Karen Stamatiades, the newly elected Grand President of the Daughters of Penelope, came to Washington in mid August and assumed her duties as the leader of the largest organization of Greek-American women. During her brief stay at our nation’s capital, between meetings with members of Congress and business executives, Ms. Stamatiades visited the Voice of America Radio & TV Network, where she outlined her vision for the “Daughters”, in a program that was simulcast by a number of affiliated Greek radio stations in three continents. Following is a transcript of her VOA interview.
Mr. Bistis: Our studio guest today is Ms. Karen Stamatiades, the new Grand President of the Daughters of Penelope, an organization affiliated with the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, better known as AHEPA. Ms. Stamatiades welcome to the Voice of America.
Ms. Stamatiades: Thank you very much.
Mr. Bistis: First, please accept my congratulations for your recent election to the highest office of your organization. What does it mean to you to be the new Grand President?
Ms. Stamatiades: It means several things. First, it means that our almost 10.000 (ten thousand) members had faith and thought that I could indeed run the organization. Second, it gives me the opportunity to put into operation some of the thoughts and dreams that I have built up over my years.
Mr. Bistis: Your election also reflects the appreciation your sisters have for the work you performed over the last 30 plus years in several other capacities within the Daughters of Penelope organization. I cannot think of anything you have not done. You have served as Chapter President, Vice President, Secretary, Advisor and you have chaired committees, which organized from cultural festivals and book fairs to kourambiedes baking for funding various charities. Since you have done it all, how would you define the mission of your organization?
Ms. Stamatiades: The mission of the Daughters of Penelope is something that has grown in my heart like a symphony. You start doing the little things, as you said, the baking and the taking part in activities and being a chairman of something. Then, little by little, you see that there is a bigger picture, that there is more you can do, more you can offer. I see my mission as one of bringing together the many different elements of our organization, of getting us to work with our brothers AHEPANS, to work with our junior orders, the Maids and the Sons, and to become a single functioning unifying voice, supporting the things that we believe most deeply in.
Mr. Bistis: Your overall work, Ms. Astamatiades, clearly reflects the importance you attach to the principles of Hellenism, philanthropy, education, civic responsibility and family. Given that no one of your parents had any ties with Greece and you were not born in Greece either, how did you develop such an appreciation for the Hellenic values?
Ms. Stamatiades: Again, it is something that comes slowly. The Hellenic values themselves have been espoused in our country, so if you love the United States you love democracy, you love the ability of one man’s voice to stand up and count for something. I think the Hellenic values are instilled in us from being a young child.
Little by little I was drawn into my husband’s culture, we have children that became Greek Orthodox members and that made me a part of the church and a part of the larger Greek community. Gradually the Hellenic culture became mine. There are many people who have no idea that I not born Greek, because I feel like I am. I feel like I am as much a part of the Hellenic community and the Daughters of Penelope as any other member. It just grew. I do not even know how or why.
Mr. Bistis: Going over you biography Ms. Stamatiades, I see that you were born and raised in Daytona Beach, Florida and then you moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Tell us about the Greek-American communities in these southern states where you lived. Let’s start with Daytona Beach, which is actually near New Smyrna Beach, where the first Greeks set foot in the new world.
Ms. Stamatiades: It’s really nice. I was born in Daytona and never knew the history of the first Greek settlement in New Smyrna Beach until I got affiliated with the Greek community. It was then that I found that this historic event had happened there and that the early Greek settlers later went to St. Augustine, where we now have the Saint Photios Shrine. As part of the AHEPA family I was also privileged to visit Tarpon Springs, on the west coast of Florida and join in the celebrations for Epiphany there.
In time I discovered that Florida is almost like a cradle of the Greek community. I never knew it growing up there. It was a wonderful surprise because now I can go home and go home. I have both. I have the home that I was born in and then I have the Greek family, which is my family. The New Smyrna Shrine (dedicated to the first Greeks in America) is very beautiful. It is right on the water and it makes you feel a part of the sea and a part of journeys that our ancestors made.
Mr. Bistis: Now that you are the Grand President what plans do you have, or would like to implement, in order to increase the importance and the effectiveness of your organization?
Ms. Stamatiades: Earlier you mentioned the five elements of our mission statement, which are Hellenism, philanthropy, civic responsibility, family and individual excellence. These are the things I want to focus on. We have 10.000 members and each of them has an idea of what the organization ought to be. I would like very much to focus their interest in and redirect it toward all of the things that we ought to be working on.
One of the new initiatives this year is civic responsibility. We will be working to have a voice on Capitol Hill. We will be working to present our women’s issues. We support a shelter for battered women in Mobile, Alabama, which is called Penelope House. We will take that issue to Capitol Hill and let them know we are concerned with women and children and their health, their safety and their homes.
We will take some of our health issues, Cooley’s anemia, the bone marrow registry that we are working on, cancer research that the Daughters of Penelope support through the Papanicolaou Foundation and along with them we will be taking some of the Hellenic issues, the Cyprus issue, things that we care about but we’ve not had a voice before. I think that is a really exciting initiative that I embrace and look forward to having the ladies voices raised with.
Mr. Bistis: How do you view the role of the new generation in all these activities that you just mentioned?
Ms. Stamatiades: I think we are going to find that they are more interested in current events than we have given them the opportunity to show. I further think that now that we have developed a new web site we will have a way to reach all of those web active youngsters that we have not had before. Through the site they can relate to us and we can relate to them on a much more current basis, because that’s where they are. They are on the Internet. They are not looking at their mailbox for their information from us.
Further, we are going to establish this year an athletic program, which we have not had before, for the ladies. The program will start out with golf, tennis and running. Those sports will be also offered at the Supreme Convention, which we will be holding in Athens, Greece this year, and with the Olympics that is a key factor. So, we will tie our interest in athletics with the Convention and then go forward with the program, we hope.
Mr. Bistis: Well, this sounds just wonderful. Ms. Stamatiades, thank you for joining us today. It has been a great pleasure having you here as a studio guest. Again, I congratulate you for your election as Grand President and wish you and the Daughters of Penelope all the very best.
Ms. Stamatiades: Thank you very much.