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.