Easing the Financial Burden of Families

The Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital provides over 650,000 outpatient visits, 17,000 hospital admissions, 10,000 surgeries, and accepts over 1,400 hospital transfers per year. Their website states, “At Cleveland Clinic Children’s, we put kids and families first. Because we understand that children and their parents deserve – and in fact, require – an extra dose of compassion.”

The National Philoptochos Society awarded Cleveland Clinic’s “Caring for Kids – Support for families of children with blood disorders and cancer” program a $20,000 grant at the National Philoptochos Children’s Medical Fund Luncheon on October 12, 2013 in Pittsburgh, PA.

As Alex Calabrese from Cleveland Clinic explains, “The need for the ‘Caring for Kids- Support for families of children with blood disorders and cancer program has always been present, but was recognized and moved into action by a Cleveland Clinic Children's Pediatric Operating Room Service Assistant. One of her dear friends had a child who was hospitalized here at Cleveland Clinic Children's for a blood disorder. Through that experience she realized the added financial burdens that arise with having a child in the hospital, expenses such as parking, child care for siblings, and other day to day needs which add up quite quickly when you are coming to the hospital day after day to be with your child. The idea of the fund is to support the families of these patients and ease some of the hardship that an illness places upon a family. The fund pays for meals, parking and other transportation needs, hotel vouchers, gas cards, etc. It helps hundreds of families who travel far and wide to bring their children to Cleveland Clinic Children's Hematology/Oncology/BMT department that need assistance to pay for hospital stay related out of pocket expenses.”

One of the many things the program helps with is providing parking passes so parents have one last expense to think about when they are making multiple visits per week. As one family stated, “We need to come for at least three appointments a week. There is no way I can come up with that kind of money. The parking passes really help.”  The program offers one less thing that parents must think about so they can focus on their children’s treatment and not on how they are going to pay the bills.

“The financial burden of childhood cancer and the profound emotional stressors that are associated with this diagnosis can stretch families beyond their limits. The economic hardship that this diagnosis brings can have long-term effects on the entire family unit regarding their quality of life. With help from generous donors, such as Philoptochos, our family’s financial burden can be reduced. It truly takes a ‘village’ to help a family in need,” said Denise K. Hagen, MSSA, C-SWHC, LISW-S, from Cleveland Clinic’s Social Work/Care Management Department.

-Vivian Siempos

TeenScreen - Preventing Teen Suicide by Acknowledging Mental Illness in our Youth

The Fourteenth National Philoptochos Children’s Medical Fund Luncheon was held Saturday, October 12, 2013 at the Fairmont Pittsburgh Hotel with more than 500 attendees from throughout the United States. The Children’s Medical Fund Luncheon unites supporters nationwide every two years to raise funds for critically ill children. This year, donations totaling $136,900 were presented to thirteen area hospitals and research programs. 

The New Horizons Youth and Family Center’s TeenScreen program in Lancaster, Ohio provides free, school-based mental health screens to local junior high and high school youth. The Children’s Medical Fund grant of $12,000 will subsidize the screening and outpatient treatment of additional children and families who are uninsured or under-insured. Public funding for services such as these has been drastically reduced over the past three years, causing children with severe emotional disturbances to go untreated. The grant will help restore care for many of these children.

Our guest blogger this week is Tony Motta of New Horizons Youth and Family Center. He gives an overview of the startling statistics of teens with mental illness and those who have attempted or thought of suicide and how the TeenScreen program is helping.

TeenScreen provides the opportunity for teens to get a mental health checkup. Similar to a physical check up every year, it is important to make sure children are growing well mentally and are able to handle the challenges and set backs that arise.

TeenScreen is an evidence-based program that is tailored to meet the needs of junior high, high school students and faculty.  TeenScreen is a mental health and suicide risk screening program. 


The goals of the New Horizons TeenScreen program are:
  • To make in-school, voluntary screening services available to junior high and high school students 
  • To follow up with students who test positive, as well as their families, and assist linkage to appropriate care
  • To provide training programs to students, parents, and school staff and increase level of awareness in community

What is the problem?
  • Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for teens and young adults. 
  • 100 adolescents commit suicide each week nationwide. 
  • In Fairfield County, in 2012, 8% of high school students reported they attempted suicide; 11% have made a suicide plan, and 18% seriously considered suicide.
  • Someone who has attempted suicide is eight times more likely to attempt again.
  • Approximately one million teens suffer from depression; only 1/3 get treatment.

How does my child get screened?

The mental health professionals of TeenScreen educate students and staff about mental health, depression, and suicide.  Symptoms of depression, signs of suicide, ways to stay healthy, and ways to get help are among the topics covered when classes receive the program. 

Parent permission forms to participate in the TeenScreen program are sent home with classes that receive the presentation.  However, any student, 12 years of age or older, can be screened by request.

Once parent and student permission are obtained, the student answers questions on a computer for about 10 minutes.  They are asked about their feelings, moods, and behaviors.  The screen focuses on early warning signs of mental illness.  Afterwards, the student meets with a trained mental health professional to discuss the results of the screen. Depending on the outcome, the mental health professional then works with parents to determine the best way to help the student.

