Life Lessons Learned in Philoptochos

December 2015
Thea Martin, Pittsburgh, PA

In Philoptochos, as in life, it is important to cultivate and teach the young. We continually work to come up with ways to engage our young Orthodox women because it is important to keep our organization alive.
When I joined Philoptochos over ten years ago, I was among the youngest members. I was new to my church, newly married, and looking for a way to create a foundation for my future life. Why not Philoptochos?  I was told that Philoptochos was an organization for yiayias who cooked and I probably wouldn’t like it. Perhaps, but my yiayias were no longer on this earth. I had never learned to cook, so at the very least, why not give it a shot?

It was actually very cool. Long standing members would call me after each meeting to gage my thoughts and ask my opinion, but mainly they called to make sure that I would be attending the next monthly meeting. To be honest, the extra attention was what kept me coming back. After all, the snacks were good and I enjoyed the interaction between the women.​ I especially loved the raised voices speaking Greek. I didn’t always understand, but somehow I knew what they were saying. 
We ended each meeting with a prayer and kissed each other good night. Ah…this was a family. My parents divorced when I was very young and my mother was not Greek. I was never part of GOYA, and I never experienced fun, loud, family holidays. But now, sitting around a table with fifteen or so women who openly expressed their thoughts and showed agape to all, it all felt natural to me. I wasn’t quite sure why, but I knew that Philoptochos was going to be a game changer in my life.

It is said that a wise person learns from their mistakes. A wiser person learns from the mistakes of others. But the wisest person learns from the success of others. I am always learning from the successes of more experienced leaders. I have experienced my share of mistakes, but I know that I have learned from them.
First lesson learned:

​It was probably not wise to send an invitation for a Philoptochos event that stated, “Yiayias stay home…you can babysit”. After being elected chapter president, my vice p​resident and secretary (who were also close to my age) ​thought it was time to shake things up a little.  We decided to hold a membership social that would take place in the evening and we put much effort into the planning. 

We designed a postcard that was mailed to over five hundred parish families.
We were excited to let everyone know they would enjoy an evening of creative hors d’oeuvres as well as Philopo-tini’s- our version of a cosmopolitan martini. While focusing on trying to attract young new members, we excitedly expressed an idea to them: “Yiayias stay home….you can babysit”.

Oops. What we thought was lighthearted and funny, ended up upsetting quite a few people. There were many phone calls that week. But in the end, we apologized to those we upset and when the dust settled, we had seventeen new members!
Second lesson learned:

My chapter’s largest fundraiser each year was our Mini Food Fair, a popular community event that raised money for our philanthropy. We younger members had learned a lot from watching our “seasoned” members negotiate with vendors, choose the best products, organize, and plan this huge endeavor. And we learned how to show respect to all.
Sometimes change is difficult, especially if things are working well. Over the years my vice president and I had many ideas that we thought would help our food fair achieve even greater success.

“What if we sold beer and wine at our food fair?” we asked during a meeting. We put numbers together to show the additional amount of money that we could raise. We were pleasantly surprised when there was little objection. We thought was official. That year our food fair would include beer and wine. Then the phone calls began. Some members did not believe that alcohol belonged at a Philoptochos event. Some said they would boycott. Oops again.
We didn’t know what to expect. This was our first attempt at change as leaders of Philoptochos. Here we were again, causing turmoil. My executive board met one evening to talk about leadership and what we hoped to achieve. That was a very special night.  We decided that our term was going to be all or nothing, beginning with the food fair.  With the fair just a few weeks away, any changes that we made needed happen quickly.

After the meeting, we headed to lock the community center doors. We heard chanting upstairs. We headed upstairs to inform whoever was there to lock the doors when they left. In addition, we went outside to see if we knew any cars in the parking lot. We realized that there was no one upstairs and no recognizable cars.
We all looked at each other and left.

That year, the revenue and profit of our fair doubled. The church bulletin’s headline read, “Mini Food Fair, Not So Mini Anymore”.
Looking back, we know the chanting we heard that night was a sign. Everything was going to be okay. And it has been. This year, our renamed Autumn Food Fair made over $60,000. As always, the money raised will go to our Holy Cross Philoptochos mission.

