicholas Community in Flushing, to the Pancyprian Youth, the Pancyprian and the Cyprus-US Chamber of Commerce, Nick Karacostas climb slowly every level of the so called “organized Omogeneia” excelling in public service.
This is the main reason many community leaders believe that understanding the mentality of the largest Greek Community in the United States, he will help to accelerate the recruiting efforts of AHEPA in the North East, a geographical area in which the organization is not as strong.
Greek News had an extensive interview with the new president, during which we discussed his immediate and future plans for the AHEPA, as well as issues concerning our community and the Greek American Youth.
Q: Mr. Karakostas was a surprise to you that you ran unopposed?
A: Not really, during the course of the year in my travels throughout the many AHEPA Chapters I had heard that I was an acceptable candidate from many around the United States and Canada and of course Greece and Cyprus and they were hoping that there would not be any opposition. As a result – I would like to think because of my good work over the years – most of the AHEPA members found me to be experienced enough and ready enough to take on the Presidency without any opposition.
Q: I understand that this puts a lot on your shoulders right?
A: Certainly the expectations are very high and some of the good work that was created and started by my predecessors including the two immediate presidents, Gus James and Ike Gulas, who both served two terms and have done an excellent job, the burden shifts to me now to continue that good work.
Q: Can you elaborate a bit more on your priorities for the next year?
A: First and foremost we need to reestablish a connection with the Chapter members. Much of the focus over the last years has been Washington DC and our lobbying efforts, which is very important. However we cannot forget, the reason that the AHEPA is the largest and oldest Greek-American Organization was because of the grass roots membership in the various Chapters around the United States and Canada. And as you know we are slightly older organization in terms of age and we have started to make a youth movement. I would like to continue that and reenergize and revitalize the base.
So first on the agenda is membership, local membership. In order to facilitate that instead of having one banquette in Washington DC as we have always done, as has been our tradition , this year one of my programs will be to have four local, regional banquettes , in New York, in Houston Texas, in Los Angeles California and in Chicago Illinois, to attract the local, regional Chapters to participate. At those banquettes we will honor politicians, philanthropists, humanitarians etc. and that would create more excitement and more participation from the local level.
In addition to the membership we want to continue the good work that we do on behalf of Greece and Cyprus, we want to continue the good work that we do on the Hill with our Congressmen and Senators, we want to continue the good work that we do with our educational foundation and of course last but not least the housing for elderly and the Coolidge Anemia Foundation.
Q: Of course AHEPA was created in a tough period for Greeks in America and played a very crucial role in protecting Greeks and elevated their social status in the United States. Today, something like 87 years later how the purpose of AHEPA is established?
A: Thatʼs a good question. Initially was to fight racism and ethnic persecution like organizations such as the Ku-Klux-Klan , it was initially to help the Greek immigrants assimilate in the United States environment and culture but now as you pointed out that has changed and our mission statement of course is to promote family, education, civic responsibility and individual excellence. Our focus over the years has been to continue and promote our culture, our heritage, our language and we do that through the educational scholarships that we give the cultural programs that we have, we raised awareness over AHEPAʼs name and the traditions that it holds through our housing, we are the largest organization that has senior residents housing around the United States and also through our philanthropic programs where we donate money to charity such as Coolidge Anemia Foundation which is very important to us.
Q: You have a 25 year history as a member of AHEPA, you were member of the Sons of Pericles, and you are only 46 years old, so, it is a lifetime for you. So you can answer me the question, what being an Ahepan really means and how being a part of AHEPA elevated to its highest position has changed your life and what does this mean to you.
A: I started with the Youth Program and the Sons of Pericles as you pointed out. And initially was to merely meet people and play sports, but because the AHEPA has so much to offer in terms of educational programs and in terms of learning how our government works and learning how our constitutional system works, it became a labor of love because I wanted to go to Law School.
Through my acquaintances in the AHEPA I was able to meet people that helped me along the way with recommendations for Law School, my first job out of Law Schools and because of the values that the AHEPA instilled, in me besides those of course that my parents instilled in me, those values were able to push me along. I was able to become a lawyer and I felt that it was something that I had to give back to the community.
The AHEPA has such a great history, one that is easily identifiable with most of us who are Greek immigrants and the culture that it preserves is very important. So the years that I was able to serve in the various capacities in the AHEPA were very gratifying because of the great work that AHEPA does and let me to strive to one day that I became Supreme President, which is really an honor for me and a dream come true.
Q: Mr. Karakostas I wonder if other young Greek-Americans are offered the same opportunity as you had. I guess someone approached you and introduced you to AHEPA, taking from my children that are old enough to be in the AHEPA or other children whose parents are first generation immigrants, no one approaches them really. And as you said your first priority is the membership drive and getting closer with these Greeks, how can you offer similar opportunities to our young generation to know about AHEPA and become members of AHEPA and strengthen AHEPA?
A: The problem is today there are many more organizations and many more social type organizations that exist and it becomes a little more difficult for our youth to choose between the many organizations. They only have so much time as you know because of school and work and starting families etc.
Q: Let me interrupt you, they choose to stay home most of them.