TeenScreen Impact

A ninth grade female student had previously refused to go to a counselor, per her parents’ request.  During the screen, the student demonstrated many symptoms of depression and anxiety.  The screen also revealed that these symptoms were drastically impairing her functioning.  She agreed with the screener’s referral for a mental health evaluation.  She informed the screener that she was hesitant to talk to her mother about counseling, due to the stress her mother has recently been under.  The screener contacted the mother, explained the symptoms, and referred the student for a mental health evaluation.  The mother was very receptive to the referral.  She reported to the screener, “This screening happened just at the right time.”  

Through the Signs of Suicide educational program, students are given the opportunity to speak with someone if they have concerns about the mental health of themselves or a friend.  Out of 5 grade levels presented to, 181 students requested to meet.  Many students shared concerns about a friend’s symptoms of depression and/or suicide.  Still others recognized the signs in themselves, as they learned in the presentations, and were asking for help.

A young lady in junior high scored positive for suicidal ideation, suicidal attempts, depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive on the TeenScreen questionnaire.  During the interviewing process, she confided in the counselor she had recently attempted suicide by taking several different types of pills two evenings ago.  The student was thinking about suicide and had a plan.  The counselor contacted the parent immediately and a referral was made.  Two weeks later she told me she believed had she not taken the TeenScreen questionnaire she would no longer be here because she had planned to attempt suicide that evening.  Over the past six months, I have witnessed this young lady blossom into an excelling student both academically and emotionally.  During the last six weeks of school, she was on the honor roll.  This young lady believed that seeing the counselor during the interviewing process of TeenScreen saved her life.

Thanksgiving Blessings

Dear Philoptochos Sisters,

Together with family and loved ones we celebrate the joyous Thanksgiving as we offer to the Lord our gratitude.

We keep in our prayers our fellow Americans who do not sleep in a cozy bed or share a bountiful meal with dear companions.  Our neighbors near and far may struggle with illness, pain and sorrow.  We pray for our fellow Americans under siege and ask the Lord to protect and guide them safely.  Let us, with sensitivity and respect, continue to respond and lift the hearts of our sisters and brothers.

We thank the Lord for all His blessings on this national day of Thanksgiving and on every day throughout the year.  I am grateful for the good works and faithful service of my fellow Sisters in Christ.

With agape,
National President

Keeping Kids Warm, One Eight Inch Square at a Time

The guest bloggers this week are Anne Lagos from Saint Luke Greek Orthodox Church Philoptochos Chapter in Broomall, PA and National Board member Alexis Limberakis. Anne is the Chair of a knitting project, along with Joanna Mattis, that aims to warm the bodies and hearts of people in need locally and internationally. Please read on to learn how a little time, some yarn, and a couple of knitting needles can make a whole lot of difference in a person’s life.
Dee Karras, Co-Chair: Anne Lagos,  Penny Mattis, Co-Chair:Joanna Mattis
During the past year, our St. Luke Philoptochos Chapter started participating in a new outreach project called KasCare-Knit a Square (www.KasCare.com).  The mission of KasCare- Aid for Aids Orphans is to provide blankets to children suffering from HIV/AIDS in South Africa. The online movement started in 2008 after a conversation between two families about the chronic shortage of blankets in South Africa. It called on the world’s knitters to knit or crochet standard 8” squares and send them to South Africa where volunteers would make them into blankets and distribute them to children.

In Broomall, PA, the chairs of the project met at the church three or four times a month to help members get started.  Knitting experience was not required to participate and for those ladies that did not knit, there were expert knitters on hand to teach them.  All that was needed was size 7 to 9 knitting needles, the desire to help others, and enthusiasm!  Expert knitters could make their squares when it was convenient for them.  

The ladies knit 8” squares in any color or design, in washable orlon or wool. These squares were then sent to South Africa. The children that receive the blankets are orphaned and homeless and many times have HIV/AIDS.  Our members have knitted hundreds of squares and we have sent 600 of them to South Africa.

The ladies have decided to continue the knitting project, but will now be sending additional squares, already made, and new knitted items, to an American based charity called Project Linus (www.projectlinus.com).  Knit afghans, baby blankets, hats etc. are donated to this charity and distributed to children in hospitals, the elderly in nursing homes and other needy people.  This allows the Chapter to be more hands on and help people in their community.

After a short summer hiatus, the group is continuing to meet two evenings and two days a month, to provide assistance to those that would like to learn to knit and contribute to the project.  By having both day and night sessions, as many interested members who would like can be accommodated.  This is a wonderful outreach project in that it allows members of all ages to participate and it can be done at a time that meets an individual’s personal schedule. The knitting sessions at church are open to anyone that would like to attend and it is a great opportunity for some Philoptochos fellowship.

We have been overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of our members and it has been a very rewarding project that we are delighted to participate in. 

It’s as Easy as Riding a Bike the Saying Goes – For Some Children, Riding a Bike IS the Challenge

The Fourteenth National Philoptochos Children’s Medical Fund Luncheon was held Saturday, October 12, 2013 at the Fairmont Pittsburgh Hotel with more than 500 attendees from throughout the United States. The Children’s Medical Fund Luncheon unites supporters nationwide every two years to raise funds for critically ill children. This year, donations totaling $136,900 were presented to thirteen area hospitals and research programs. 

In the coming weeks and months Philanthropy by Philoptochos will be focusing on the organizations that received these donations.

Variety the Children’s Charity in Pittsburgh, PA, provides children with disabilities unique programs, experiences, and equipment, so they may live life to the fullest.

