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Wednesday, 17 December 2014 00:16

Travel blogger Joanna Kalafatis inspires others

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The weather is cold here in Chicago and visions of jetting off to someplace warm is only a dream for many. But for Joanna Kalafatis it is a life she has lived since childhood.

Kalafatis is a 25-year-old actress, writer, and frequent traveler. According to her website Go Road Trippin’ she explains she is trying to set up her ideal life, “namely, exploring the world and going on adventures while doing what I love.”

Her blog is a creative and worthy read that she hopes “inspires and helps people to do the same — travel and live their dream!” Log on to her website at and her blog will inspire you to jet off to that next vacation destination you long to visit.

I recently caught up with Kalafatis to find out more about her recent trip to attend the international travel blogging conference (TBEX) in Athens and well—all things travel.

Owings Mills, Maryland—Vasiliki “Vasi” Argeroplos, Garrison Forest School sophomore, matched passion with purpose at an early age. When she was in the 6th grade, she and her older brother Niko founded the Okay to Play Foundation. The inspiration came when she was watching a TV documentary on children who were orphaned or in foster care and was struck by how few toys the children had. She and Niko talked about how they could help, and he suggested helping the environment at the same time.

Their concept is simple: They collect used cell phones and electronics at collection drives at their schools and church, and encourage relatives to collect as well. They sell the electronics to a recycling company and use the proceeds to purchase new toys for children in orphanages and foster homes. To date, Vasi and Niko have saved 1,200 electronics from landfills and raised $30,000.

Their distribution sites initially focused on Maryland, Ohio and New York (where they have family). Today, Okay to Play is helping children worldwide. The foundation has given toys to an all-girl’s orphanage in Lamia, Greece and an orphanage in Afghanistan. In December 2012, Okay to Play gave new Xboxes to the Johns Hopkins Hospital for children to play while in the hospital.

This year, during Thanksgiving week, Vasi delivered games and toys to the Children’s Guild in Baltimore for the Guild’s all-girl’s home. In December, an all-boys’ foster home in Baltimore will receive Xboxes and a game table from Okay to Play.

Creating a bona fide foundation from an idea was not daunting to Vasi. Her parents are entrepreneurs, and she used the financial literacy skills she’s learned at Garrison Forest and its James Center, which brings together the school’s financial literacy, hands-on learning, service outreach and STEM programs. In 7th grade, Vasi was recognized by Junior Achievement of Central Maryland for her social entrepreneurship and featured in their video (view the video at

Vasi is also very interested in other cultures. She takes Mandarin at Garrison Forest; last year, she won an Encouragement Award in the first Confucius Institute Cup International Competition for Chinese-Language Learners for an essay she wrote in Mandarin.

She and Niko have big plans to Okay to Play. They are working on expanding collections and distribution sites throughout the United States and continue to secure corporate sponsors. They hope to raise $100,000 dollars from recycling proceeds to build a playground or a play area for an orphanage or foster home in the Baltimore region. “I am trying to make an impact locally; however, I help whoever is in need,” Vasi explains. “My favorite part of this process is being able to make an impact. This experience has opened my eyes to a whole world of differences in people’s lives. I feel fortunate because I did enjoy my childhood and am still enjoying it and would love to be able to bring joy to others. Running this nonprofit has taught me that I am a compassionate and assertive leader. It’s helped to shape my college plans because it has allowed me to see what career path I would like to pursue, which is a business degree that involves helping others.”


Tuesday, 11 November 2014 14:39

Night at the Taverna at National Hellenic Museum

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The National Hellenic Museum is hosting a holiday "Night at the Taverna" headlined by "Greece Has Talent" 2010 winner Nikos Georgas on Saturday, November 22 at the Museum, 333 S. Halsted Street, Greektown Chicago. WGN radio/TV news anchor Andrea Darlas emcees the festivities. Nikos will sing not only bouzoukia music, but also Sinatra, Elvis and much more. Co-hosts are Hellenic Professional Society of Illinois, Hellenic Bar Association, Hellenic Medical Society, and Greek Media Club. Food, wine, beverages included with admission price. Advance tickets strongly encouraged as this event will be well attended and may sell out. For tickets, visit


This week, we caught up with VICKY FRIGELIS,

the new and first full-time director at Pythagoras Children's Academy in Elmhurst, Ill.


