During its 5th Annual Gala, which it held on Friday, 29 September 2017, in New York City The “Hellenic Initiative” honoured UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Marianna V. Vardinoyannis for the breadth and duration of her social work and for her leading role in the Association of Friends of Children with Cancer “ELPIDA,” presenting her with the Hellenic American Leadership Award.
The event opened with the playing of the Greek and U.S. National Anthems, with His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America then saying the customary blessing. Following the blessing, His Eminence – breaking, as he said, with his usual practice, talked about Mrs. Vardinoyannis’ contribution, describing her work as “work of hope and love, work that is an international point of reference.”
Over 900 entrepreneurs, scientists, politicians, Greek community leaders, and representatives of the young generation of Greeks studying in America came from across the U.S. to attend the gala and welcomed Mrs. Vardinoyannis warmly. Also present at the event was the President of the “Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights” Foundation, Mrs. Kerry Kennedy, who two years ago, also in New York, honoured Mrs. Vardinoyannis with the “Ripple of Hope” prize for human rights.
Deeply moved, Mrs. Vardinoyannis received the Greek American Leadership Prize from the leaders of the “Hellenic Initiative,” Mr. George Stamas and Mr. Andrew N. Liveris, and, having expressed her heartfelt gratitude for the welcome and for the honour being done her, she highlighted that the Prize she was receiving is of special value to her, as it comes from the Greeks of the Diaspora and is awarded in the heart of the U.S.A., in New York City. “A country that, as Mrs. Vardinoyannis noted, embraced Greeks in difficult times and gave them the opportunity to prove that they can achieve anything … To those of us in Greece, you, the Greeks of America, are a second Greece, far from the homeland. You are our national power, a national treasure of ideas and values of great importance, and we thank you for this. I dedicate this Prize to the children of “ELPIDA,” who, for all of us, are symbols of courage, as they fight for their lives; symbols of a world in which they have a right to live in health and with dignity. And I share it with the greatest ally of my life and heart, my dear husband Vardis, and with my dear children and grandchildren, who are always at my side, inspiring my visions and giving me courage in my cause. For each of us at “ELPIDA,” the life of even a single child is worth fighting for. And this is a message being sent by the whole of Greek society, which has supported our work wholeheartedly for 27 years now.”
In closing her short speech, Mrs. Vardinoyannis stressed: “Today, in New York, in this space full of strength, spirit and creativity, I would like to thank everyone who shares the vision of “ELPIDA,” an Association that tries to make the impossible possible for its children! And it achieves its goals just as you achieve yours here, without forgetting our homeland, calling to mind the wonderful words of our great poet Odysseus Elytis, “Do not forget my country!”.
During her speech, Mrs. Vardinoyannis did not omit to officially thank His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America for the love he shows to the children of ELPIDA and for his support for the Association’s work; support he has shown repeatedly, thus imparting strength and courage to the members of the Association, enabling them to continue their work.
In his opening speech, the President of the Hellenic Initiative, George Stamas, spoke of the spirit and work of Diaspora Hellenism, stressing that “Everything depends on the dedication and philanthropy of the Greeks of the Diaspora, and on their love for the homeland,” while, referring to the Hellenic Initiative’s activities, he stressed: “Similar galas are held in London, Sydney, Montreal and Toronto, in Athens and Geneva, with the aim of gathering donations that will help our fellow Greeks in the homeland to get back on their feet.”
Also honoured at the gala were the Libra Group and its head, Giorgos Logothetis.
Hosting the gala was “ELPIDA” Messenger Sakis Rouvas, who also provided the entertainment for the eventing, which was met with warm applause.
During her stay in the U.S., Mrs. Vardinoyannis met with His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, at the Archdiocese Headquarters, where they discussed the collaboration between the Church of America and the “ELPIDA” Association, and the signing of the relevant memorandum. His Eminence praised Mrs. Vardinoyannis’ work, saying that it is globally recognized and greatly honours our homeland. During her visit, Mrs. Vardinoyannis was accompanied by “ELPIDA” BoD member Aphrodite Plakiotakis, who has undertaken the promotion of this collaboration and the Association’s relations with the Diaspora.
Deeply moved, Mrs. Vardinoyannis visited the Greek Orthodox Holy Church of St. Nikolaos, which is under construction at Ground Zero, on World Trade Centre Square, in Manhattan, on the site of the church that was destroyed in the terrorist attack of 11 September 2001. Father Alex Karloutsos, Archpriest of the Ecumenical Patriarch, who accompanied Mrs. Vardinoyannis, briefed her on the progress of the work and the architecture of the church, which was designed by Santiago Calatrava, underscoring the great importance of this church to the Greek American community and the fact that this church is a symbol of Orthodoxy and Hellenism that sends a great message from the heart of New York City to the whole world: the message of the unity and reconciliation of peoples . In her handwritten prayer in the internal wall of the Greek Orthodox Holy Church of Saint Nikolaos, Mrs. Vardinoyannis expressed the hope that “Saint Nikolaos protect all the children of the world”.
Mrs. Vardinoyannis also visited the Cathedral School of New York, which is attended by children of the Greek American Community. The older children welcomed her and spoke enthusiastically of the principles of the Greek education they are receiving and the importance of the Greek language, also expressing interest in the work of “ELPIDA” and its children, moving Mrs. Vardinoyannis deeply. The pre-school children had prepared a small celebration in honour of Mrs. Vardinoyannis, reciting poems and singing Greek children’s songs.
Mrs. Vardinoyannis then visited Ronald McDonald House, another creation of the Greek American community, which hosts children who are seriously ill. There, she exchanged views with the directors of the House, laid the foundations for cooperation with the ELPIDA Hostel, and extended a heartfelt invitation to the Greek children being hosted there to come to Greece in the summer to attend the therapeutic camp organized by the “ELPIDA Youth” Committee.