The National Philoptochos Children’s Medical Fund awarded Variety’s “My Bike” Program, which was started on November 5, 2012, with a grant of $5,400.

We are so thankful for the extraordinary support of the Philoptochos Society, as it is going to create incredible impact on our work with children with disabilities and their families.
-Zachary Marsh, Community Relations Manager at Variety the Children's Charity

Variety’s “My Bike” Program provides children with disabilities with adaptive bicycles.

Children with disabilities face many challenges and obstacles, many of which go unnoticed by those without disabilities. The children themselves and their families, who want their children to have the same experiences, freedoms, joy and sense of accomplishment as any other child, know all too well what it means to not be able to participate in something that is such a hallmark of childhood itself.

Since its inception in 2012, 365 adaptive bikes have been sponsored – the equivalent to one bike per day for the first year.  An amazing feat and for many of the children and families who benefit, it is their first time being able to experience the joy of participating in a family bike ride. Among the many things these kids cannot do, Variety’s “My Bike” Program gives them one more thing they can do.

Their motto is “Changing the lives of children with disabilities…one bike, one child, one family at a time.”

Variety’s “My Bike” Program was developed after listening to a multitude of parents who said they wanted their children to have typical childhood experiences. With this in mind, Andrea Carelli, Senior Vice President, PNC and Co-Chair of Variety’s “My Bike” Program, wrote a personal check to sponsor the first bike of the program because she so passionately believed that no child should be left out.

The top three conditions of children who received adaptive bikes are Cerebral Palsy, Autism and Downs Syndrome.

James with his sister, Krissy
James is 10 years old. He has spina bifida and partial complex epilepsy. Since receiving his adaptive bike, he has been able to participate in a relay race in physical education and take his first 14 steps all by himself. His sister, Krissy, is so happy that she is now able to ride her bike with her brother. His mother, Mary, said “I’m not sure that I’ll ever get used to the surge of joy that I feel when he’s on his bike.”  James summarized his feelings by saying simply, “Happy and proud!”

A mother, Mandy, of another child, Josh, explains exactly what it meant to her and Josh when he received his adaptive bike:
“Most people know Josh as a smart, funny, loving little boy but few see how hard he has to work to accomplish daily tasks. He is often left in tears because he feels like he just cannot keep up with his friends.
One of those activities is riding a bike. It is heartbreaking to watch your 8 year old son try to explain to his friends why he can’t ride a bike.
On April 19th, Josh received an adaptive bike. Although there will still be many areas that may be a struggle for him, riding a bike with his friends is not one of them.
That first lap around the neighborhood with the other kids is a moment I will cherish.”

A promotional flyer from Variety’s “My Bike” Program may explain it best, “These bikes are much more than a handle bar and three wheels. These bikes are creating memories, bringing siblings and families closer together, providing exercise, and more simply giving kids with disabilities a chance to be like any other kid.”

The cost to sponsor one adaptive bike is $1,800. The confidence and sense of accomplishment that these bikes give children with disabilities is priceless.

To learn more about Variety’s “My Bike” Program, please visit: http://www.varietypittsburgh.org/MyBikeProgram.asp

-Vivian Siempos

Domestic Violence – What can you do?

This week our Philanthropy by Philoptochos guest blogger is the Department of Social Services Director Paulette Geanacopoulos, LMSW.  You may remember her from her Domestic Violence panel discussion at the National Philoptochos Convention in Phoenix, AZ. The presentation received rave views not only for the information that was provided but also for the depth of the discussion. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and with this in mind, Paulette gives us some tips for dealing with Domestic Violence when we are confronted with it in our communities.

During the month of October, Philoptochos asks that you revisit and renew your knowledge about DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, more recently referred to as INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE (IPV)

IPV is described as the physical, sexual, or psychological harm or threat of harm by a current or former partner or spouse.  It does not require sexual intimacy and it includes stalking and cyber-stalking.  IPV can occur among heterosexual or same-sex couples and is an “equal opportunity” public health problem that occurs in relationships among adults, teens and college students from all ethnic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds.   IPV is intentional, it generally escalates, and its purpose is to control and manipulate the other person.  For additional information about domestic violence, its prevalence and impact on the Greek Orthodox community, please visit our website at:  www.philoptochos.org/socialservices/factsheetsresources/.  We also urge you to download and print the domestic violence Fact Sheets found on our website along with the 24/7 phone number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline:  1-800-799-SAFE (7233), and place them strategically in the women’s rest rooms of your church. 

Many of us are at a loss as to what to do or say if we think someone is being abused, or if a woman reveals to us that she is in a controlling relationship.  Because how we react is vitally important, today’s blog focuses on our responses.  But first, let’s start with what not to do:  Don’t interrupt her while she is speaking.  Don’t let your facial expression or body language convey doubt or judgment about what is being told to you.  Don’t tell her what to do or what you would do, and don't imply that leaving an abusive relationship is easy - there are no quick, easy solutions.  Don’t recommend couple counseling – whatever is said by the victim in counseling could be used against her when she goes home, and it won’t resolve the problem.  And, don’t confront the abuser, no matter how much you would like to, as you could be placing yourself or your family in danger, and you could be making it even more dangerous for the woman who has revealed to you what is happening in her relationship.  