Maria A. Karamitsos: Tell us about you.

Vicky Frigelis:  I grew up in Arlington Heights, and still live there. I’m married to my best friend. We have three amazing children—all students at Pythagoras Children’s Academy (PCA).   


MAK: Why did you become an educator?

VF: I love kids! I’m the oldest of four children; I was always in charge of helping my younger siblings.  As a high school student, I enjoyed any activities that involved working with kids.  I babysat, volunteered as a camp counselor and Junior Olympics coach, and worked as a teacher’s assistant at a local daycare.  It just made sense to pursue it as a career.


MAK: Talk about your years in teaching.

VF: My first experience in a school setting after graduating from Loyola University, was as teacher’s aide for a 7th grade special education class. I worked with students with learning disabilities, emotional and behavioral disorders. I learned so much from working with them, and how to help kids with a huge variety of needs and skills. The next year, I taught 7th grade math at a junior high school in Justice, Ill.  Then, for several years, I taught pre-algebra, algebra, and geometry to 7th and 8th grade students, assisted the school reading specialist with student reading support, and was the student council co-sponsor at a school in Glenview, Ill.


MAK:  Why did you leave the classroom?

VF: Although I really loved teaching, I wanted to focus on my family and being with my children.  I’m lucky to have had the priceless opportunity to be home with them and watch them grow. 


MAK:  You're working on your Master's.

VF: While still teaching, I began pursuing a Masters of Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Mathematics Education, at National-Louis University. I’ve completed the core cluster of classes.


MAK: You're relatively new to the community of The Greek Orthodox Church of St. Demetrios, and PCA. What brought you there?

VF: PCA. There are some great Catholic schools closer to home, but it didn’t make sense to us, since we aren’t Catholic.  If our children were to learn religion in school, we wanted it to be Greek Orthodox.  While researching schools Greek Orthodox Day Schools in the area, we really loved what PCA had to offer: smaller class sizes, great curriculum and teachers, and high rates of student success.  Last year was our first in the Saint Demetrios community, as well as the first for our two older children at PCA.  Our children love PCA.  From the onset, we were immediately welcomed by Father Andrew and Presbytera Dimitra Georganas, the staff, other parents and students.  We’re very happy to be a part of the PCA family; we relish the sense of family that we feel here.  All these qualities combined validated our decision to join the community. When the director position became available, it seemed like a great opportunity to be further involved with the school and my children’s education.  My youngest is also now attending PCA.  We’re excited to be here, and for many years to come.


MAK: Why is Greek-American education so important to you, as a parent, as a Greek-American, and to the community-at-large?

VF: Because it’s a part of our lives and who we are.  We want our children to know our rich Hellenic language and history. We have a tremendous heritage and culture, and must pass it to down to our children so that they can pass it on to theirs, and keep the history and language alive throughout the generations.


MAK: You’re the first full-time director for PCA. Why is this role so vital to the school’s growth?

VF: The school is growing. Enrollment is up nearly 25%; we’ve added 4th grade this year, next year, we’ll have 5th grade. Previous directors and assistant directors did a wonderful job juggling directing duties along with teaching classes full-time, but it is incredibly difficult to balance two full-time jobs and the obligations involved. By having a full-time director, there is a person to focus on the needs of the entire school; teachers can in turn focus their attention on their students and their lessons, and give our students the best possible education and learning environment. That’s really what teaching is all about.


MAK: What are some of your goals for the school?

