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

Vickie Scaljon - Sharing Her Philanthropic Spirit

Vickie Scaljon is a National Board Member who has the heart and the drive to make things happen. Born, raised and living in Atlanta, GA she is a true southern belle. Dedication to the Church and to Philoptochos is something that was instilled in her in at a very young age and she has passed the traditions, the love and the philanthropic spirit on to her children.

Vickie’s father was born in Greece and immigrated to the United States. He was a surgeon and also gave back to his profession by teaching at Emory University. Her mother grew up in Marietta, GA. Vickie says she is one of the few natives left in Atlanta. She has two brothers, one followed in her father’s footsteps and became a surgeon and the other is an attorney. Atlanta was a great place to grow up, Vickie said. She has fond memories of her childhood. At the time of her teenage years it was on the verge of becoming an international city. In the 1960s it was still a big country town. Her family was respectful of and followed Greek cultural traditions. They went to Greece every year and Vickie is still so thankful to her family for giving her the gift of the Greek language. As children, her and her brothers attended both Sunday school and Greek school. 


Vickie with her grandson J.W.
Her mother, Mimi Skandalakis, was a member of her Chapter in Atlanta for her entire adult life. She became more involved with National Philoptochos between 1981 and 1982 when the Archdiocese held their Clergy-Laity in Atlanta and she was assigned to the hospitality committee. Her and her husband had always been very involved in the parish council. A year or two after the Clergy-Laity, His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory, chose her to be on the National Board.

Mimi was a strong and dedicated member, always trying to make improvements to the way things were done. It was her idea to move the Children’s Medical Fund Luncheon from being strictly in New York City to changing locations throughout the United States so that many organizations across the country could benefit from this great Fund. Dina Skouras Oldknow was the President at the time and she thought it was a great idea and was very supportive. She saw this as a wonderful way to broaden the CMF’s reach and give local Chapters the opportunity to participate and have some input on a National level. The first CMFL outside of NYC was in Atlanta and Mimi Chaired the event with Vickie as her Co-Chair. Planning was done with local Chapter involvement. “The whole point of Mom’s thinking was inclusiveness, inclusiveness, inclusiveness.” Vickie says. It was a great success and the model they created of having a National Board meeting the day before the event instead of having a separate meeting in another location saved and continues to save on costs and carbon emissions. Mimi brought the organization into the 21st Century.

Mimi was appointed National Philoptochos President in 1994 by His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory. She worked to have Philoptochos programs known throughout the country and was in communication with everyone within the organization and without to make it happen.

Vickie was appointed to the National Board in 1991 after her participation in the CMFL. Vickie’s local Philoptochos Chapter has a wide range of ages, personalities and skills – it’s truly dynamic. Vickie said, “It’s not how much money you raise, it’s about participation. This is the key to success.” Both she and her daughter, also a member, have many friends within their Chapter. Her daughter, Mimi, is a prosecutor in Marietta, GA.  In 1995 when Vickie was Chapter President they raised $18,000 from their Vasilopita luncheon. It was a milestone year and the ladies of the Chapter have continued to increase their fundraising amounts year after year. Vickie says it is one of their biggest fundraisers, everyone is very committed. The Chapter comes together and puts on a wonderful luncheon and of course they have delicious Easter bread available.

Outside of her commitments to the Church and her Philoptochos Chapter, Vickie has been a member of the Junior League of Atlanta for 35 years. The Association of Junior Leagues International Inc. (AJLI) is an organization of women committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving communities.

Vickie is also a member, along with her daughter, of the Forward Arts Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to supporting and fostering the visual arts in Atlanta. Members actively promote cultural programming and individual artists through grants and other programs. Vickie and Mimi held a lecture on Byzantine Iconography. Many women were unfamiliar of this art form that is so closely tied to our Orthodox religion and they marveled at the beauty of it.  
“I’m very proud of our Church, our religion and our background.” Vickie said.

Vickie received her B.S. in Journalism from the University of Georgia. At that time she was working in her father’s office when a gentleman came in from North Carolina. He had cancer and unfortunately the prognosis was not a good one. This gentleman’s family would come with him on visits and this is how Vickie met her husband, Bill. He was in medical school in Memphis, TN at the University of Tennessee in Memphis and was visiting with his uncle whose doctor was Vickie’s father. Bill and Vickie married and Vickie received her Master’s in Journalism at the University of Memphis.

Vickie’s son Michael is an attorney, like his uncle and is expecting his first child in August. Her daughter has a son named J.W. Vickie is of coursing a doting grandmother and feels so grateful that she has her children close.