You can help a woman feel safe by assuring her that you will keep her story confidential - and doing so. When she tells you her story, listen attentively. When she finishes talking, ask, 'How can I help?'  Let her know that you care, offer to help her develop a safety plan for herself and her children (a sample outline is on our website), and let her know that when she is ready, there are people and agencies that can and want to assist her.  She may not know (and it is important to tell her) that thousands of other women experience such abuse and that special shelters, services, and laws have been created to help them. Make clear that the abuse is not her fault, that she is not to blame, and that it is her partner who has the problem.  Let her know that she cannot ‘fix it’ or stop the abuse, no matter how much she wants or how hard she tries.  Only the abuser can stop the abuse.  And remember, if she refuses to talk to you today or says 'no' to your offer of help, she has her reasons. Express your concern for her anyway. Tell her that emotional abuse and physical abuse are wrong and she deserves better. Assure her that you will stand by, ready to talk or help, if she asks. Then give her time.

Here is a simple checklist:
1. BELIEVE HER. She will not lie about abuse. Many controllers are so charming and gracious to outsiders that what you see of his behavior may deceive you. Even if the incidents she describes seem incredible, listen to her story and respect the way she tells it. Because abuse is so painful to experience, she may recall details slowly and in disjointed fragments. The pieces may not seem to fit together or make much sense. Remember that the violence itself is arbitrary and irrational. So no matter what she tells you believe her and let her know that you do.

2. ACKNOWLEDGE AND SUPPORT HER FOR TALKING TO YOU. She has taken a risk: her partner could hurt her, or you could reject her. Let her know you appreciate what she has done.

3. LET HER KNOW THAT YOU CONSIDER HER FEELINGS REASONABLE AND NORMAL. It is common for her to feel frightened, confused, angry, sad, guilty, numb, and hopeless.

4. LET HER LEAD THE CONVERSATION. You can ask questions like 'How can I help you?' but don't expect her to have answers the first time she talks. She needs you to be a good listener. And if she asks you to do anything within reason, do it.

5. IF SHE ASKS YOU TO DO SOMETHING YOU CAN'T OR DON'T WANT TO DO, SAY SO. Talk it over with her, and try to find another way of meeting the particular need she presented, and /or another thing you can do to help. Be careful not to impose your ideas of help on her.

6. TELL HER YOU CARE ABOUT HER AND HER SAFETY. Take her fears seriously. Feel free to express your genuine feelings of concern with statements like 'I think you are in danger.' 'I'm worried about your safety.'

7. DON'T BLAME HER FOR THE ABUSE. Let her know that the abuse is not her fault. But remember that her feelings about her partner probably are confused and mixed. If you express too much anger at her partner, she may feel the need to defend him.

8. OFFER YOUR HELP TO FIND RESOURCES IN THE COMMUNITY FOR PROTECTION, ADVOCACY OR SUPPORT – but only if you are actually prepared to follow through.  Please don't offer something you can't deliver.  If she wants to go to an agency or battered women's program, volunteer to go with her.  If she is in immediate danger, call the police. Always encourage her to get more support and information. Give her newspaper articles, books and pamphlets produced by your local shelter for abused women.

9. RESPECT HER PACE AND BE PATIENT. No one decides to give up a relationship overnight. Understand that for many women, they don’t want the relationship to end – they want the abuse to end.  She may also face threats and escalating assaults. So help her make plans, but let her make the decisions. As you plan, seek the advice of experts about abuse in your local community.

10. REMIND HER OF HER STRENGTHS, ACCOMPLISHMENTS, AND POSITIVE ATTRIBUTES. Avoid treating her like a child or a helpless victim.


12. REMIND YOURSELF THAT MANY COMMUNITIES STILL DON'T PROTECT WOMEN'S RIGHTS. Don't assume that police, courts, and public agencies will protect and help her. And don't be surprised if she feels safer taking no action. Do not mistake her strategy of doing nothing for passivity or indifference. Instead, find out what help actually is available for her in your community and offer to take her side with agencies, family, and friends. Try to find her a legal advocate from a program for abused women.

13. WITH PERMISSION OF THE WOMAN YOU'RE TRYING TO HELP, WORK ON EXPANDING HER CIRCLE OF SUPPORT. Find out if there is a support group for abused women at your local shelter or women's center, and encourage her to join. With her permission, enlist other coworkers or friends to help with childcare or go along to court. (You can support one another in your efforts to help the woman in trouble.) The more supporters she has, the stronger she may become.

Excerpted from 'When Love Goes Wrong', by Ann Jones and Susan Schechter, 1992 Harper Collins, Chapter 13 'For Family, Friends and Helpers'

Bullying: Is It Just Kid Stuff?

This week our guest blogger is Dr. Denise Millstine, a regular contributor to the blog and a friend, Denise is a member of the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church Philoptochos in Scottsdale, AZ. She is a loving mother, an excellent physician and a kind and generous person.  Her contributions are always enlightening and this post is no exception, please read on as she discusses bullying in settings we don’t always consider when the topic arises.