A: Well thatʼs a good point too because of the computer and the video games today it does not challenge the children to get out the way they did when I was growing up, there was no computers back then, there was no video games and there was no internet cafes and there was no Kafeneio where you sit there with your computer or your blackberry. I mean the responsibility is on us and when I say us I mean the older generation and not just AHEPA but the responsibility is on all of us to educate our youth and certainly, one of the things that AHEPA has done in the last two years is become more technologically advanced. Members can join online, they donʼt have to belong to a Chapter, members can get our press releases and our magazine online, they donʼt have to belong to a Chapter, and they can participate in our events without being members.
So we try to make it more comfortable to them and more attractive to them and we try to spread the word through media such as yours so that they understand .that there is this wonderful organization that offers so many different aspects that they can perhaps identify with one of the programs of the many that AHEPA has.
Q: You are not only a product of AHEPA from your very youth but also your participation in the Pancyprian, you played soccer, just tell me few things about these activities as a young boy and how you made up your time and what is the message to the other young people, I mean can you make up time for everything and how we encourage all our young people to start earlier on, like the youth teams of Eleftheria Pancypian , how a young boy can take all these things and move on with his life the same time?
A: As you stated earlier on in my life I was a member of the Pancyprian Youth Division That certainly helped me to be part of a team and learned what itʼs like to work together and participate and have a common goal where we all can focus on something, on an issue or a program that we want to advance. It provides the discipline and the aspiration that I think all youth need to have. Organizations like the Pancyprian and like the Greek Orthodox Association, the GOYA and the Boy Scouts of America, these are the organizations that provide the values and the leadership that most young people require.
Many young people cannot participate in multiple activities or multiple organizations. For me it was something easy because I loved to be with especially the Greek Orthodox youth, between the Church, between the Pancyprian and between the Sons of Pericles I was able to participate in all of them and really take it as an educational opportunity where I would learn many things about how I wanted to formulate my life. All those organizations are still available and they should all continue to provide the same service and the young people should try to find one if not multiple that they identify with and so long as they are involved there is a process where they can get an education and have aspirations and goals that they can try to live to.
Q: Sometimes first generation immigrants who came at older age in the United States they loose time I would dare to say, and efforts in Organizations that practically have very little significance and future. How AHEPA could approach these people and some of these people feel alienated from the Organization, how could they become a member?
A: Well as I said the AHEPA offers so many programs that it is easy to identify with one of the many, I mean we have an excellent athletic program, we have excellent educational foundation, we have excellent cultural foundation so the idea is for those that are interested to identify with something where they can have a beginning with the order of AHEPA , itʼs not easy nowadays to be an organization that provides complete satisfaction to all of the members and yes sometimes some of the younger members feel alienated but now that we have I believe a much younger President the last starting with Mr. Gulas and now with me, we project I believe a more attractive image in terms of having some interest from the youth and having them participate in a more active fashion.
Q: You have also heard Iʼm sure that the strength of AHEPA is in the South and not in the Northeast, right?
A: I think it varies. The Northeast and specifically New York the numbers have dwindled a little bit because of the fact that there are so many other organizations and thereʼs only so much time that most people can effort. But the strength of AHEPA is throughout the United States in different parts of the country more significant than others but the overall strength is because of the thousands of members who belong to the order of AHEPA.
Q: Let me pass to another chapter, the relationship of AHEPA with other major Greek organizations. We know that wherever there is a community there is a Chapter of AHEPA of course, thatʼs why you have so large membership all over the States. But how the relationship of AHEPA with other organizations like SAE like other things, do you consider improving this relationship?
A: I think we have had a very good relationship over the years. I would do my best to continue if not make that relationship better, my term as Presidency will be inclusive and not exclusive. I think we are here to work together and we will work in conjunction with all the other organizations and advance all our common goals.
A FAMILY OF FIGHTERS
Q: Let me be a bit personal. You come from a family of fighters for our national causes, your father Andreas was one of the most modest persons who fought for Cyprus, he was a fighter for EOKA. One who barely speaks about what he has done during that tough time for Cyprus, your mother also was there, your uncle Philip and all your other relatives work for the community and for national issues. How has this influenced you?
A: Certainly my parents were to me most instrumental than any accomplishment I have had in life. I stand on their shoulders and I try to make them proud with every action that I take and they were role models for me when growing up. You are right that my father does not speak about his days with regard to the fight for the freedom of Cyprus against the British for independence. But I see from his actions how important it was to him and of course my other family members , especially Philip Christopher and Fani Petallides-Holiday, Iʼve watched them unselfishly and with a great deal of strength, fight for the freedom of Cyprus and all the causes on behalf of the Hellenic Republic. There was no doubt that these are very important issues and as I was growing up to watch them fight and be in the forefront of all these issues and spent millions of dollars of their own money without any question, where their heart lied, was truly an inspiration to me and I think assisted me and helped me focus the way I wanted to offer my services back to the community.
Q: You understand of course that your election raised the expectations because of all this history that you carry on your shoulders, right?
A: I do, I do and I can only hope that I will live up to the expectations. I know that my heart is committed, it is a labor of love for me, but itʼs something personal from the heart and I have great plans and I have a wonderful vision and I want to be successful and I hope that I will.