While we honor the traditions and customs we have been handed down, it is important to remember that young members can lend new ideas to our organization. Encouraging them and giving them an opportunity to have a voice helps them feel engaged. We can also learn new lessons from them. Working together, we can make Philoptochos a stronger organization and shepherd it into a bright future.


“How did you get involved with Philoptochos?”

November 2015
Diana Jianas, Newport Beach, CA

Many members grew up in the church, with membership a natural progression, “like your mother”.  For others, we became members for one reason only; someone approached us and personally asked us to join.
I am a convert and Greek on my mother’s side. Growing up, with no Greek church close by we attended our local Episcopal church.  When I started to date my future Greek husband Alex, I decided to join the Greek Church.  I was not approached to join Philoptochos so I was content to stay away.  The church we were attending began to experience some difficult challenges and we were moving out of the area so the timing was right for us to start going to a new church, which was not Greek Orthodox.  We attended the church for a couple years but I always felt something was missing.  During this break from Orthodoxy, I did have the extraordinary opportunity to go to the Patriarchate and meet His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew.  After that meeting, I knew I had to make my way back to the Greek Church.

We began attending St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine, California.  It is a beautiful church of a modern design and mosaic Byzantine-style iconography, which was quite a change from the traditional Greek Church we had been attending.  Not only did the church look different, the services were conducted in English and the congregation was much younger and very friendly.  I immediately felt like we had found a home.
One Sunday at coffee hour, National Board member Kathy Gabriel personally asked me to join Philoptochos. Her motto, as National Membership chairman, was INVITE, EMBRACE, INVOLVE.  Her invitation has had a lasting impact on my life and I can never thank her enough.

My cousin, Celeste Moschos, who is also on our National Board, told me while on that trip to the Patriarchate, that some of her dearest, closest friendships were a result of her involvement in Philoptochos.  I now know what she meant as I cherish my friendships with fellow Chapter, Metropolis and National Philoptochos sisters.
Reach out to someone who might just be waiting for that invitation. Perhaps you will find that they just wanted to feel included. As Philoptochos members we need to reach members through personal contact and by extending that invitation, it could change their life too.


The Joy of Cooking

October 2015
Valine Georgeson, Atlanta, Georgia

We have all heard comments from time to time from individuals who express a desire that Philoptochos eliminate all forms of cooking from its activities. In their mind, cooking is not an activity that will attract new members or keep current members interested. The idea of pastry baking is sometimes equated with the end of the world!
Well, I am here to talk about the pleasure and value of cooking together as Philoptochos women! As someone who has done a great deal of cooking and baking for Philoptochos fundraising and hospitality, I have come to realize that when our members are cooking together, there is so much more happening in the kitchen than food preparation.

What do I mean by this?
The kitchen is a great place to teach and to be taught. Of course, you can learn recipes or cooking techniques, but often the lessons taught or the dialogue exchanged has nothing to do with food.

Cooking inspires memory and when hands are busy, our chefs will share stories from their lives, loving, painful or humorous, with words that they might not share in another setting.
And laughter! We laugh a great deal when we cook and what better way to bond and enjoy volunteer work than in a lighthearted atmosphere? One friend always says that our cooking projects are the best therapy in the world.

I love, that even in 2015, we continue certain cooking traditions and that the recipes we use were handed down from members who are no longer with us. Hand-crafted food items are such a huge focus in the food world. I like to think that Philoptochos has been way ahead of that trend for a very long time!
And here is another great thing about cooking together. In my large parish in Atlanta, there are many individuals who are newcomers or who are recent converts to Orthodoxy. It is not always easy to meet parishioners when coming to a new church. So many times women have learned about a Philoptochos cooking project. They walk in the door knowing no one, and leave with a different sense of community. Working together with others means that you learn names, or as is often the case, the newcomer finds that she shares many acquaintances with those already there. Once a new convert thanked us for welcoming her and noted that she now felt “part of the team”.

Our members are talented and gifted in so many areas. They are constantly creating new ways and projects to address fundraising and membership. We need these ideas to grow and serve those whom we are charged with helping. Let’s always continue to encourage this kind of creativity and thinking outside the box.
But let’s not lock those kitchen doors!

Cooking with and for Philoptochos is a good thing.

Guidelines for Submitting a Blog Entry

Welcome to the blogsite of the National Philoptochos Society!