Bullying has become a hot topic in educational settings, and October is National Bullying Prevention month. Many schools have defined rules for bullying and have adopted no-tolerance policies for the behavior. The attention has, no doubt, heightened awareness and, hopefully, enacted change. Still, outside of academic settings, the concept of bullying is rarely considered. Is that because it is not there or that we are not recognizing it?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has focused some of their violence prevention work on bullying. In their report, “Measuring Bullying Victimization, Perpetration, and Bystander Experiences: A Compendium of Assessment Tools,” they define three hallmarks of bullying:
1.    Aggressive behavior – including physical and verbal
2.    Repetitive attacks
3.    Involves an imbalance of power either real or perceived

Rates of bullying in children are estimated in the millions per year. What happens to those who are bullied, who bully, or who do both? As young adults, they are more likely to have psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. It may surprise you that the ones who are both bullies and victims of bullying do the worst.

We probably all have an image of the prototypical neighborhood bully when we see the list of bullying characteristics. I picture him wearing rolled up jeans and a leather jacket in a back alley lying in wait as some nerdy kid walks home from school. If I stop though, I can see these hallmarks in other people as well, even adults. Consider complaints of a friend about pressure at work or with a boss. Have you known anyone harmed emotionally by items posted in social media, whether true or considered too private for the public domain? In truth, we have seen these behaviors many times among our contemporaries. For me, I never labeled this bullying until now.

Bullying in adults has been described in many environments, particularly graduate schools and healthcare. Much of the adult bullying literature is among nurses. With the broad use of social media among adults, however, the potential for bullying is fairly ubiquitous.

In practice, I have known two women who I now believe were victims of bullying in the workplace. In both situations, the issue involved a direct supervisor. For one, she needed to change jobs and relocate to avoid the situation. For the other, she opted to stay in her position but perceives her ability for advancement to be significantly impaired. I’m embarrassed that I did not label their situations as bullying. If I had, perhaps there would have been more assistance available for them.

What can be done about bullying? The first step is recognition of what is going on and understanding that the bully is the one with the problem, not the victim. Consider praying for the person even though they have hurt you. Bullies should be addressed in an assertive, but not aggressive manner. Humor has been helpful in some situations, especially if done kindly. Bullying is often derailed by having a witness, or someone on your side who knows what is happening. When bullying continues despite these strategies, professional assistance should be sought.

Bullying is different than other difficult work interactions and communication. Bullying has distinct characteristics that should be recognized, identified, named, and discussed with a professional. In that light, opportunities for correcting the behavior will hopefully be more likely.

Invite, Embrace, Involve – A Community Working Together

This week Chapter President Barbara Kuvshinoff is our guest blogger and although the beginning of the school year has passed, the “school kits” that her Chapter, with the help of the youth and adults of her parish, put together are just now truly serving their purpose. This is a great example of a community coming together for the greater good, everyone lending a helping hand.

How the school kits came about:
We used to have four different projects at Christmastime.  It was too much at the same time. Since we noticed that we had less activity and engagement during the summer months, we transformed one of our projects, the Christmas shoe boxes into "school kits.” We realized that many children needed school supplies but were unable to buy them. We also believed buying and donating school supplies would resonate with the youth of our church.  We have done it for three years now. We aim for at least 50 kits and have exceeded it for the last two years.

Here's how it works:
In July, when the back to school sales start, our Philoptochos Chapter distributes a list of

suggested supplies within our parish. Parents and children are encouraged to buy the supplies when they do their own school shopping. We also post the supply list on our Chapter’s Facebook page and try to spread the word so everyone participates. People who don't want to actually go out and shop for supplies often make a monetary donation. The first week in August we set up a collection bin in the community center at Church and it remains until the first Sunday of Sunday School. On the Sunday when children return to Sunday School our Chapter takes all the supplies and lays them out in groups on long tables, rows upon rows of erasers, pens, crayons, glue etc. On one end of the table there are drawstring nylon bags. After Divine Liturgy, during coffee hour, all the youth take turns filling the bags with the items in an assembly line fashion. Complete kits are boxed and taken to a local elementary school near the Church. Any leftover supplies are also boxed up into "teacher supply" bags and taken to the school. The nylon bags are funded through donations to Philoptochos for that purpose - we bought 100 bags for $150. This year a local office supply company donated 70 binders. We have a young parish council member who teaches at a high school near the Church that serves a very impoverished population, so we asked him to take the binders and extra notebook paper, pens and pencils there - so we expanded our program into the high school. We always receive thank you letters from the schools. We post them so that everyone can see them.

How we chose the schools:
Many of our students come from suburban school districts that are very different from the schools in the city of Buffalo. We wanted to choose schools that were close in location to the

Church itself. PS 45 - The International School, with its high population of refugees and new immigrants and where 95% of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, was a logical choice. The high school that was chosen also serves a very impoverished population.

We like the project because it unites the adults and the youth of our community in one philanthropic purpose. The children really empathize with the need for school supplies and our Chapter’s knowledge of organizing and publicizing the event ensures its success. Our children feel connected to the neighborhood surrounding the church and they feel like they are making a difference, even if it is a small one, in the life of another person. The project is also effective at involving ALL of our youth from JOY and HOPE through GOYA.

Barbara Kuvshinoff
Chapter President
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church
Buffalo, NY

Philoptochos Center of Philanthropy - Agiasmo Service

Monday, September 9, 2013 His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America joined His Grace Bishop Sevastianos of Zela, National President Aphrodite Skeadas, National Board members, friends and employees of the National Philoptochos office for an Agiasmo Service at the Center of Philanthropy. The Agiasmo Service is a long standing tradition of seeking God’s blessing before embarking on a new task or upon entering a new home.

