By David Bjorkgren

Special to the Hellenic News of America

 

When a tornado destroyed a Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Summer Camp in Greece back in September 2016, Leadership 100 was there with a financial gift to help them rebuild.

When the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries needed funds for its “Be the Bee” video series, Leadership 100 was there with a grant.

When the Orthodox Christian Mission Center (OCMC) needed funds to maintain its International Mission Teams, Leadership 100 provided a $72,000 two-year grant.  

And when the Orthodox Christian Network wanted to enhance its multi-media offerings and marketing, Leadership 100 was there, too.

Mrs. Paulette Poulos, Executive Director & Mr. George Tsandikos, Chairman

In fact, this non-profit 501 c3 national endowment program has been providing grants to fund special projects and ministries of the Greek Orthodox national church since its founding in 1984.

“Leadership 100 was started in 1984 by the late Archbishop Iakovos,” said Leadership 100 Executive Director Paulette Poulos.

The idea was to raise money for the national church so the individual parishes would not be burdened with those costs.  

“They have to replace certain things in the parish and there isn’t enough money so we needed to come up with some other way to help the national program,” she said. “Its purpose is to feed and nurture national ministries of the Archdiocese and to promote Hellenism so we advance Orthodoxy and Hellenism through our support.”  

They began with volunteers fanning out around the country, looking for 100 people willing to become members and donate $10,000 a year for 10 years to help the Archdiocese.

“The Archbishop said if you find a hundred people to give $100,000 to the church God can call me home,” Poulos said.  “After they found the first hundred they said to him ‘don’t rush’ because now we’re going for 200.”’

To date, membership at Leadership 100 has grown from that initial 100 to 1,056.  The Archbishop Iakovos Leadership 100 Endowment Fund is approaching $81 million and the non-profit has been able to give away more than $48 million in grants since the fund was created.  The money has gone to the national ministries, programs and the theological school of the Greek Orthodox Church.  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, according to the Leadership 100 website.

The group’s efforts aid students of the Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology. “Now we’re on a second $10 million grant and we’re going to be moving in 2018 to evaluate how we can better help our schools,” Poulos said. The money they provide helps pay tuition for the students in the theological division.

“The only stipulation is that after they graduate they have three years after graduation to decide if they are ready to be ordained. If they are, we wipe all the loans paid in full. If they decide to be a doctor or a lawyer or a banker they have to pay the school back the money.” Extensions are granted in special cases, she added.

How it all works

The Leadership 100 Executive Committee approves grants submitted by the Grant Committee after consultation with the Archbishop. The principal of the Endowment Fund is restricted with grants coming from the interest on investments. Endowment funds cannot be used for general operating expenses of the Archdiocese.

“Every year the Archdiocese submits grants and a grant committee reviews each and every grant and then we distribute these funds to the Archdiocese after we get the approval of our executive committee,” Poulos said. There are about 45 executives and board members who come from different Metropolises around the country to act as an advisory board.

Once a grant is approved, the applicant must provide twice a year progress reports to verify the grant is being used properly.

The largest portion of funds given between 1984 and 2016 (about 47 percent, or $21.5 million) have gone to the Hellenic College/Holy School of Theology, with $18.4 million used for scholarships, according to the Leadership 100 Endowment Fund grants report.  About 28 percent, or $12.6 million, went to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese; 8 percent, or $3.7 million, went to Humanitarian Assistance and other grants; 6 percent, or $2.8 million, went to Metropolis Ministries; 5 percent, or $2 million, went to clergy; 2 percent, or $1.1 million, went to International Orthodox Christian Charities; 2 percent, or $1 million, were marked as a special gift to The St. Nicholas National Shrine, while 2 percent, or $826,000, was given to the Orthodox Christian Mission Center.

In February 2017, the Executive Committee approved another $2,568,520 in grants to be distributed in 2017.

Why successful

A passion and commitment to the church, teamwork and transparency has made Leadership 100 a success.

“We have a great chairman and then I have a great staff so together I can’t complain. We’ve been lucky,” Poulos said.  

We also have a dedicated group of founders, a past chairmen and an effective committee of board members who demand excellence in reporting,” said Leadership 100 chairman George Tsandikos. That includes using Grant Thornton as the group’s auditors, distributing financial reports at the annual meeting in February and working with an audit committee that carefully monitors income receipts and expenses.

But beyond that, we’ve also been blessed by having the spiritual leadership of first, Archbishop Iakovos, a blessed memory, and over the past 15 years, Archbishop Demetrios, who has been instrumental in providing inspirational, spiritual counseling and advice of love,”  Tsandikos said. “It’s really a big family and it’s a family that has a connection of …loving the Orthodox tradition and our Hellenism…”  he said.