VF: To have the best opportunities for our kids and teachers.  Over the summer, I worked closely with the Elmhurst Public School District to provide speech screenings and services for our students with needs. We’ve also begun a partnership with the Elmhurst Public Library to get resources for our teachers and students to help supplement and enrich lessons. We’re streamlining processes, sourcing more training opportunities for our educators, enhancing technology. There’s so much in the works! We truly have an amazing staff, and they’ve have been working diligently on curriculum planning and professional development.


MAK:  Some say they won't send their kids to PCA (or other Greek-American Day Schools) because they have great schools in their neighborhood, for which they pay high property taxes. What do you say to them?

VF: People have different financial situations and obligations. Tuition and fees can become expensive, especially when you pay high property taxes for good schools. However, there are some things that you can’t get in the public school that you get at PCA or other Greek-American Day Schools.  There’s religion, the Greek language, our traditions and culture, all shared with students on a daily basis. Our students learn Liturgical Music. You don’t have the same sense of family and community at public school. Public schools can’t offer the same small class sizes and more individualized attention for students. Students may receive a good education from public schools, but we have the privilege of educating our children academically, morally and spiritually. There’s so much students get here that can’t be obtained at public school.


MAF:  In the US, there are about 25 Greek-American Day Schools, 5 of which are in Chicago. Why so few?

VF: Because it’s hard to compete with existing public and private schools. There are many great schools in the Chicago area, with reputations of excellence and student achievement.  Many of these schools have more funding and resources than the smaller Greek-American schools, and that can persuade parents in their selection process.  It takes a lot of time, dedication, and money to not only establish the Greek-American Day Schools, but also to keep them thriving.


MAF: Greek-American Day Schools have a shared goal. How can they work together to continue to thrive, but also for the preservation of Hellenism in America?

VF: A lot of teamwork and communication.  We need to support each other and encourage other Greek-Americans to do the same.  We have such a large Greek-American population in the Chicago area.  These school are vital. We could accomplish so many great things working together.


MAK: What’s next?

VF: There’s much more to come at PCA!  The teachers, parents, students, church staff, school board, Parish Council, Philoptochos, and other members of the Saint Demetrios community are doing so much to make PCA even better.  I’m grateful for their love and support. We welcome prospective parents to visit us and see what a great school and community we have to offer. Reach out at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .   

Monday, 03 November 2014 07:32

El Greco in New York

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NEW YORK—To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos, 1541–1614), this special collaboration will bring together all of the artist’s paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, the finest outside the Museo del Prado in Madrid, and display them with six loans from the Hispanic Society of America. During the same period, New York’s Frick Collection, whose works by this artist cannot be lent, will exhibit its three El Greco pictures together for the first time.  On view at the Metropolitan Museum beginning November 4, 2014, El Greco in New York will be, in effect, a mini-retrospective of the artist, with the nine paintings from the Metropolitan Museum and six from the Hispanic Society of America spanning El Greco’s entire career, from his arrival in Venice in 1567, through his move to Rome in 1570 and his long residence in Toledo, Spain, from 1577 until his death in 1614.

The exhibition is made possible by Northern Trust.

El Greco’s religious paintings, portraits, and The View of Toledo, a masterpiece of the Metropolitan Museum’s collection, will make this presentation a unique experience.  Few Old Master painters have exercised such a profound influence on modern art as has El Greco, one of the most original artists of the European tradition.


Exhibition Dates:  November 4, 2014–February 1, 2015


Lowell, MAWhen Arthur Demoulas and his family emigrated from Greece to Ellis Island, their hope was to begin building a better life for generations to come. Arthur Demoulas went on to create a multi-billion dollar corporation that would position his eldest son, John Demoulas, as the direct beneficiary of the family’s fortune. Becoming entangled in a life of gluttony and disgrace, John Demoulas abandoned his mistress and their five children, including George Demoulas. George Demoulas’ new memoir, “Illegit” chronicles the loneliness, abandonment and addiction he faced as his father deserted the family and lived an unattached life with no interest in acknowledging him as a son.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014 10:25

Xenia Film An Interesting Take on Contemporary Greece

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The latest film of Greek director Panos Koutras is a road trip through contemporary Greece that explores the dark edges via song and dance.