The Honorable Suzan Johnson Cook, United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, a close friend to Mrs. Skeadas stopped by before heading to speak at the United Nations. She said a prayer and gave best wishes for continuing and expanding the philanthropic endeavors that Philoptochos is known for.

There was joy, laughter and tears – we did it!  We did it together! Every member, every Chapter, every Metropolis and every National Board member contributed in some way to making this dream a reality.

We want to share this day with all of you so that no matter where you live, near or far, we may all rejoice together over this momentous day for Philoptochos.
Upcoming events to celebrate the Philoptochos Center of Philanthropy:

Friday, November 1 at 10 a.m.
Feast Day of the Patron Saint of Philoptochos, Saints Cosmas and Damian – Open House

Divine Liturgy and Artoklasia at Holy Trinity Cathedral, 337 East 74th Street, New York, NY 10021, celebrated by His Grace Bishop Sevastianos followed by an open house held at the Center of Philanthropy.

Saturday, March 1, 2014
Grand Opening Celebration

A celebration of the Center of Philanthropy will be held in conjunction with the Philoptochos National Board meeting. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America will lead the ribbon cutting. A reception will follow as the culmination of celebrations for the Center.

Hagia Sophia: The First Great Martyr of Christian Art and Architecture, By: Nikolaos Manginas

Dear Philoptochos Sisters:  

We have just received this very thoughtful and important article which is set forth below.  As Orthodox Christians and Philoptochos members who are committed to the support and good works of our beloved Ecumenical Patriarchate, we thought you might be interested in reading it.  It is written by Nikolaos Manginas, a layman who is based in both Athens, Greece and Constantinople and who is well-known to us in the United States.  Mr. Manginas has attended many Clergy-Laity Congresses and has great respect for our Church in America.  Nikos is also the gentleman who is the Patriarchate's official photographer and who is tasked with keeping the visual chronicle of our church’s history on a daily basis. Mr. Manginas immediately welcomed our Philoptochos group at the Patriarchate during our June pilgrimage, and took wonderful photos of us when we were visiting His All Holiness at the Phanar.

As a keen observer of events in Turkey, as well as one who is a highly knowledgeable churchman, his article is an important one to be aware of-- we must be prepared to always set the record straight when people engage in "revisionist history" regarding Constantinople and our religious sites. His message tells us that the government in Turkey has its own agenda regarding the jewels of Orthodoxy and that it continues to misrepresent the historical facts.  Please read and reflect on what Mr. Manginas has written.  

With love in Christ, 
Anita Kartalopoulos

The following article was originally printed on The Order of St. Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's website:

Haghia Sophia: The First Great Martyr of Christian Art and Architecture 
By: Nikolaos Manginas  

It all started with the Church of Haghia Sophia in Nicaea. Then Haghia Sophia in Trabzon. Both of these glorious Byzantine churches -- which functioned for many decades as museums -- have now been turned into mosques, a harsh reminder of their forced conversion centuries ago. And this in accordance with recent sudden decisions by modern political authorities.
It is well known that following the Fall of the Byzantine Empire, numerous churches were converted to mosques by the Ottomans. With the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic in 1923, the same spaces were gradually converted into museums, which is what also occurred with the Great Church, Istanbul's Haghia Sophia, in 1934. Nevertheless, there are now indications that certain factions are endeavoring to cultivate in popular opinion the notion that Haghia Sophia of Istanbul, the symbol of Christian faith, should be turned into a mosque. A few months ago, a Turkish citizen submitted an application to the National Assembly for the conversion of Haghia Sophia into a mosque.
An even greater surprise came from the official magazine of Turkish Airlines, Skylife (Issue 361, August 2013). The cover featured a lithograph of the church drawn from the period of the Ottoman Empire and entitled "Haghia Sophia: The Sultans' Mosque." The lengthy tribute -- totaling twelve pages in Turkish and English -- presented the history of Haghia Sophia from only an Ottoman perspective, especially highlighting the period during which it served as a mosque. This selective memory cannot remain unnoticed by anyone who knows that for one thousand years without interruption, Haghia Sophia comprised the most significant Church of Christendom. Moreover, to this day it remains a powerful symbol for all Christians, especially the Orthodox.
This articles appropriates the image of Haghia Sophia to be a symbol of the Ottomans and a point of reference for the Sultans. Even though the article includes references to the construction of the church, as well as the ages of Iconoclasm and the Crusades, the claim is that the golden age of Haghia Sophia commenced in 1453 and the Fall of Constantinople. The whole history of Haghia Sophia is then set to spin around the axis of the Sultans.
Furthermore, in this publication, art historian Prof. Semavi Eyice states: "The Hagia Sophia is statically flawed by having a central dome perched atop a long basilica structure. The building was damaged in earthquakes because the dome is unable to bear the pressure. The architect Sinan correctly identified this weakness in the Hagia Sophia and reinforced it, ensuring its survival to our day. At the same time, Sinan was impressed by the Hagia Sophia, which became an instructive model for him." Moreover, Rotterdam University of Islam Prof. Ahmet Akgunduz observes: "The Conqueror's Hagia Sophia Foundation document tells the story of the Hagia Sophia and of the building of the five great imperial mosques as well as of the properties, both movable and immovable, that belong to these complexes. At the end there are also some harsh words for those who would violate the terms of the foundation. Putting aside historic rivalries and mutual hostilities, Hagia Sophia should be restored as soon as possible to the spiritual aura for which it yearns."
The special tribute of Turkish Airlines, Skylife mentions the return of the building to its former "spiritual aura." No one would disagree with such a judgment, but we would like to remind readers that the scenes depicted on the Royal Gate still await the fragrance of incense. Beneath their asbestos covering, the Icons -- the unique images and mosaics of historical, spiritual and cultural value -- are nostalgic for the sound of hymns. We must honestly admit once and for all that, in this structure, everything -- from the slightest pebble to the dome that surpassed all expectations -- happened for the glory of the Risen Christ and His Church. It all happened under Justinian, the Roman Emperor, for the Roman Empire that overcame all challenges and dimensions of this world (which in fact constantly tried to eliminate it!) and which ultimately became a universal concept, becoming, therefore, ecumenical.
Times changed. In the place of horses bearing Emperors anointed by God's mercy, conquerors entered the Great Church. Yet, from that reality to a claim and description of Haghia Sophia as the Sultans' Mosque, that gap cannot be bridged. The selective presentation of the Church's true history, a history that transformed nations and cultures, is unacceptable. It is truly astonishing that not a single word was printed to even sketch those moments of history. What of the magnificent moments of the Consecration of this spectacular Church? The enthronements of Patriarchs and installations of Emperors? The singularly sublime Services? The splendid lighting of the lamps, the feasts and the festivals? What of the daily rhythm and official life of the Imperial City of Constantinople and its people, which evolved inside and around the Great Church? One such moment is precisely the reason for which the whole Slavic world boasts of its over one thousand years of Faith in Christ. Because their predecessors, the people of Rus, entered the Great Church of Christ and witnessed and attended the awe-inspiring Divine Liturgy. Not knowing whether they were standing on earth or in heaven, they asked to be baptized in the waters of this faith, which created and still creates such universal wonders.
Last February, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew provided an interview to the widely circulated Turkish newspaper Milliyet. On being asked, among other questions, about opinions formulated by some on the reopening of Haghia Sophia as a mosque, he emphasized that it could only be reopened as a Christian church, otherwise it should remain a museum. The Ecumenical Patriarch declared: "With regard to Haghia Sophia in Istanbul, it served as a Christian church for over one thousand years. If it is to reopen as a house of worship, then it should open as a Christian church. Because it was built as a church and not a mosque."
Concluding our remarks, we certainly hope that this Church will return from its nostalgic silence, but only if it is to return to its original function and purpose, for which the finest and costliest materials were gathered into one location from all parts of the world "so that Justinian might conquer Solomon."