Through blog entries, we want to bring together the voices of Philoptochos women from around the country. By sharing  personal observations and small stories, these entries can serve as food for thought and inspiration.

Blog entry guidelines are easy and your cooperation in following them is most appreciated! Thank you for your interest and we look forward to hearing from you!

·      Word limit of 350-400

·      There must be a Philoptochos connection to your entry

·      Please remember that paragraphs are your friend! One long paragraph is not a good format

·      The blog should be your observation and thoughts on the topic or story that you choose

·      Topics may be, but certainly not limited to, acts of kindness, personal observations on something that your chapter has done, a memorable Philoptochos moment, be it poignant or humorous, a Philoptochos woman who inspired you along the way, the excitement and challenges of philanthropy, fundraising and reaching a goal. There are so many possibilities out there!

·      Please include your name, city and parish name with your entry
Entries should be submitted to:

A Call to Service

September 2015
By Helen Ballerano, Boca Raton, Florida

Happy New Year!  September 1st begins a new ecclesiastical year and affords us the perfect opportunity to begin anew in our commitment of stewardship to our faith and our church.

As the philanthropic arm of the church, Philoptochos is the true embodiment of Christian stewardship and an ideal way for us, as Orthodox women, to contribute our time and talent.  All Orthodox women are invited and welcomed to participate in the Philoptochos mission,  to offer compassionate charity and benevolence, to preserve and perpetuate our Orthodox Christian values and family, and to promote our Greek Orthodox faith and traditions.

Philoptochos has a huge charge and with it the tremendous responsibility of fulfilling its mission, from the smallest parish chapter, up through Metropolis and National levels. With thousands of members, Philoptochos has the distinction of being one of the largest Christian women's faith based philanthropic organizations in the country. That's an accomplishment we should all be proud of!  And yet, in many ways, Philoptochos struggles with being recognized, or even known, sometimes even within the walls of our churches.  And many women, especially young women, are reluctant to join. But why?

It is probably fair to say that most women with school age children do not hesitate to join their child’s school PTA.  As parents, we never question supporting our child's education or their school. Joining the PTA is a given. It certainly was for me, as I'm confident it was for you. However, do we as Orthodox women have that same attitude and spirit about joining our parish Philoptochos? How awesome would it be, if 80 or 90, or even 100% of the women of our parishes joined Philoptochos? Our strength, reach and potential would be extraordinary!

My own personal sense is that when we truly understand and embrace the meaning of Christian stewardship in our life, then our commitment and support of our church and its ministries naturally grows.   Welcoming each day with a Christ-focused and church-centered life, is the embodiment and true essence of stewardship.

Every day, Philoptochos women offer their time, talent and treasure to meeting the needs of our church and local parish families and by serving the greater community.  There are teams of women who visit the sick and the elderly, who serve at soup kitchens, who organize events and fundraisers, and who volunteer in so many ways throughout their communities.  The Sunday coffee hours and numerous fundraisers benefit local and national causes that are worthy of our support. Philoptochos responds in times of crisis, as with the financial struggles in Greece, or when a natural disaster occurs in all parts of the world.

Embarking on this new ecclesiastical year, we should prayerfully reflect on the role of our faith and church in our own life. Let’s embrace this year by honoring our blessings through personal stewardship to Philoptochos and by inviting women of all ages to join us in this call to faithful service.

Manhattan Caravan Feeds the Hungry!

August 2015
By Georgia Vlitas, Staten Island, NY and Jennifer Constantin, Scarsdale, NY

Talk about flexibility!  When we got to 33rd Street and 7th Avenue last night, a street sign greeted us announcing the street was closed because a pedestrian plaza was under construction in “our” spot.  As we were trying to determine where to set up, one of our guests tapped on our car window to tell us to go around the block to 33rd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues and he would find our guests and let them know where we would be set up for the night!  Amazing! 
So off we went – a four car caravan - to a new location!  As we were arriving, some of our guests were waiting for us, and they actually helped us set up our tables and bins.  We were a little concerned, thinking that most of the guests would not be able to find us, but we knew that would be the best option since the circumstances were beyond our control.

