Last Sunday, my family and I made our annual trek to the Saint Methodios Metropolis Camp in Coontocook, New Hampshire. Every Fall the camp invites parents, kids and anyone else who wants to come, to a church service and a barbecue. As he does every year, to celebrate the upcoming feast day of the Holy Cross, His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of Boston threw a cross into the waters of the adjoining lake and boys and girls dived in after it. This year they also dedicated the new Retreat Center, a multimillion dollar building that will house conference and hospitality facilities. During the dedication we got an opportunity to hear from George Behrakis. Mr. Behrakis, the product of an education received at the Greek-American School of Lowell Massachusetts, is a great benefactor of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Omogenia. He made his fortune in pharmaceuticals and is not at all hesitant to share it for the betterment of his community. For example, Mr. Behrakis donated the 250 acres the camp is situated on. This act alone qualifies him as worthy (AXIOS) in my book, given the way the camp has impacted positively in the lives of my own children. For this I owe him a personal debt of gratitude. He is also chairman of Leadership 100, a group of benefactors who have been a major driving force in helping the Greek American Community advance the cause of Hellenism and Orthodoxy in our country. I'm sure there are others as well, many who remain anonymous. All of them deserve our respect and thanks.
Mr Behrakis is one of my new heroes. The guy looks and sounds like a combination of Marlon Brando in the Godfather and Telly Savalas' Kojak character. He got up and gave a short and rousing speech about the importance of preserving Hellenism and Orthodoxy for our young people that had me ready to charge up a hill shouting "Aera," the Greek war cry. If only more people in our community would follow his example. Recently I waded through a section listing the 50 richest Greek-Americans on the Internet edition of the the National Herald, one of the Greek language newspapers serving the Greek American community. It was my Dad's favorite paper and he devoured it with relish right up until his mind and eyes starting failing him. As I read the biographies of all these tremendous success stories I was proud of their individual accomplishments yet I was somewhat saddened by the knowledge that their entire net worth in the billions of dollars (probably exceeding the GNP of Greece) had not been able to create a world class institution of higher learning in the US dedicated to the principles of Hellenic Paidea or an educational system for Greek-American youth. Hellenic College in Brookline, Massachusetts, which I think has done a great job with the limited support it has received from the Omogenia, is experiencing major obstacles to its continued growth and development. At the same time, if we were to look around the country we should be appropriately appalled at the small number of Greek-American high schools and day schools. Afternoon schools are withering on the vine, battered by poor parental and community support and the lack of trained teachers. The question is why?
The overall state of Greek education in the US is embarrassing. There are a number of reasons for this state of affairs. A key reason is the lack of strong support from the community as a whole. Unlike Greece where the Church and education are supported by tax dollars, the Omogenia has to support their churches and schools through donations. This requires a much greater dedication on the part of the laity. We have done only a "fair" job of supporting our churches, although quite frankly, there are still many who think putting a buck in the tray every Sunday is sufficient. IT'S NOT. Our churches and the Archdiocese have to beg for money to fund the day to day operating expenses that they incur. Furthermore youth ministry and education are often minimally funded. Perhaps this stems from the fact that the early Greek immigrants considered themselves only as temporary sojourners in America waiting to make their fortune and return to the Patrida. Our tradition of giving is not as strong as it should be, however, I don't want to give the impression that people don't give. There are many that give and give generously, like Mr Behrakis, then there are some who are simply missing in action, uninvolved and wrapped up in themselves or their things. Even if all those "rich" Greeks gave us the shirts off their backs that would in no way relieve the rest of us, of modest means, to give our fair share so that our children and grandchildren can partake of our rich religious and cultural heritage. More importantly, even all the money in the world wouldn't buy the necessary parental involvement that is a critical factor in making any school or Church work. The Greek-American community needs to apply its vast talent and wealth to the task at hand. Future generations and our country will be better off for it.