A LIFE FULL OF PASSION FOR THE GREEK-AMERICAN COMMUNITY AND PHILANTHROPY
Eleni Bousis is not just the President of the Board for the Greek American Rehabilitation and Care Centre in Chicago. She is a unique Philanthropist, devoted wife, extraordinary mother and above all she is a proud member of the Greek American community.
By Dimitri Soultogiannis
New York, NY—I had the chance to speak with Eleni at the beginning of this month. I could not help but notice her passion for life, her vision for the Rehabilitation and Care Centre as well as Hellenism in America, her great concern about the future of the Greek American Community as well as the preservation of our ethnic identity. Eleni Bousis is not a woman of words; she is a woman of actions. Through Philanthropy and hard work she has managed to, maybe, not change this world but certainly make it a better place to live in, and that is especially true for the elderly and handicap children.
Being the President of the Board for the Greek American Rehabilitation and Care Centre was not an easy task. It was a critical and tenacious job that needed to be done. “When I was elected President, I did not know that I was about to inherit over a four and a half million dollar deficit. I, along with a dedicated and committed board of directors, had to work vigorously in saving the only Greek American Nursing home in the Midwest.”
She immediately structured a plan of fundraising. “We had to work aggressively in paying the IRS and a three month default mortgage payment totaling $1.6 million dollars,” Bousis added. Determined to save the home, she made personal calls of financial appeal to many supporters across the United States. “I believed in my heart that the Virgin Mary, our ʽPanagiaʼ, was the moving force in saving and securing this ʽHomeʼ,” she said. “Our ʽPanagiaʼ has a sentimental place in the existence of this institution.”
Eleni Bousisʼ empathy for the home was ignited by the resident census, which was that of 100 public aids. These were all individuals that had no financial support. These individuals crossed the Atlantic Ocean with financial and language barriers, a foreign country called America for an American dream of freedom, education, and prosperity.
“It was our duty, responsibility and obligation to have them live with dignity in a safe environment,” Bousis said. “Humbly, I salute and thank our east coast donor that gave generously in saving our home. It is through his diligence and love for humanity that our home exists today. We are fortunate to have a committed staff, volunteers and board of directors that worked diligently and long restful hours in saving the home. I too, thank the many supporters, sponsors and performers that enabled us to raise over $7.5 million dollars to erase the deficit and make the appropriate changes in compliance with state regulations,” she added.
Today, the Greek American Rehabilitation and Care Centre houses 155 public aid residents, the government gives the Centre $133 dollars per resident and the Centre has to compensate the difference that is approximately $70 dollars. “As ethical Christians and Hellenes, we should not judge or condemn anyone for not succeeding, let us look at what is happening today, our country and the world are faced with financial instability,” she said.
The minute you speak to Eleni Bousis, you instantly realize she connects well with people. It came as no surprise to me that she graduated with a degree in Child development and Psychology. Getting married at a young age and having four children, she had to attend school part time. It was difficult for Eleni to raise a family and go to school at the same time. She believes in education and has been attentive in observing and analyzing people from all diverse cultures and backgrounds.
When asked about the people who have influenced her life, Eleni says: “I have many great mentors; my parents Angelo and Bessie Palivos. They were poor, uneducated people with hardly finishing first grade, with strong work ethics, faith, morals and vitality. They were humble people that came to America with four little children for an American dream of educating them. They wanted to give us the opportunity of education that was denied to them by poverty.”
And maybe this is where Eleniʼs love for life and education comes from. “My grandmother Eleni, her grace, education and love for humanity and her church enabled me to gain zeal and love for the poor and needy,” she said. “It was through her daily routine of visiting the ill, needy and poor that I learned to help and give without expecting anything in return. Also, Mother Theresa, for her humility and empathy for all those in need. She gave and spread love without any rewards or acknowledgements. Somehow, people relate me to her, a woman of love and contribute,” she proudly added.