Note: For historical accuracy, we should remind readers that the architect Mimar Sinan (1489-1588), who designed the largest mosque of the city, the Suleymaniye Mosque, was born of Greek Orthodox parents from the village of Sts. Anargyroi (Agırnaz) in Cappadocia, near Caesarea, and was a victim of the forced levy and conversion of children (devsirme).


If you would like to view the article on The Order of St. Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's website, please follow this link: http://www.archons.org/news/detail.asp?id=673

Michele Genetos - My Journey to the Philoptochos

Our guest blogger this week is National Board member, Michele Genetos, who is serving her first term on the Board. She is an enthusiastic member that exudes positivity. She is no stranger to hard work and has truly given her all to the post. She describes her journey and what is yet to come.

My journey in becoming a National Philoptochos Board member begins with my journey to the Greek Orthodox Church. 

I was born in Staten Island, New York.  My mother’s parents emigrated from Hungary and my father’s from Denmark and Ireland.  Like most immigrant families who came to this country for a better life, they believed in hard work, giving to the church and helping those in need.  I was baptized Roman Catholic and attended Catholic school.  My mother was the President of St. Ann’s, the Ladies Guild.  We were always at church or school helping out, planning fundraisers, working festivals, bazars, etc.      

I moved to Florida for school and that is where I met George.  Small world, he lived in Staten Island.  He was visiting his mother in Tarpon Springs, FL.   George’s father was born in Constantinople and his mother in Piraeus, Greece.  George and I hit it off and were married six months later.  We started our married life in Florida and moved back to New York for George’s job.   We then moved to Arizona where we live today and have lived for the last 20 years.   

We have three adult children, Shanann, Minas and Joseph, three granddaughters, Gabriela, 10, Zoe, three and Layla Georgia, three-months and one grandson, Julian, soon to be four. 

 In 1990, George sustained an injury to his spinal cord.  He had no feeling from the chest down.  Several of the doctors said he would never walk again.   George and I knew it was not up to the doctors or either of us but was in God’s hands.  After many months of hospitals, rehab and physical therapy, George was able to walk with a cane.  We firmly believe it is through the grace of God that George was able to walk.  Unable to return to his line of work, George retired and became Mr. Mom.  I went to work full-time. 

Our Lord always leads us in the right direction.  After moving to Arizona, I worked days and took courses at night, earning a Bachelor’s in Business Management from ASU.  I became a Human Resource Director.

One Sunday we attended Divine Liturgy at Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Scottsdale, AZ. We were welcomed with open arms by Fr. Andrew and the congregation. The rest is history, bible study, inquirer classes, chrismation and a marriage blessing.  My Nouna, Marie invited me to my first Philoptochos meeting and told me I was joining Philoptochos. I helped with rummage sales, baking, events and fundraising, and whatever else my Nouna asked for.  My husband, daughter and sons are all members of Philoptochos and help out anywhere they are needed.  