Xenia – which means hospitality toward foreigners – follows the journey of two Albanian Greek brothers, who are searching for their estranged Greek father who abandoned them and their Albanian night club singer mother, so they can remain legally in the country.

The flamboyantly gay Dany and his straight brother Odysseus dance and sing their way via celebrity cameos – namely the Italian pop diva Patty Pravo – and scary fascist beatings, before they arrive in the port city of Thessaloniki.

The older brother agreed to go to try out for the Greek version of American idol called Greek Star, while Dany will hit up their father for cash and papers.

I watched this film at the Chicago International Film Festival last week. This is what was written in the film guide that caught my attention:

“A candy-colored, crowd pleasing road movie, filled with dance sequences and celebrity cameos, Greek new wave pioneer Panos Koutras lovingly presents a celebration of tolerance, while revealing the disturbing fascist strains currently threatening his nation.”

A packed theater crowd broke out in applause at the end of the film.

This film explores the dark themes of xenophobia, racism and homophobia, but in a light and spirited way with built-in suspense, mixed with horrific and beautiful sights, that keep the audience captivated throughout the entire film.

The movie begins with Dany, whose dyed beach blond hair, springy body and lollipop sucking expose his very gay demeanor. This upsets his older and more serious brother who laments after the death of their mother that being illegal Albanian immigrants in Greece is enough to worry about, let alone having to deal with homophobia.

It is Dany’s daring idea to seek out their father so they can attain papers to stay legal. The twist – he abandoned the kids when Dany was two and is supposedly now a wealthy right-wing politician.

The photography with bright beautiful colors captures the beauty of Greece, interposed with the dark elements of fascist strains surrounding the boys on their journey north.

While the brothers are walking through a park, a group of Albanian immigrants in their 20s notice Dany and his gayness, and denounce his homosexuality in Albanian (highlighting how the victim can easily turn the persecutor).

Dany, who is very open and not afraid to confront the ugly elements around him, yells back at them in Albanian that they are the real scourge. This of course leads to a serious confrontation, with the Albanians yelling that he is a disgrace to their people. A big fight ensues, and Dany then whips out a pistol, fires, and hits one of his compatriots in the leg.

They run away and continue on their journey to Thessaloniki, avoiding police, fascists and fatigue.

Another harrowing scene showed a group of Greek neo-Nazis zooming into an Albanian neighborhood on motorcycles and chasing down and beating up women in their headscarves.

The reluctance of the Greek police to prosecute or even acknowledge there is a problem is a stark reminder of the situation in the country today.

Dany eventually arrives to the luxurious home of his father where he cons his way into the home and then tells his wife that he is one of her husband’s sons he abandoned years ago.

When his father comes home he of course denies it and is about to throw him out of the home until Dany whips out the pistol he had and holds the family at gun point. This harrowing tense scene keeps the audience on the edge of their seats as a poor illegal immigrant holds a gun to the head of a wealthy right-wing politician. Straight out of a page from Marx - the two classes confront each other. Dany then slowly relates to his astounded yet stoic wife that her husband had two kids with an Albanian lounge singer who he never married, and then forced her to prostitute herself to earn money before leaving her.

I would highly recommend watching this artistic yet disturbingly realistic film that takes a close look at the horrors that all people residing in Greece today must confront. Yet at the same time, there is an element of hope, as the boys exhibit a strong bond of brotherhood that shines throughout the film to prove the human spirit can never be extinguished!