It was a little disappointing at first because very few guests showed up, but as the evening progressed some of our guests found us and said, “We’ve been looking for you Greeks!” and “We are so happy to see you!”
Thank you to Lily Katos for purchasing the ingredients for the delicious beef stew and to Fr. Dionysios Anagnostopoulos from Holy Cross Church in Whitestone, New York for being our personal chef and preparing it!  Thank you to Nellie Logothetides, Evellyn Tsiadis, Annie Sullivan and Tina Marie Vlitas for your help and donations. Fr. Demetrios Kazakis from St. Nicholas in West Babylon, New York, was warmly greeting and engaging our guests during this trying time for his parish after the recent fire in their church. The photos of the damage to their church brought us all to tears.

Despite the “new location” and hot & humid evening, we were able to distribute our homemade beef stew, Metro CafĂ© sandwiches and wraps, koulourakia made by the residents of St. Michael’s home, granola bars, clementines, cold water and juice. We also distributed socks and toiletries. (The ladies especially loved the Clinique lipstick!) We may have left, hot and tired, but it was another rewarding experience in the life of Philoptochos outreach!
Due to our relocation, we still had stew, rolls, snacks, and fruit,  but God is always there watching over us and as Jennifer arrived at a men’s shelter to deliver the remaining food items, she saw men waiting outside the shelter in the heat.  Upon entering, she learned that they had run very low on food, so the men waiting outside had been turned away! She hadn’t even finished unpacking the car before one of the men told her how delicious the stew was.  He was already eating it!

What started out as an uncertain evening, ended up allowing these men to enter an air-conditioned shelter, and be fed a delicious meal instead of sleeping on the streets! When life gives you lemons….

Christ the Good Shepherd Autism Camp

July 2015
By Maria Snider, Atlanta, GA

Over Memorial Day weekend this year, I served as one of the camp counselors at the Christ the Good Shepherd Camp. This camp was sponsored by the Metropolis of Atlanta Philoptochos for Orthodox children in our Metropolis and held at the Diakonia Retreat Center in South Carolina.

At the time of the camp, I was finishing up a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling, specializing in working with children and adolescents. The other counselors came from various universities, cities and backgrounds, each bringing their own unique experiences to make this camp truly special.

Eight families with children on the Autism Spectrum, attended the camp. I witnessed the excitement in their eyes, as many of these children had never been to a camp that was designed to fit their specific needs. Including volunteers, families, priests and other volunteers, there were over 60 individuals there.

An Autism specialist, Catherine Faherty, trained the counselors and staff members prior to the family arrivals and helped to make the camp Autism-friendly. We wanted the campers to feel accepted and to be able to participate in traditional camp activities. The camp also included a spiritual component with morning and evening prayer services each day conducted by Father Paul Kaplanis from Annunciation Cathedral in Atlanta and Father Panayiotis Papageorgiou from Holy Transfiguration in Marietta, Ga. In addition, Paula Marchman, from the Metropolis of Atlanta Family Services committee, taught about Christ the Good Shepherd and Psalm 23 throughout the weekend.

The weekend began with the families arriving on Friday night. The first night, the children went on a scavenger hunt to get acquainted with the campgrounds, engaged in games and enjoyed a campfire sing-a-long. I watched the children clap happily and gleefully sing the songs.

Saturday began with decorating iconostasios and balancing on the ropes course. The children had a teaching lesson about liturgical articles with Father Paul where he discussed and showed items like the Holy Chalice. Next came canoeing and fishing.

On Sunday morning, the campers and their families attended Orthros and the Divine Liturgy at Diakonia Center chapel. Some of the male campers served as altar boys. I enjoyed hearing the campers both sing hymns and read aloud during the services. Sunday afternoon was filled with more camp activities and on Sunday evening a social was held where everyone listened to music and danced. I could feel the energy and enthusiasm exuding from these children.

On Monday morning, everyone departed for their homes, Not only did the children have a blast at their first camping experience, but the parents appeared relaxed the entire weekend. They had been able to enjoy the campgrounds alone or with each other, while their children were with their counselors.

Many of the children asked if there would be Christ the Good Shepherd camp again next year. My hope is that this camp will continue each year and to serve as a safe and supportive place for these children to try activities that they have never done before. It was a great weekend!