Eleni Bousis is not “ambitious” with the common meaning of the word, as obtaining success, power and wealth. The only time she uses this word is in relation to future of Hellenism in America. According to Bousis, we would be really successful if we manage to unite every Hellene in the United States. Thatʼs her ambition, thatʼs her vision, thatʼs her real wealth.
“We have to have more transparency in the world, we should never forget or let our children, or the world, forget that we gave the lights to the world. We cannot forget our ancestors, the pain and suffering they encountered for us to live in a free country,” she said.
Eleni Bousis believes in our rich culture, heritage and religion, and says it is time for all Greeks to gain respect and honor from the world. “We have to spread love and ʽPhillotimiaʼ. I hope I can make a difference in building more Nursing Homes, Abusive Centers, and Living Assistant Homes across our country. There is a high demand, our children are faced with many challenges and our elderly are faced being along and neglected,” she said.
The President of the board for the Greek American Rehabilitation and Care Centre has always been a multi-task person ever since she was a little girl. She showed the world that when you are content and love what you do, nothing is impossible. Her children will tell you, “mom conducted meetings, fed the homeless, visited orphanages, fashion-show events for churches, galas for her organizations with us participating or doing our homework.” As a Daughter, Sister, Mother, Wife and Humanitarian, Eleni never deprived anyone of her duties, responsibilities or obligations.
Along with Care Centre, Eleni Bousis has devoted a big part of her life caring for and helping out, through related projects, handicap children. “My passion with handicap children was ignited when I was 15 years old, through the love that I shared with a young girl ʽZelaʼ, when I was hospitalized in Greece,” she said. Witnessing her roaming the corridors of the hospital in a wheelchair, Eleni asked her why she was confined in a chair. She told Eleni her father had struck her with a hammer and left her crippled since 12 years old. She also told Eleni she wanted to go to school and her stepmother wanted her to work, therefore, she was punished forever. Zela was left in an orphanage for handicapped children in Liosia, Athens, Greece.
“This girl has been a part of my life ever since. This was the start of my compassion for children with developmental and intellectual disabilities. That is how I got involved with Little City Foundation. As a Board of Director, I am humbled with the love and kindness of these children; they view the world with innocence and not hate or vengeance,” Bousis said.
Through the supervision of former Archbishop Christodoulos of Greece, Mrs. Irene Dorkofigi and Eleni were asked to help establish the “Frontida” abusive center. According to Bousis, his Eminence was a visionary man that like the late Archbishop Iakovos, knew the need for a save haven for women and children that were faced with many challenges. This organization was established and serves many families in need and itʼs located in Pendeli, Athens. Eleniʼs love for children knows no borders. She has a special connection to a town called Kakamega in Kenya where Eleni helped to build an orphanage and church when approached from Rev. Charles Omaruca, approximately 30 years ago. “A group got together and helped build what was much needed. Four years ago a genocide occurred and the orphanage was destroyed, so I decided to rebuild the orphanage for the children in need. Today, the orphanage serves as a safe heaven for children that need moral and ethical support.”
Eleni feels blessed to be married to her high school sweetheart, Dimitris Bousis. He too, a poor young man, came to the US with his family for the American dream. Together, they have four beautiful, intelligent, humble, giving and talented children, three boys and one girl. They are different and yet similar in many ways. They too, have learned from a young age to help and care for the sick, poor and elderly of the community. They humbly participate in helping with all of Eleniʼs endeavors.
As for her husband, he is a humble individual that believes that God has lent us everything therefore, it is important for us to give and help. “I could have never succeeded in my passions if he was not the wind beneath my wings. He gives me hope and encouragement,” she says. She also feels blessed to have wonderful and humble parents that worked three jobs to educate them and not deprive them of anything. “They taught us work ethics, love and respect for our church, God, humanity and country. Having three brothers, all three attorneys, was a joy. I was the princess of the household! I was and am very blessed by God. I hope and pray that everyone will have a beautiful story to share with the world,” Eleni concluded.