By David Bjorkgren, Editor

Special to the Hellenic News of America

Leadership 100 is keeping an optimistic eye on the future as it looks at a growing membership, increasing revenue for charitable giving and a well-represented contingent of young professionals joining its ranks.

That optimism was not lost on Leadership 100’s new chairman, Argyris “RJ” Vassiliou of Stanford, Connecticut or outgoing chairman, George S. Tsandikos.  Both were attending the organization’s 27th annual conference Feb. 1 to 4 in Miami, Florida.

“[Tsandikos] had four wonderful years here where membership has been on the increase. Our commitment to the ministries of the Archdiocese as well as being able to promote Hellenism and Orthodoxy in the United States has been impressive and I hope to continue on that path. With the help of the members and the grace of God I look forward to my term as chairman,” Vassiliou told Paul Kotrotsios of the Hellenic News of America, who attended the conference with co-publisher Aphrodite Kotrotsios.

“This is truly an enriching experience,” Tsandikos said of his four years as chairman, “but nothing gives me greater joy than seeing all the people here tonight and especially the younger people of the Greek American community. They are truly our future and will perpetuate all the ideals and values of our Greek Orthodox faith.”

Leadership 100 is a non-profit 501c3 national endowment program that provides grants for special projects and ministries of the Greek Orthodox national church. It was founded in 1984 by the late Archbishop Iakovos.  Grant money has aided religious and Greek Education, youth, young adult, family and marriage services, Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith relations, Internet ministries and home mission, as well as humanitarian assistance during national and international crises.  Archbishop Demetrios plays an active role In Leadership 100. He attends the annual conferences, and provides a bible study and lecture.

This year saw the highest attendance yet at the Conference, about 500 people. Leadership 100 membership, with each member contributing $10,000 toward the organization’s mission, has also grown, to about 1,072. Founder and Chairman Emeritus Arthur C. Anton remembers the skepticism in 1984 from the founders over getting even 100 people to donate $10,000 each to the charitable non-profit.

“And look what we have today,” he said.  Looking ahead, he thinks even more people will join, especially young professionals. Leadership 100 isn’t like other organizations because it’s full of love and joy of family and friends, he said.

“It was a nice night and a nice gathering,” Executive Director Paulette Poulos told the Hellenic News of America. Poulos, who has held the position of executive director for 27 years, described the Conference as a “phenomenal success.

“Tonight, we have over 500 guests and out of that 500 we have 200 young professionals who are here this evening.”  She pointed to the young kids dancing and said the spirit of Omogenia, of Hellenism, was alive and well. That, she said, demonstrates the success of the Leadership 100 program, which seeds and nurtures Archdiocese programs, including money to each Metropolis for youth camps.  “As I look at the young people tonight, I realize whatever we give comes back to us 10 times more because these young people have spirit.”

“They’re here dancing Greek. You hear them talking Greek and you realize that the church is going forward, that the Leadership, if we can play a small part in bringing young people closer to the church and to their heritage, than we have all succeeded,” Poulos said.

The keynote address at the Conference was given by Admiral James Stavridis, formerly Supreme Allied Commander at NATO and currently Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He was introduced by Michael G. Psaros, member of the Leadership 100 Board of Trustees and was presented with the Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Award for Excellence by Chairman Tsandikos and Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit.

Psaros praised the Hellenic News of America and the Kotrotsios family for their role in fostering Hellenism and Orthodoxy for so many decades.

Other speakers at the Conference included Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and current President of American University, who was also presented with the Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Award for Excellence and John P. Angelos, Executive Vice President of the Baltimore Orioles and President and Chief Operating Officer of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN).

Special recognition was given to Peter J. Pappas, a longtime member of the Leadership 100 Executive Committee and Board of Trustees and a prominent business leader and philanthropist, at the General Assembly on Friday, February 2, 2018.

Peter M. Dion, one of the founding members of Leadership 100, welcomes everyone to come and join Leadership 100  “and do something good for the future of Hellenism in America,” just as he, his wife and two daughters did when they became Leadership 100 members.

Dr. George Korkos, founder of the National Hellenic Society said being at the Leadership 100 Conference was very important to him because being Greek to him is “love of family, friends and faith.” “I am extremely proud of my heritage, proud of my mother and father, proud of the Greek community of the United States that is number one in education per capita.”

He also offered praise to the Hellenic News of America for its clear and transparent approach to bring information to the Greek American community and to keep the spirit of the community alive. “We owe it to our parents to continue our heritage. It’s an investment,” he said.

Longtime Leadership 100 member John Stratakis said he and his family were delighted to be at the Conference, one of several three generation families attending.  He sees his faith and culture through his children.  “It’s a warm feeling for us and it’s an even warmer feeling for our children to be connected to their roots and to feel a backstop to their lives when things are rough,” he said.

James Pantelidis, Vice Chairman of the Audit Committee, describes Leadership 100 as “strong, transparent” spreading the word of Orthodoxy to support the ministries of the Archdiocese, but also supporting Hellenism through the Metropolis youth camps.

Vice Chairman of the Grant Committee Justin Bozonelis said that $2.6 million in grants were approved for this year, bringing the cumulative amount of grant funds given since 1984 to $50 million. “Without going into the principal of the endowment fund, $50 million has been given to all these departments and ministries and it really has become the lifeline of the Archdiocese,” he said.

Member Chris Stratakis described Leadership 100 as “one of the finest Greek American organizations in this country because of the people that comprise it.” “We’re talking about people who give and never ask for anything back. The people give to a cause that involves our very own survival in this country as well as a perpetuation of our faith through the ministers of the Archdiocese.”

Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit spoke on Archbishop Demetrios’ behalf to the Hellenic News of America, emphasizing the importance of supporting education and Leadership 100’s role in that effort.  “His Eminence reminds us statistically the Greek American community is the second strongest community of academics, as an active group in the United States,” he said. Greek Americans learned the importance of education from their parents and grandparents. Now, Leadership 100 continues that mission by helping to fund ministries that are needed throughout the Archdiocese and other causes necessary to make the world a better place. Greek Americans thrive because of the communal experience, he said.  “You see tonight everybody is dancing but look at the difference between Greek dancing and American dancing. It’s community. The community is together. That lifts us up.”

Also attending the Conference was Atlantic Bank President Nancy (Athanasia) Papaioannou, who summed up this year’s Conference for the Hellenic News of America.

“It’s so amazing to see the younger generation of Greek Americans from all over the United States attending this event and year by year it’s getting more vibrant, more joyful and of course the most important thing is that our church unifies Greek Americans and the importance of maintaining this organization,” she said.