Vickie and her husband love to travel. They just returned from a cruise that went from Venice to Greece to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. They went to Ireland last year. But Vickie still loves going to Greece even if she has gone many times. She loves the Greek culture and the people. “Everyone is so nice.” Vickie says. She is so happy that she can speak the language and is cognizant of the fact that it is greatly appreciated in Greece.

Vickie has a can-do attitude and her love of life, her heritage, her religion and her belief in philanthropy are truly what make her a Philoptochos member we should all strive to emulate.


       


The plate pictured is an Easter plate that was commissioned for the 60th Anniversary of the Agia Paraskevi Chapter in Molai, Greece. Vickie’s paternal grandmother, Vasiliki Skandalakis, was the founding President in 1929. Vickie’s cousin was the President for the 60th Anniversary in 1989. Vickie’s aunt, her father’s older sister, sent it to her when she found out that Vickie was elected President of her Chapter. The plate now hangs in Vickie’s den and is very meaningful to her.


-Vivian Siempos

Rosemary Nikas - Moving Mountains

Philoptochos will always be a part of my life. 
    -Metropolis of Pittsburgh Philoptochos President Rosemary Nikas
Rosemary Nikas has a kind, gentle voice, a voice that can soothe even the most troubled souls. She is slender and nimble but don’t let that fool you, she has the strength and will to move mountains. 

Rosemary Nikas is the Metropolis of Pittsburgh Philoptochos President and she is at the helm of this year’s Children’s Medical Fund Luncheon to be held on Saturday, October 12th in Pittsburgh, PA. It is a grand undertaking but with a mission that involves helping children and their families through tough times during a child’s illness to giving grants to programs that are innovating to help children, it is a very worthy one. With eight children and seventeen grandchildren, the topic of children’s health is one that Rosemary can sympathize with.


Rosemary grew up as an only child in the very small town of Bishop, PA, located 26 miles away from Pittsburgh. It had a population of less than 500 people. Rosemary was an active child, playing 3rd base in softball and playing volleyball. She continues to be an avid skier. As an adult she has coached both softball and basketball. The last volunteer coaching position she held was as a coach to her granddaughter’s softball team, two years ago. 


Rosemary on vacation with her children and grandchildren.
 Rosemary met her husband at a softball game. They have been together for over 40 years. He introduced her to the Orthodox faith and she converted from Catholicism. She remembers feeling welcome from the very beginning, especially after speaking to Reverend Father Michael Varvarelis who was kind and patient, taking the time to teach her all about Orthodoxy. This is when she had the epiphany, this is where I belong. She lives in Canonsburg, PA with her husband and attends All Saints Greek Orthodox Church where she sings in her church’s choir, has been on the parish council, and volunteers every year at the week-long Greek festival in which preparations start as early as January.

Rosemary joined the Daughters of Penelope first (of which she is still a member) and after several gentle pushes to join Philoptochos by her friend and mentor Harriet Matthews, she did, realizing that the mission of Philoptochos was really tailored to her beliefs and what she wanted to do. Harriet was the Metropolis President at the time and offered both love and support. Rosemary joined the Metropolis Board in the 1990s and has served in various positions ever since.


In 2009 she became the Metropolis President. She credits her husband’s encouragement and support for her ability to accept the presidency; it is a large time commitment and as she worked full-time, his understanding and backing is what kept her going. When she took office she realized that there was something lacking, cohesiveness between Chapters, the Metropolis and National and her first order of business was to solve this. With the support and blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh, who Rosemary says is absolutely amazing, she began her new challenge.  His Eminence laughs when Rosemary comes to him with a problem, as she always has a solution ready. She tells him that with eight children, you never leave anything to chance; you always have to be quick with an answer so chaos doesn’t erupt. His Eminence has been very supportive of the CMFL and its presence in Pittsburgh and has been a confident pillar by which Rosemary knows she can lean, if needed. She also stated that she feels very fortunate to have really great co-chairs and a committee that is very dedicated to the event.


When it comes to Philoptochos, she is most passionate about the outreach, helping people one on one. As Metropolis President she says it is the small victories that excite her the most. For instance, when she works diligently to bring a disenfranchised Chapter back into the fold, to make them feel welcome and part of something bigger and little by little they become more involved and they see how important their philanthropic work is to the whole. We are all working towards the same objective, to help those most in need.


Rosemary’s most memorable moment as Metropolis President came a month after she was appointed. In October of 2009 she met His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew when he was visiting New York. She remembers it being one of the most touching experiences she has ever had. His eyes were filled with kindness she says and he seemed to have an aura of goodness surrounding him. “I was so proud to have been a representative of Philoptochos on that day,” she says of the experience. 