 In 2002, I was asked to fill a vacant position on the Parish Council as Secretary, and ended up being elected to two, three year terms, as President and then Treasurer.  I was a delegate at the 2004 Biennial Clergy- Laity Congress in NYC.   That is where I became aware of the breadth and reach of the Ladies Philoptochos Society on a National level.  I attended the Philoptochos Grand Banquet.  I was astounded, and amazed by the dynamic and energetic women and all their good works. Why didn’t I know about this?  Why didn’t our Chapter send delegates to the National Philoptochos Biennial Convention?  I needed to convince them to do it.       

While attending a Metropolis Clergy-Laity meeting, I met Valerie Roumeliotis, the Metropolis

of San Francisco Philoptochos President at the time and we spoke briefly about the possibility of opening Camp Agape in Arizona. Valerie recruited Voula Dodd to assist us.  At our first meeting I met Kathy Connell from St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church in Chandler, Arizona who would become my Co-Chair and dear friend.  We met Jeannie Ranglas, current Metropolis of San Francisco President and Chair of Kids ‘n’ Cancer.  Her dedication and love for this ministry became an inspiration to us all.  With Jeannie’s guidance, we opened our first camp in Northern Arizona in July of 2007. This year, we hosted our sixth Kids ‘n’ Cancer Camp Agape in Arizona.  Jeannie has been at every camp, helping us every step of the way.   

At the end of my second term on the Parish Council, we retired our Church mortgage and I retired, deciding to focus on Philoptochos.  In the spring, I was elected president of our St. Barbara Chapter.  Valerie was a great mentor and through her encouragement, I was appointed to the Metropolis Philoptochos Board by His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos.  In 2009, I attended the Children’s Medical Fund Luncheon in Boca Raton, where National President Aphrodite Skeadas honored Valerie for her many achievements.   The CMFL was a shining example of Philoptochos’ love in action.  I was inspired and went home and shared the news of the event with my Chapter.

July of 2010, I attended the Biennial Convention in Atlanta as a Chapter delegate.  By then, I had a better understanding of the relationship between the Chapters, Metropolis and National Philoptochos.  It was a sharing of information and ideas and it was incredible!  I was on fire, energized and ready to go home and share all I had learned.  I wanted to “Invite, embrace and involve.”  It was heartwarming to be in the company of so many women who were likeminded about philanthropy and our role in making good things happen.  These women were trailblazers, dynamic and passionate. 

In September we had a new Metropolis Executive Board, Jeannie Ranglas became President and I was elected 2nd Vice President.  Jeannie is a true leader and a dear friend.  I have learned so much from her.  We would later find out our San Francisco Metropolis would host the 2012 Biennial Clergy Laity Congress & National Philoptochos Convention in Phoenix.

Rocky Sisson and I were awarded the Medal of Saint Paul October of 2011 for service to our beloved Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in Scottsdale. I had Co-Chaired the events that were to take place for the Consecration of the Church with Rocky. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America and His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco were presiding. I was in awe, speechless, it was magnificent.  I was tickled when my granddaughter Gabby, told His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios that someday she would be a Philoptochos President like her Yia Yia. 

As a member of the host committee for the National Philoptochos Biennial Convention in 2012, I attended meetings in San Francisco and Phoenix, participated in long conference calls, and received a plethora of emails.  And there were boxes, so many boxes.  I couldn’t begin to name all the wonderful women from the National Board I was in communication with.  Our San Francisco Metropolis Board and our Chapters really came through providing support, hospitality items and volunteers.  It was amazing to see how all the pieces came together.  I have a new appreciation of the work that goes into planning an event of this magnitude. 

In 2012 I received a beautiful letter from His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios inviting me to be a National Board Member.  I was humbled, honored, and filled with joy.  Our first meeting was in October in New York City.  I was instantly reunited with all the amazing women I met in Phoenix at the Convention.  His Eminence opened the meeting with a prayer and announced the reappointment of Aphrodite Skeadas, as President.  We all cheered!  I am grateful for the opportunity to serve on the Board with Aphrodite at the helm.  She is poised and graceful. Her words are positive and uplifting.  Her enthusiasm inspires.   After the meeting, we traveled on a bus to Ground Zero, said prayers by the September 11 Memorial and visited where the new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church would be rebuilt.         

At the spring National Board meeting, we were asked to host a fundraiser to aid the people of Greece & Cyprus.  On June 29, Josephine Avaneas and I hosted a Glendi (a celebration) at St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church in Chandler, Arizona.  About 125 people attended and the Assumption Church Greek Dancers entertained.   A total of $5,200 was raised for the Greece & Cyprus Relief Fund. 

I recently joined the PR/Communications Committee.  I am excited because I think I can make my best contributions on this committee.  It feels like I’m just getting started on the National Board even though, by the time we meet at the CMFL in Pittsburg this October, I will be halfway through my two-year term. 

I’m looking forward to the opening of our new home, the Philoptochos Center of Philanthropy and seeing Philoptochos move to the next level.   Looking at my journey, I think to myself, could my life in Philoptochos be any more wonderful or rewarding?  Then I think, the best is yet to come! 

For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works, which God has prepared in advance  for us to do.  
 - Ephesians 2:10