Home Community Hellenic Hearts: Aiding the Needy, Supporting Education in the Delaware River Valley

Hellenic Hearts: Aiding the Needy, Supporting Education in the Delaware River Valley

Mike Manatos, recipient of the 1st Hellenic Hearts' Philotimo Award pictured with Hellenic Hearts founder and President John Aivazoglou and Andy Manatos. Photos: © GANP/Dimitrios Panagos

OYSTER BAY, N.Y. – GreekNewsUSA – by Sophia A. Niarchos

Six years ago, John Aivazoglou celebrated his 50th birthday by asking for donations in lieu of gifts. They were intended to fund Hellenic Hearts, an organization he was founding along with current VP Nick Karalis, current Director of Scholarships Tim Vlassopoulos, and Board Member Kostas Mikropoulos, to benefit those in need in the Delaware River Valley Tri-State area, which includes Philadelphia. The $25,000 raised at his birthday party kicked-off a philanthropic endeavor that has a two-pronged mission. It provides for emergency needs and conducts an Educational Guidance Program, offering mentoring, scholarships, and financial assistance to individuals and institutions. Although COVID-19 affected fundraising for two years, Hellenic Hearts was still able to help people in emergency situations and to continue its mentoring program via ZOOM.

After two years on hold, the organization held its 4th Annual Golf & Gala Event at the Waynesborough Country Club in Philadelphia on June 13 and presented its first Philotimo Award, granted “to honor someone who shared in [its] vision, someone who believed in making a difference”, to Mike Manatos, president of Manatos and Manatos lobbying firm. Attended by such dignitaries as Ambassador of Greece to the U.S. Alexandra Papadopoulou, the event is estimated to have raised $100,000 that will go toward Hellenic Hearts’ missions.

Earlier this week, Greek News USA spoke with Mr. Aivazoglou and his daughter, Hellenic Hearts Communications Director and Legal Assistant Rayna McCarthy, about the organization, its Philotimo Award, and its recent activities and future plans. We also obtained additional information about Hellenic Hearts and its leadership from COSMOS-Philly videos we were provided.

GN: What types of emergency needs has Hellenic Hearts assisted with in the past, and how does the organization learn about them?

Jim Aivazoglou: We help provide food, housing, funerals, and economic aid to those in financial distress. We try to identify and pay for emergencies within 48 hours and have been doing this for six years. We learn about these people from local priests, Philoptochos, and many Hellenic organizations such as the Pontian Society.  I’m very fortunate that I have an incredible board that cares about people, and we’re doing our best to make a difference.

GN: To what do you owe your interest in philanthropic activities?

JA: In my family, there are 13 generations of priests. My mother’s father was a priest; and when I was growing up, she was always sharing food and providing housing for people who had experienced catastrophes; so, for me, philanthropy is somewhat congenital. And we have many stories like that about our Board members and our sponsors, who are the driving force of our organization and who have a shared sense of making a difference.

GN: I understand you’re a member of Leadership 100. Has your involvement with the organization influenced your leadership of Hellenic Hearts?

JA: Leadership 100 is very fiscally responsible, so we try to emulate some of the things they do. We have $110,000 in the bank right now as an endowment, and we’re trying not to touch that. 

GN: What are your plans for the monies raised?

JA:  As a non-profit organization, we believe transparency is critical: $20,000 will go into our Educational Guidance Program for mentoring and SAT tutoring; $10,000 to the OXI Day Foundation ($2,000 a year for five years) in Washington, D.C.; $5,000 is going to go to the Hellenic University Club of Philadelphia that we love. In the area of economic assistance, and because we love what George Cantonis, President of Hellenic College-Holy Cross, is doing for the institution, we made a $50,000 commitment to the college, with $10,000 annually going to assist married seminarians with non-tuition aid for such as expenses as rent and food. In addition, as we’re obviously very upset about what’s going on in the Ukraine, we’re giving a $5,000 donation to the Archdiocese Ukraine Relief Fund established by Archbishop Elpidophoros to help the orphanages and our fellow Orthodox brothers and sisters who are suffering there right now.

GN: What are the components of the Educational Guidance Program?

JA:  The EGP program has offered mentoring to students from lower economic backgrounds whose parents weren’t educated and who, in many situations, don’t have proper role models from the workplace to assist them in their career development. We also offer SAT tutoring workshops, especially inspired by the example of Louis Karapanagiotides, who received a scholarship for SAT tutoring, which raised his SAT score by 500 points, attended the Wharton School of Business, and is doing incredible things. 

GN: Would you tell us a little more about what prompts your commitment to Hellenic College/Holy Cross?

JA: The university had significant economic problems and was being run haphazardly. George Cantonis is working tirelessly and has single-handedly solved and continues to solve the struggles of past issues and liberal arts colleges’ difficulties; and we are very confident in his leadership and recognize the importance of continuing to keep our only theological school in North America viable, open, and successful.

GN: What led to the institution of the Philotimo Award and to the selection of Mike Manatos as its first recipient? 

JA:  Two years ago, we had the idea that we wanted to honor someone who shared in our vision, someone who believed in making a difference. Mike [who runs the OXI Day Foundation] was an obvious choice for the 2020 Philotimo Award. He is a most worthy recipient. He cares about people, and those who know him know how special he is. We couldn’t be more happy to honor someone who has done so much nationally in the Greek and Greek-American community.

GN: Rayna, you’ve said you’re ingrained in the Educational Guidance Program. How?

RM: I’m involved in mentoring. I’ve answered students’ questions about, for example, what it’s like in law school, trying to develop a personal rapport with them that is caring. 

GN: Would you like to add anything to what your father has said?

RM: Words can’t describe my gratitude. I thought that COVID would virtually wipe us out. I know that funds are tight, but charity lives long. There are individuals who need emergency funds and emergency assistance; and I’m so excited that we can continue to give back to the community through the organization.