Rosemary has gained many great friends through Philoptochos and now it becomes an important part of her life.


-Vivian Siempos

Back to School – How Philoptochos Chapters Help

The tail-end of summer is upon us. The weather is changing and parents are scrambling to get their children ready for the school season. Kids have had the whole summer off and are excited to see their schoolmates again. The build up to that first day can be felt throughout cities and towns as everyone is laser-focused on getting it right. But what happens when there is anxiety instead of excitement? What happens when there isn’t enough money to purchase those extra items necessary for a child’s success?

Two Chapters have found ways to ensure this isn’t the case by providing the necessary supplies so children can concentrate on learning instead of worrying.     


St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church Philoptochos in Baltimore, MD holds their “Back-to-School Supply Drive” annually over the summer. They place a large bin, blue and labeled Philoptochos, in their Church and parishioners and friends fill the void by bringing in supplies. They send out a list that includes needs of students and needs of school nurses. The student list includes: Ziploc bags, tissues, pencils, crayons, rulers, scissors, glue sticks, etc. The schools nurses’ list includes: sweatpants in various sizes, insulated lunch bags for medication for field trips, stickers for students, tissues and hand sanitizer. This year they have adopted two schools that are classified as Title I which means that more than half the students are receiving some type of aid: free and reduced lunch, specialized academic attention, etc. One of the schools also receives students from kindergarten through 5th grade who were in refugee camps in Burma. Their goal this year is to fill at least 50 backpacks with these items to help bring smiles to children and parents who are struggling and to ensure that every student has an equal chance to get a good education.
 

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church Philoptochos in Ann Arbor, MI has partnered with Washtenaw Intermediate School District. The school district is supporting a great number of homeless students, kindergarten to high school, in Washtenaw County. They ensure that students have a place to shower every morning, are dressed in presentable clothing, have school supplies, and have food in their tummies. The Philoptochos Chapter collects school supplies, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, underwear, socks, etc. to guarantee these kids have the necessary items they need to live and ensure that their focus during the school day is on learning.

As the school year approaches we hope that all students will be focused on learning and all parents will feel secure that their children’s needs are met so they have an equal opportunity to thrive. If your Chapter is inspired by these programs, it may be worth reaching out to local school districts and finding out what needs are present in the community and coming together as a parish to lend a helping hand to assist all children be the best that they can be.
 


-Vivian Siempos

Bowling for Greece & Cyprus



As part of an ongoing initiative to help our brethren in Greece, this spring and summer the National Philoptochos Board was charged with hosting personal fundraising events to benefit the Aid to Greece and Cyprus Campaign. The National Philoptochos Society has already disbursed a total of $210,000 in 2012 and 2013 to non-governmental organizations in Greece.


We had a Q & A with three Chairs, National Board members Carol Stamas, Joanne Stavrakas, and Peggy Vranas, of a fun event hosted in the Metropolis of Chicago – here is what they had to say: 
 
Event Chairs: Peggy Vranas, Joanne Stavrakas and Carol Stamas


What was the name of your event? 

Strike One for Greece and Cyprus

Spare the Change!


Where did the event take place?

The event was held at Brunswick Deerbrook Lanes in Deerfield, Illinois.


How many people were in attendance?

About 75 people came ranging from 2 years old to 80 years old. All had a great time!



Where were they from?

They were from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.


 How did you advertise?

We advertised via e-mail, mail, and by word of mouth. 


Where did the idea come from?

The idea came from a conversation amongst National Board members within our Metropolis who wanted to hold an event that was family focused so all could participate.



What was the atmosphere like?

It was a fun evening for bowlers and observers alike.


What did you hear from the attendees?

When are we going to do it again?


Did you have fun?

Absolutely!


Why is it important to fund raise for the people of Greece and Cyprus?

Because there is such a great need.  Our hope is that what we have done and what others are doing will help alleviate the sadness and suffering faced continually by our brothers and sisters in Greece and Cyprus.


Marilyn Tzakis, Sophia Gabuzzi and Kathy Siavelis
Please feel free to add any information that was not covered in the above questions that you think is important or anything you wish to convey:

We wish our fellow Philoptochos sisters across the country good luck in their fundraisers!










Billy Vranas, Metropolis of Chicago Philoptochos President Irene Arsoniadis, Angelo Mourelatos, George Arsoniadis, Juliana Arsoniadis and Chrysoula Zannis





-Vivian Siempos