Archbishop Demetrius plays an active role In Leadership 100. He attends the annual conferences, and provides a bible study and lecture.  At this year’s conference Feb. 9 to 12 in Manalapan, Florida, Archbishop Demetrius spoke on the Holy Synod in Crete and about the return of the Bible to drama in Greece. His Eminence also officiated at The Hierarchical Divine Liturgy held Sunday during the conference at St. Mark Church in Boca Raton.

“We’re really blessed,” Tsandikos said.

We’ve been in existence since 1984 and we’ve done nothing but grow, not only in membership but in distribution of grants,” Poulos says proudly.  

26th annual conference

Tsandikos says another sign of their success was the record attendance of about 500 attendees at this year’s annual conference in Florida.

“We had an incredible and successful conference this year,” he said. The highlight was the attendance by Archbishop Demetrios. “It afforded people from all over the country to spend time not only with His Eminence but with the many metropolitans and other members.”

At the conference, they honored Dr. Anthony S. Papadimitriou, president of the Onassis Foundation, which is a member of Leadership 100, who gave a lecture on the importance of classical study and culture.  Also speaking was Marianna Moschou, president of ELEPAP-HELLENIC Society for Disabled Children and Steven Christoforou, director of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries.

James S. Chanos, a Wall Street investment manager, related his experience with a young professionals group recently organized at Leadership 100. “They cannot pay the $10,000 a year, but they start at the level of $2,000…and when they reach their 40s, they give the full amount. The process of this is not about getting their money but getting them involved so they can become future leaders,” Poulos said. “We have a couple hundred young people who come to all of our conferences and contribute faithfully to the program.”

Emmy Award-winning actor, musician and author Jonathan Jackson also spoke at the conference and performed with his brother, Richard Lee.

“Dr. Jackson spoke about his journey…and his faith and love for the Orthodox Church,” Tsandikos said.

Plans are being made for next year’s conference, which will also be held in Florida.

“We are already planning for that and looking for another opportunity to join as a family in God’s name and promoting our Orthodox faith and heritage,” Tsandikos said.  

Personally committed

Both Tsandikos and Poulos have deep roots in the Greek Orthodox faith. George Tsandikos is the son of a priest (Reverend Solon Tsandikos) so it was natural that he would want to channel his energies into helping the church.

“I had an extreme love and respect for Archbishop Iakovos who encouraged me to do what I could do in the furtherance of the church…” he said.

He became chairman of Leadership 100 in 2014, but has also served as vice president, past treasurer, an audit committee chairman, and was a longtime archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, according to a Jan. 10, 2016 article in NEO Magazine.

He describes his close lifetime friendship with Polos, as well as his respect for the founders of Leadership 100.  

“It wasn’t a difficult decision to get involved, but an honor,” Tsandikos said.

Poulos worked in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Department of Laity from 1965-70; was associate director of the Youth Ministry from 1970-72; then director of LOGOS (the Stewardship Program) from 1972-84.

She became an administrator for the late Archbishop Iakovos, starting in 1984 until his passing in 2005.

Continuing the Archbishop’s vision, she next became director of Development at Leadership 100, then took on the role of Executive Director.

In March 2015, she was named “Greek Woman of the Year” by the Association of Greek American Professional Women.

“I’ve been involved with the church since 1965 so Leadership 100 is a strong and vital part of that church,” she said.

Faith and Hellenism

“The Orthodox faith is the faith of wealth. I don’t mean financially, but I mean the time, the talent that these people put in. These are all volunteers. They leave their business. They leave their families and they come and they meet with us and they support us and they are constantly there,” Poulos said.

Tsandikos says his Greek Orthodox faith defines who he is as a Christian and as a person.

“It’s who we are, as Americans, as Greek Orthodox Christians, as children of God,” he said.  

So while organized religion often struggles in America to grow and prosper in this electronic age, it is the Greek Orthodox traditions that keep Greek Americans bound together.

“We’re fortunate in that we have our Holy Cross School of Theology that produces outstanding priests and it’s the priests as our spiritual leaders that draw people,” Tsandikos said. He finds it remarkable that as he travels around the country, he finds the churches are packed, often with young people. He attributes the church’s success to its uniqueness and “steadfast commitment to not changing with the times that we now face.”

“I think with our focus on youth, through Leadership 100 and through others in the Archdiocese, we’re hopeful that our church is alive and thriving.”

Tsandikos and Poulos thanked the Hellenic News of America for attending the Leadership 100 conference and for its continued willingness to convey the message of Leadership 100 to its readers and to the world.

“I also want to thank your newspaper for the good work you do promoting Hellenism and Orthodoxy and it’s very important for the Greek community to have a forum such as yours to keep everyone connected and to let everyone be aware of all the good that is happening in our community so thank you very, very much and we wish you a year of success,” Tsandikos said.