The Greek-American story is also the great American story. Click to learn more about National Hellenic Society’s initiatives to make American Greek again.
By: Art Dimopoulos
National Hellenic Society mission
The great American story incorporates values and ideas from the ancient Greeks to the modern day. America has inherited many things from the ancient Greeks: a system of government, an education structure, and even basic principles of medicine. Even if an American is not geographically from Greece, the value of being Greek is in their head and in their heart, and the National Hellenic Society’s (NHS) mission is to prove it.
The history of the Greek American experience in the United States is like that of other ethnic minorities who immigrated here for a better life for themselves and their families. Our forebears found opportunity but at a price; they shed vestiges of their ancient heritage and culture to assimilate and thereby advance. “What the children of immigrants wish to forget, the grandchildren choose to remember,” goes the maxim and it is borne by experience. It is a reality that resonates with George Marcus, the chairman and co-founder of the National Hellenic Society, a non-profit foundation dedicated to helping the next generation remember their heritage, values, and culture.
George Marcus’ reconnection with his past is a story shared by those finding themselves disconnected from the traditional bulwarks and torchbearers of heritage and culture; organizations that have not evolved and kept pace with modern demographic realities. The Greek-American community of the baby boomer generation and before bears no resemblance to today’s community. Thus, an entire generation of highly successful individuals have lacked the mechanism that will connect them to their heritage.
Reclaiming our birthright
The National Hellenic Society is the brainchild of prominent, successful business leaders convinced that by leveraging their skills and resources, they can change this present course of complacency. Marcus describes the impetus for establishing the NHS.
“Our parents and grandparents came to America, the bastion of opportunity, with the dream of a better life for their children. They were heroes. They faced unimaginable odds: uneducated, poor, non-conversant in English, disliked. Yet in a short time, they established businesses, built churches and cultural organizations, educated us, and did what they could to keep our Hellenic heritage a part of our lives. Their values, work ethic, and philotimo were passed on to us. These hallmarks of this great legacy are what has allowed us as individuals to become successful. As stewards of this legacy, we owe it to them and to our children to honor their sacrifices by reclaiming our birthright and passing on our relevant, and inspiring heritage.”
At the National Hellenic Society, (NHS) we’ve adopted a pragmatic approach on how to develop and implement programs that advance our mission. NHS Program Committee Chair, Fanis Economidis, insists that to be successful in advancing the mission of preserving and passing on heritage requires establishing programs that “benefit our community as defined within a modern context by developing programs that celebrate and disseminate heritage to the mainstream and supporting programs that benefit posterity.”
Heritage Greece participants at the Parthenon. COURTESY NATIONAL HELLENIC SOCIETY
The National Hellenic Society’s signature program is Heritage Greece. It’s modeled after Birthright Israel. The centerpiece is a group visit of up to 60 highly qualified Greek-American undergraduate and graduate students who preferably have rarely or never been to Greece. Heritage Greece s hosted by The American College of Greece (ACG) in Athens, Greece.
Participants also share a two-week cultural and educational immersion experience along with a peer group of Greek students from ACG. Heritage Greece reconnects the Greek-American students with their Hellenic identity and heritage while forging life-long relationships. The program’s success is corroborated by scientific research undertaken since its inception, which confirms Heritage Greece’s impact as a catalyst of dramatic change in the students’ connection with their Hellenic heritage, roots, and identity. This shared experience has been described by the students as life-changing.
National Hellenic Society Heritage Greece Alumni Network
The NHS’ commitment to the students extends beyond the actual trip; upon their return, they matriculate into the NHS’ Heritage Greece Alumni Network. The Heritage Greece program is currently in its eighth year with over 280 alumni now part of its Alumni Network. The program’s main objective is to forge lasting bonds of Hellenic heritage, identity, and connections to Greece for exceptional students of Greek American descent even when the program is over.
The Heritage Greece Alumni Network is an extension of the NHS that allows its members to follow the life trajectories of this next generation, even as they enter the workforce, and to help them along their career paths. They are then groomed to serve as ambassadors of Hellenic heritage.
In collaboration with The American College of Greece, NHS is also establishing a Heritage Greece Alumni Network for the peer group of Greek students. This new branch of the Alumni Network will provide career advancement assistance and serve as a liaison for alumni from Greece and the US – for instance when a Greek alum participates on a study abroad program at a U.S. university or if an American alum returns to Greece.
National Hellenic Society Hellenic Career Center
NHS has also developed the Hellenic Career Center, to explore effective ways in which NHS can assist its alumni and others via mentorships, internships, and other opportunities, engage them in NHS programs, and as their careers develop, help them become leaders within the Greek-American community. NHS has also developed a social media and networking component, MyParea, in order for alumni to keep in touch, network, and to allow others with Greek heritage to celebrate their Hellenic identity and roots.
National Geographic Society Partnership
One example of how the NHS celebrates and disseminates the Hellenic heritage to mainstream audiences is our partnership with the National Geographic Society. Currently, NHS and National Geographic Television are co-producing a web-based series, The Greek Guide to Greatness. The series is comprised of ten short vignettes on themes like athletics, science, democracy, and others, that convey the wisdom of the ancient Greek past set in a modern setting. It is scheduled to be distributed to over one million high school students, grades 8-11, as part of their history curriculum. The NHS also co-sponsored the celebrated National Geographic three-part miniseries, The Greeks, featured on PBS in summer 2016.
The future of our Hellenic heritage
At the National Hellenic Society, we’ve made significant strides in advancing our mission and objectives, especially through leveraging the know-how of its members to produce significant returns on the NHS’ investment in the next generation. Armed with a “who’s who” of accomplished members with great ideas, enthusiasm, and resources to fulfill what the NHS sets out to do, the future of Hellenic heritage in America is indeed bright. Together we’ll make America Greek again.
Art Dimopoulos is the Executive Director of the National Hellenic Society
Membership in the National Hellenic Society is by invitation only. The NHS’ Membership Committee considers applications from candidates who:
- Are distinguished individuals of Hellenic descent
- Have demonstrated commitment to Hellenic values and ideals
- Are compatible and willing to work together in a spirit of consent