MIAMI—South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center and Culture Shock Miami Presents collaborate to bring world-acclaimed Flamenco dancer Soledad Barrio and her internationally sought company, Noche Flamenca, to Miami-Dade County for an evening of world-class Flamenco dance and music including Martin Santangelo’s 5-part adaption of the timeless Greek tragedy, Antigone. The company takes the Main Stage of South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center on Saturday, Nov, 15, at 8:00 pm.

Ticket prices are $27.50 to $47.50 online at or through the SMDCAC box office by calling 786-573-5300. The performance is also available through South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center’s subscription program. $5 tickets are available to 13-22 year olds and one accompanying guest each, exclusively through $5 Culture Shock Miami tickets are not sold through the SMDCAC Box Office. Culture Shock Miami ticket sales for this performance end on Friday, November 14, 2014 at midnight.

Artistic Director and Producer Martín Santangelo has reimagined the ancient Greek play by Sophocles, Antigone, through his adaptation in the authentic Flamenco tradition. Titled Antigona, the 5-part work, which is performed by a cast of 16 dancers and musicians, tells the tragic story of the daughter of a Greek nobleman and soldier who would rather die than dishonor her father. The role of Antigona is performed by Soledad Barrio.

To see a preview of Noche Flamenca’s Antigona, paste into your browser.

Baltimore, MD — An Orthodox priest, a kindergartner and a retired grandmother joined nearly 30 other supporters of International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) at dawn on Saturday to go the distance in the 14th Annual Baltimore Running Festival, and to raise money and awareness about the people it serves worldwide with every stride.

More than 25,000 US and international runners and walkers competed in this year’s marathon, half-marathon, relay and 5K races. Team IOCC (right) included participants from Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New York, Washington, D.C. as well as IOCC staff from its Baltimore headquarters. The group raised nearly $25,000 to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to families displaced by war, overcoming natural disasters or working their way out of poverty.

One of Team IOCC’s marathoners, Father Andrew Lentz (left), is an assistant priest and an IOCC Frontliner who also completed last year’s Baltimore Marathon to support IOCC’s emergency relief and development programs. This year Father Andrew returned with a team of six from his parish, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Akron, Ohio, including grandmother of 12, Irene Theodore. “I have never competed in a race, but at age 82, I’m excited to walk the 5K to benefit IOCC, an organization I love and respect.” Irene has been an active IOCC supporter since its earliest days more than 20 years ago, when she and her husband, Ted, helped launch IOCC’s Cleveland Metropolitan Committee.

This is the second year that Team IOCC has participated in the Baltimore Running Festival to support IOCC’s humanitarian mission. The event is one example of IOCC’s Race to Respond program that provides runners, cyclists, and triathletes an opportunity to support IOCC’s humanitarian relief efforts and create real change through their participation in a race. Race to Respond participants receive a personal fundraising page for friends and family, promotional materials, pledge forms, and additional benefits when they meet certain fundraising goals. To learn more about how you can support IOCC through Race to Respond, visit us at


Friday, 17 October 2014 14:36

The Maids of Athena Jacma Chapter #40

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The Daughters of Penelope Blue Ribbon District #13 is proud to announce the re-activation of its junior order The Maids of Athena Jacma Chapter #40. Fourteen young ladies were officially initiated on September 14, at St Peter’s St Paul Church in Glenview. Maids of Athena Grand Lodge officers Deanna Socaris, Grand President, and Tria Charnas, Grand Vice President, attended the event and conducted the initiation. The Lodge took the opportunity to present a mini workshop and help elect and install Jacma officers. The Daughter’s Chapter Hellas #9 will sponsor the re-activated Maid’s Jacma Chapter #40 and help guide our young ladies. If you know a young lady between the ages of 14 to 23 who would like to help us in our good works and meet new friends please check out our Facebook pages: Sons of Pericles and Maids of Athena Chicago, Daughters of Penelope District 13.  For further information please contact Dist 13 DOP Governor, Angela Philipps 773-848-4110. 


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