Welcome back to our series commemorating Women’s History Month. Learn about the wonderful, important work of the American Women’s Organization of Greece.
Women’s History Month: American Women’s Organization of Greece
This month we’ve commemorated some incredible contemporary Greek women. Today, in our final article in this series, learn about an amazing group called the American Women’s Organization of Greece (AWOG), and why you should be a part of it.
The roots of AWOG reach back to 1948. The wife of then-U.S. Ambassador to Greece Henry F. Grady, Lucretia Louise del Valle, had an idea to bring together American women living in Greece. A woman who actively was engaged in politics and women’s rights activism, Mrs. Grady wanted to study the American woman’s role in Greece. She presented her idea to George Marshall, the U.S. Secretary Of State, who also believed that an organized group of “well-informed women” would be great ambassadors of goodwill to their host country. AWOG came together as a study group, but soon expanded to give back to the community. Mrs. Grady was the very first woman to be named an honorary citizen of Athens.
In 1962, the thriving group expanded their reach and membership to include women of other nationalities (non-American). The addition of these new members made the group more dynamic and offered further opportunities for the group.
Over the years, the non-profit AWOG has supported many organizations and institutions, and assisted its members with many networking opportunities, leading to mentorships and employment. They’ve also spurred the growth of other women’s organizations in Athens. In 1975-76, AWOG helped launch Women’s International Club of Athens (WIC). The organization is also an active member of the Federation of Women’s Clubs Overseas (FAWCO). In 1988, AWOG hosted the FAWCO Interim Conference in Athens, which included more than 50 American women’s clubs and organizations from all over the world. Today, AWOG is but one of 70 FAWCO-member American Women’s Organizations around the world.
AWOG relevant today
With its long and storied history and the changing roles of women over the years, Treasurer & Communications Rep Stacey Papaioannou explained why AWOG remains relevant today.
“It remains both an organization that gives back to the community and its members. AWOG supports more than 20 charities and educational institutions through hands-on volunteering and fundraising. Volunteerism remains a relatively new concept in Greece, even following the 2004 Athens Olympics and especially since the financial crisis that has bludgeoned Greece since 2009. Setting an example with ‘a way of giving’ models responsible behavior for a community that suffers. As for being a member, for women who move to Greece, even with globalization, there is a huge cultural adjustment, even when you have grown up speaking Greek and being a part of a Greek-American community. The friendships formed with AWOG members help to bridge the gap and often fill in those gaps in ways a friend from the neighborhood or a relative simply cannot. It’s an easy way to learn about Greek culture, assimilate, and have fun with other gals who ‘get you!’”
Members of the American Women’s Organization of Greece deliver heart pillows they make every year for the AWOG Heart Pillow Project. At “Stuffing Parties,” members gather to prepare therapeutic pillows for mastectomy patients. It’s but one of the many philanthropic works of the organization. IMAGE: awogreece.org
AWOG hosts many events, from professional, to philanthropic, and just for fun.
“Our group offers a way of giving, a way of growing. AWOG members want to give to the community and they want to grow themselves. They do this through financial and volunteer support of many non-profit, non-political Greek institutions, and American community projects. AWOG also offers members a variety of activities such as tours, lectures, interest groups, and cultural activities that enrich their lives. Members also visit the charities and the educational institutions our organization supports. We serve meals to the homeless in downtown Athens, throw Christmas parties for the young patients at FLOGA (a Ronald McDonald type of hospitality center for pediatric cancer patients far from home). Several times a year we host the AWOG Heart Pillow Project “Stuffing Parties,” where members gather to prepare therapeutic pillows for mastectomy patients.
Some events include organized luncheons on cruise ships, fun festive celebrations at some of the hottest venues in Athens, cocktail parties at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Greece and at rooftop pools with beautiful views of the Acropolis.
“Members are also privy to all the local art and museum exhibitions with guided tours through our fine arts programs. Almost all the members become quite familiar with Athens through tours of local treasures such as the Queen’s estate, wineries, and many of the archaeological monuments. And on a monthly basis, members meet in homes in different areas of the city in order to simply connect and have coffee. It’s a simple way to nurture and maintain friendships.”
Members of AWOG range in age from young professionals, to mid-level career, to seasoned pros, and retirees. This mix brings a wealth of knowledge and dynamism to the group. IMAGE: awogreece.org
AWOG members are of all different age groups and backgrounds. They come from all parts of the world, including women native to Greece. Some are single, some married. Some are young mothers, some are grandmothers. Yet others are career women, while others are retired. The older members serve as role models and mentors for younger members. This mix brings a wealth of knowledge and dynamism to the group. And each has a vital role to play. President Bessie Sioutas-Vasilopoulou elaborated.
“From businesswomen, to doctors, teachers, artists, lawyers, writers, and housewives, AWOG is a vehicle for all of us, a way to give back. We are all goodwill ambassadors. Age and occupation make no difference. We are women joined together, determined to discover new ways of giving and growing and at the same time remain true to the ideals that AWOG exemplified when it was founded years ago.”
Greek-Americans and AWOG
More recently, the group has offered membership to Greek-American women living in the U.S. This extends an important bridge for Greek-American women to connect with other women in their motherland, and also for professional and mentorship opportunities. It also allows Americans to support the important philanthropic work of AWOG. Bessie said the support makes a big difference.
“Many Greek-American women in the U.S. like to know what their fellow Greek-American women living in Greece are actively engaged in, and they want to connect. By joining, not only will they be informed and connected, but their dues support the impoverished institutions here in Greece who desperately need help especially during the financial crisis here.”
Many Greek-Americans are living abroad part-time and are looking for ways to become part of the community and make friends. Katerina Sirouni, member of the board as Programs & Networking Rep, discussed how AWOG can help.
“I had a recent conversation with a Greek-American woman from NY that recently bought a home here in Greece. She is trying to work remote to be here more often. She became a member because she’s seen our work, but most importantly, she wants to connect with other expats, do charity work, make friends, and have fun. Our group is a great networking resource for women who want to connect with their roots and their love for Greece. There are many Facebook groups which are great but we are the only official organization with a constitution connected to the U.S. Embassy. If our network grows between the two countries and have additional support from members living in the U.S., we can offer more to charity. It only costs 25€ to join, and with that small amount, we can do so much for people here in Greece.”
This important bridge also allows Greek-American women in the U.S. to mentor or be mentored by someone in Greece, and provides a connection to tap into the expertise of women living in Greece.
There are only two prerequisites of membership: you must be a woman, and speak English. Women of all nationalities are welcome, as well as Greek-Americans living in the U.S. All can join and support the important work of this actively engaged and powerful women’s organization based in Athens. Ladies, we now have another bridge to the motherland, an important connection to women in Greece, and can support charities and institutions in Greece in a very meaningful way. Seventy years later, AWOG continues to make an impact in its community. We can be a part of it.