Teaching and Philoptochos – A Great Combination

June 2015
By Marilynn Jemas, St. Louis, MO
Years ago I attended a National Philoptochos Biennial Convention and it was there that my theory was hatched.  In the meeting room, during a lively discussion about autism, I observed that the group of 500 attendees contained an abundance of members from the teaching profession. Since that time, there have been many regular occurrences at Philoptochos meetings and events that strongly support my original observation. Philoptochos attracts many teachers who become active and involved members. On my own Metropolis of Chicago Board, the President, 1st Vice President and Chapter Advisor, along with several Board Members, all belong to the teaching profession. I am also a teacher.

All Philoptochos women are amazing! Each member weaves her own particular talents and career skills into the fabric of our Philoptochos in the same way that many individual women blend their nicest stitches to fashion a fancy quilt.   We are most certainly a diverse group of women who readily share our service-oriented mindset with others of all paths. Philoptochos is fortunate to have this unique blending of women.

What is attracting so many teachers to participate wholeheartedly in Philoptochos? It seems teachers feel comfortable in this atmosphere. Our organization provides a supportive environment for teachers to utilize their communication skills, people skills and creativity. Teachers subscribe to the same, “More WE, less ME!” philosophy as do Philoptochos members. Teachers combine unselfish caring with compassionate action, day after day.

As Philoptochos volunteers, we represent generations of women that have worked hard, dedicating time and energy to make a difference for individuals today as well as future generations. It is often said that teaching is a calling to do something more for another person and to give something back to our fellow man. It is obvious that Philoptochos volunteers also feel a deep calling in their lives and willingly dedicate their efforts to a cause greater than themselves. 

Dr. Laura Schlessinger expressed it well when she stated, “We have all touched other people and known it, but we have all touched some people and never known it. Either way, each person has something to give.  And it is in the giving to one another that each one of our lives become meaningful.” So, whether you are a Philoptochos member and a teacher, or a Philoptochos member and not a teacher, it is the dedication of your time and talent to this organization that will add so much joy to your giving and living.

What do those in the teaching profession bring to Philoptochos? Teachers are self-starters and problem solvers. They raise the bar with their enthusiasm, motivation and innovation. Teachers are leaders and can carve a path for others to follow. They are quick to connect with others and form relationships that lead to lasting friendships.  Teachers are great communicators, good listeners and appreciate the value of humor in problem solving.

Philoptochos is a collaborative effort. Many women from all over our country put their best efforts together, pool their resources and volunteer to successfully serve others. Robert John Meehan said about teachers, “The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.” The same can be said about the women of Philoptochos. Working together, we can continue to achieve great things.

What Is Autism?

May 2015
By Barbara Vittas, Autism Chairman, Bedford, TX 

Autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are both terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development.  Autism is a neurological disorder that affects development in areas of social interaction and communication skills.  The most obvious signs of autism tend to emerge between 12 and 18 months of age.  There are no blood or biologic tests for autism so diagnosis is not an exact science.  Making judgments about a child’s behavior identifies it.  ASD is estimated to affect more than 2 million individuals in the U.S. and statistics show that prevalence rates have increased 10 to 17 percents annually in recent years.  Health officials attribute the increase in cases largely to better recognition through wider screening and better diagnosis.

During the July 2008 National Philoptochos Biennial Convention in Washington, DC, the National Philoptochos Autism Assistance Fund was established.  The purpose of this discretionary fund is to enable Philoptochos to heighten awareness of autism and to provide assistance and support to persons within the autism spectrum.  In addition, it allows us to directly assist families as they struggle to meet out of pocket expenses to ensure that their children receive the critical autism therapies that will help them overcome their developmental disabilities.  In 2014, National Philoptochos Autism Awareness Fund disbursed $14,000 in assistance to individuals dealing with the devastating costs associated with raising a child with an autism spectrum disorder.  Nearly 46,000 individuals and families in the United States began their journey with autism that year.

What we need to remember is that autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them.  Children and adults with autism are unable to relate to others in a socially meaningful way and as these children become adults, their ability to develop friendships is impaired, as is their capacity to understand other people’s feelings.  People with autism can often have accompanying learning disabilities.  They face challenges of developing their vocational skills and finding employment as well as developing their independent living skills.

Since National Philoptochos established the Autism Assistance Fund, we have learned much and continue to learn about the effects of ASD.  I hope this summary will be of help in enlightening all to the societal challenges faced in assisting families and individuals in dealing with this disability, and that Philoptochos can take an increasingly effective role with our assistance.