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AHEPA & DOP: PARTNERS IN THE PROGRESS AND PROSPERITY OF HOUSTON’S ORTHODOX COMMUNITY

Throughout history, like-minded people around the world have formed groups to protect their families, preserve their beliefs, and pursue their dreams. In 1922, bound by much the same interests, a group of seven Greek men founded the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) in Atlanta, Georgia. These AHEPA fathers believed that, through education and good works, Greeks could peacefully combat the economic and social injustices perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan and others. Through civic projects and entrepreneurial endeavors in their adopted country, they demonstrated the character and strength of Greek immigrants while earning their status as great Americans. Because these growing families included wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, AHEPA was soon joined by a companion group designated in 1929 as The Daughters of Penelope. Now, an internationally recognized women’s organization, the Daughters based their mission on Hellenism, education, philanthropy, civic responsibility, and family and individual excellence.


Two years later and some 800 miles west, a similar group of like-minded individuals would bring AHEPA and its goals to Houston, Texas with the granting of a charter as the Order of AHEPA’s Alexander the Great Chapter #29. In 1936, the Grand Lodge of the Daughters of Penelope similarly authorized the creation of Houston’s Achaia Chapter #54, the descendants of whom, to this day, populate that chapter’s membership rolls. Today, the Order of AHEPA has over 500 active chapters in seven countries and Houston is the second largest among them. The Daughters of Penelope’s international domain encompasses ____ chapters throughout the US, Canada, Greece and Cyprus .


To reduce the rich history and distinctions of AHEPA 29 and Achaia 54 to a roster and a timeline would not do justice to the vision and determination of the men and women who nurtured and navigated their growth since the early 1900’s. Noting all of their achievements and contributions would fill volumes, but these are among the Houston AHEPA Family’s most significant milestones and accomplishments.


On the national front, Houston has welcomed three AHEPA Family Supreme Conventions. The 27th Convention was held in 1953 at oilman Glenn McCarthy’s historic Shamrock Hotel. During America’s Bicentennial in 1976, Houston hosted the 54th Supreme Convention at the Hyatt Regency and the Sheraton Hotels in downtown. In 1996, the 74th Convention was staged at the Westin Oaks and Westin Galleria Hotels.


Dozens of AHEPA 29 members have served as Supreme Lodge officers, including Nick C. Demeris, Fred Iconos, James Petheriotes, and Anthony Kouzounis who, in 2016, was elected Supreme President, the highest office in The Order. Equally impressive is Achaia 54’s representation on the Grand Lodge, which includes Past Grand Presidents Mary Verges and Becky Demeris, as well as xxxx. Penelope of the Year recognition, the highest national award given to a member of the Daughters, was extended to Houston members Marie J. Harris in 2012 and Barbara Maligas in 2017


Today, AHEPA 29’s local community service includes the operation of four apartment complexes for low income seniors. Through the successful pursuit of grants from HUD’s Section 202 program beginning in 2001, AHEPA 29 Inc. facilitated the construction of over 240 apartments in southwest Houston, which are now 100% occupied by qualifying seniors, with hundreds on the waiting list. Net revenues from these operations, which approximate $14,000 per year, are distributed annually to other non-profits by the AHEPA 29 Charitable Foundation. Houston’s Daughters of Penelope, following a similar but independent course, secured funding for the development of the Penelope 54 Apartments, a 129-unit, two phase complex completed in 2016. These residences also maintain full occupancy and their net proceeds will be distributed to charities selected by an appropriate Achaia 54’s board.


The turn of the century witnessed the 2001 birth of the AHEPA 29 Educational Foundation, a 501c (3) Corporation, whose board—comprised of both AHEPANs and Daughters, oversees the acquisition and distribution of funds for scholarships and other educational pursuits. In addition to awarding over $40,000 annually to local college, university, and graduate school students, the Foundation supports the AHEPA 29 Career Day and Job Fair, offering guidance and support in pursuit of employment, achievement, and an enhanced quality of life. Achaia 54’s supplementary outreach includes the awarding of an annual scholarship of $1,000 to a local college student.


In recent years, fundraising activities by AHEPA 29 have facilitated shipments of medical supplies to Greece, the training of service dogs for American veterans with PTSD, the education of volunteer firemen from Greece by their American counterparts, provisions for travel and equipment for the Greek National Baseball Team, and support for dozens of local charities including Target Hunger and The Furniture Bank. Through signature annual fundraising events like their Valentine’s Day and koulourakia bake sales, and the highly popular Breakfast with Santa, Achaia 54’s charitable efforts have benefited the Penelopean Day Care Center in Greece; the nationally-acclaimed Penelope House Family Violence Center in Mobile, Alabama, and Penelope’s Place in Brockton, Massachusetts.


In what was perhaps the most significant, single contribution to the recovery and well-being of the local community, representatives of AHEPA 29 and Achaia 54, in concert with the Supreme, Grand, and District 16 Lodges, organized an international fundraising effort for those impacted by 2017’s Hurricane Harvey. In a matter of months, using a format similar to AHEPA’s prior relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina victims, over $70,000 was contributed and distributed to 38 families in the Houston area.


To keep pace with the diverse interests and intellectual curiosity of their members, the AHEPA and Daughters chapters began adding guest speakers and lecturers to some of their joint monthly meetings in 2016, extending an invitation to the entire community to share these experiences. Among those who have appeared are columnist and humorist Ken Hoffman, Emmy award winning reporter Wayne Dolcefino, petrochemical engineer Stadis “Stan” Patniyot, and business ethics consultant Helen Sharkey.


In the same manner that 20th century AHEPA Family members came together for dances, softball, bowling and picnics, AHEPA 29’s event calendar now includes an annual Whiskey and Cigar Social and a gaming event, along with concerts, golf, and other social pastimes. Achaia 54’s Spirit of Greece events offer a sampling of Greek wines paired with authentic Greek dishes in an evening designed to attract individuals outside of the Greek community.


After nearly a century of diligent stewardship, most of the social and economic challenges faced by AHEPA family members in the early 20th century have been neutralized if not eliminated. The good works of AHEPA and the Daughters have expanded to match the needs of contemporary society, with the Houston chapters proudly leading the way. In many ways, AHEPA 29 has morphed into a networking and mentoring organization while continuing to serve its educational, humanitarian and philanthropic goals. The chapter sees its role as proponent for the community’s wellbeing in pursuit of goodwill and commerce, along with strong sense of fellowship and social interaction. Achaia 54 pursues a substantive, complementary path, guided by the proprietary perspective of its membership which has fueled and fortified the organization for over 80 years.


As The Order of AHEPA prepares to celebrate its Centennial in 2022, Houston’s AHEPA Family stands with open arms and open hearts to embrace its next 100 years of service.


Doug Harris

President

AHEPA Chapter 29




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