Service Learning 2017

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Our volunteers organized numerous activities for the refugee children, including art and music classes.
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Stefanos Lazaridis
Constantine Cesak

Summer 2017 With The HOME Project in Athens

Our 2017 program in Athens, Greece marked the Greek American Foundation's inaugural Service Learning Program. The model we began in 2017 is a follows: a month-long experience volunteering with refugee children in a structured environment and in partnership with a respected Greek non-profit organization.

For our first program, we sent 10 volunteers to spent most of July supporting the mission of The HOME Project, an NGO founded in 2017 to address the needs of unaccompanied refugee and child migrants in Greece by bringing them into shelters where they receive support, protection and social integration services.

The nine Americans and one Canadian were selected from dozens of applicants we received and carefully screened, given the sensitivity of the project.

The volunteers were Darden Livesay (Connecticut), Paul Grosso (Chicago), Stefanos Lazaridis (Houston), Daniel Nikolaidis (Baltimore), Constantine Cesak (Chicago), Maria Gad (Columbus), Evgenia Mantikas (New York), Katerina Busuttil (Toronto), Zoe Zacharopoulos (Phoenix), and Vasiliki Radaios (Chicago).

Over the course of the month, volunteers participated in various projects, tending to both the physical needs of the shelters, as well as the emotional well-being of the children living inside them.

Simple activities like beach excursions, soccer matches and visits to museums turned into life-changing moments for both our volunteers and the refugee children, who were able to connect and share personal experiences, as well as their hopes and dreams.

Our volunteers also organized excursions to Delphi, Sounion and other sites outside of Athens where the children were able to leave the city center and experience more of the country they now call home.

Programs included day trips to places like Delphi and Sounion, during which refugee kids learned about Greek culture and get to know the country they are now living in.

The personal connections helped humanize the refugee crisis from front page news stories to something real and tangible that our volunteers were able to take home with them to Columbus, Houston, New York, Baltimore, Chicago — and other cities where they came from — to share with their own family and friends.

One of the highlights of the program was an invitation for the volunteers to meet the United States Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt at the Embassy and share their experiences with him.

Greek America Foundation board chair Lea Soupata, Executive Director Jenny Kellogg with the 10 volunteers meeting with Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt at the U.S. Embassy in Athens.

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago and Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos; Dr. Marie Bountrogianni and the Chang School at Ryerson University; Patricia Lambrecht; and our travel sponsors, Pro Travel International, for their generous support of our 2017 program.

Why Service Learning? Testimonials from Past Volunteers

Getting to know these kids on a personal level and building such close friendships with them right off the bat super easily has been an amazing experience… I’m very privileged and honored to have had this experience for sure, and I’m super grateful — beyond grateful. I don’t think ‘grateful’ can put into words how much of an honor it is to have done this.

Vasiliki, 21, Chicago, IL

I learned a lot from these kids. I learned that you can have nothing and still be very happy. I learned that not all is bad in this life, even coming from war-torn countries and countries with civil war you can still be happy and live a fulfilling life.

Stefanos, 23, Houston, TX

I think I learned from each individual that was here with us… just each person I’ve encountered here in Greece I’ve learned something from them — whether it’s about patience, just smiling at random strangers, kindness, just how to love people better in general.

Maria, 21, Columbus, OH

This program was instrumental in my personal growth and transformation. The support network of the Greek America Foundation staff and my peers was essential. I will always be indebted to them.

Constantine, 23, Chicago, IL

The beginning was tough at first because we were just getting started, but once we started to get connections with these kids it was so amazing. I’ve gained lifelong connections with them. They’re not even really kids — they’re teenagers. Especially the past day where we had to leave them, it was one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do.

Zoe, 19, Phoenix, AZ

To see these kids go through these hardships and to see them with their head up and positive is a really nice positive reinforcement, and I’m just so happy to be involved with this program and I’m going to come back and try to help again.

Paul, 24, Chicago, IL

I wanted to work with these kids in order to help them feel as though they do have agency, they do have a self, and most importantly they do have a voice, and their voice matters and what they say matters. [I wanted] to remind them that there is someone somewhere in the world who cares about them and cares what they have to say.

Evgenia, 20, Queens, NY

I find fulfillment in making connections with kids. I think the Service Learning program is very special. I’m Greek, my dad is from Greece and I’m very interested in understanding both native Greeks’ and refugees’ perspectives and experiences together in this crisis.

Daniel, 21, Detroit, MI

My experience with the kids has been life-changing. I’ve formed bonds with these kids through the weekend activities and seeing them every day. Frankly, I feel like these kids are my equals and friends. I will never forget this experience.

Katerina, 18, Toronto, CA

I’m really grateful for this experience and I think that it’s helped guide me closer to what I might want to do going forward in my life.

Darden, 20, Wilton, CT

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