Young people are volunteering while visiting or studying in Greece.
The next generation in the U.S. – young adults from adolescents to about 30 years of age, often referred to as the millenials – want to change the world. Young Americans of Hellenic descent are among them. There are young people from this country volunteering while visiting or studying in Greece. In the process, they are gaining new understandings of Greek society, establishing relationships with people in local communities, deepening their ties to their heritage, and learning important lessons about teamwork, community, leadership and citizen diplomacy.
U.S. millenials volunteer more than any previous generation, according to USA Today, and corporations have found that one of the best ways to attract this next generation as employees is to offer paid time-off to volunteer.
National leaders are recognizing that this desire to have an impact and change the world for the better extends beyond borders. In May 2011, The Next Generation Initiative participated in the Global Diaspora Forum, hosted by the State Department and other partners. We saw national leaders and donors of international programs recognizing and discussing the value of diaspora organizations in strengthening U.S. relations and partnerships with other countries in many fields. One areas of discussion was youth volunteering. Young people are seeking opportunities to go back to their countries of heritage, or other countries, to volunteer.
This trend is evident among Hellenic American youth. In a national student research study conducted by the Initiative in 2010, young Greek and Cypriot Americans overwhelmingly expressed an interest in traveling to Greece for volunteer, internship, study and work opportunities. Students and young professionals report that it is challenging to find information, in English, on community organizations and businesses that offer volunteer or partnership opportunities for diaspora youth.
To address this interest, The Next Generation Initiative would like to help its next Reinventing Greece student and young professional team find opportunities to join their peers in Greece and give back to local Greek communities.
Welcome to phase one in this effort: ask questions and learn.
We asked local non-government organizations (NGOs), community action groups, educational institutions and others about their volunteer programs and community service experiences to learn about opportunities for diaspora Greeks or friends of Greece to give back while they are visiting or studying in Greece. We found that study and travel abroad programs are increasingly incorporating service work in their programs. We are sharing some of their stories here.
As we search for opportunities for our team, we invite you to read about the initiatives we are discovering, and reach out to them to join their efforts if you will be visiting Greece this year. We also invite you to share more of your experiences with us and our readers in the comment section below.
Volunteering at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens: AHEPA Journey to Greece Program participates
In 2011, the sixth annual Journey to Greece (J2G) program took the first session of U.S. students to Greece to travel and learn, all for college credit. The project director, Dr. Jim Dimitriou, took advantage of the unique opportunity available to the first group: to volunteer with the 2011 Special Olympics taking place in Athens.
The students signed up for the program’s Introduction to Community Service & the Athens Special Olympics course, and registered with the Games. They completed assignments to support visitors in the Aquatic Center and Track & Field at the OAKA Olympic Center. Volunteering is a learning experience, and the students received college credits for their volunteering hours.
The J2G study-travel program, organized in conjunction with the University of Indianapolis, Athens Campus, has over 340 alumni from more than 60 universities in the United States and Canada. This is a network of students that have experienced modern Greece and learned about the history and language of the country and its culture under a structured study abroad program. As the students complete the remainder of their studies and begin their careers, they span nearly all sectors and fields with at least one thing in common: a unique understanding of Greece and its people, with more dimensions than travel alone can provide.
Students in the 2012 program will have another uniquely Greek opportunity to connect with the country’s history and local communities: they will volunteer with the Nemean Games, as part of the Undergraduate Community Project. The ancient games were revived in 1996 by Stephen G. Miller, an archaeologist who has spent over three decades on the excavation at Nemea.
Read more about the 2011 program and students’ experiences here: 2011 J2G blog.
Michael Savvas, AHEPA Journey to Greece 2011 participant and HelleNext intern
“This past summer, I had the privilege to volunteer at the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens. I volunteered with 24 other Greek-Americans in conjunction with the AHEPA Journey to Greece program. It was a special opportunity volunteering at the birthplace of the Olympic games and sharing the experience with friends that share my heritage.
Our group assisted with track and field and aquatic events. I assisted with spectator services at the Olympic swimming facility and helped athletes, coaches, and spectators from around the world. Along with my AHEPA family, we worked alongside local Athenians and made friendships throughout our week volunteering. We had the privilege of assisting in the award ceremonies, escorting athletes with disabilities, and answering questions of spectators and coaches. The experience allowed for a lot of interaction and we participated in the tradition of trading pins with people around the world.
As a volunteer, I felt as if I was an ambassador for my homeland. The Olympics took place during a difficult time for Greece, as the country dealt with difficult austerity measures. The international media compounded the problem by sensationalizing the “protests” and making Greece seem as if it was not safe. The Special Olympics were an event that showcased the best aspects of Greece and showed that it is a safe, beautiful, and historical country to visit. I made sure to communicate this to every person I encountered. Through my interactions with my new friends from around the world, I was able to educate my peers and share my love for Greece.
As a student working to become a Special Education teacher, the opportunity allowed me to learn about and interact with athletes with disabilities from around the world. The Special Olympics also showed me that Greece is making great strides in reducing the stigma associated with individuals with special needs. I learned that Greece is working hard to include these individuals in society, which will allow them to live the most prosperous life possible.
My volunteer experience in Greece with AHEPA was invaluable. Collectively, the AHEPA family volunteered over 1200 hours and made a difference in the lives of the athletes, spectators, and coaches. Our group bonded and we had the privilege to attend the closing ceremonies and a celebratory volunteer pool party. I also gained a greater appreciation for Greece’s history, specifically the Olympic games.
Today, via email and social networking, I still communicate with local Athenians that I volunteered with at the world games. It was recently announced that the next Special Olympics World Games will be in Los Angeles, and within hours after the announcement fellow volunteers emailed me about volunteering and visiting me in my native California. I am so appreciative that I had the opportunity to make a difference by volunteering in Greece and made friendships that will last a lifetime.”
- Michael Savvas, San Diego State University, San Diego, California
Kellie Nicole Noyes, AHEPA Journey to Greece 2011 participant
“Around this time last year I was sending in my application to attend the trip of a lifetime, ‘Journey to Greece’. I was on the brink of graduating college and excited for my summer plans, in which Special Olympics played a huge factor. I am a person that has grown up with an autistic family member so this was something near and dear to my heart.
I had no idea what to expect at the Special Olympics since I had never done this before. I was lucky to have such a great group of friends in my program that I got to volunteer with. Not only were we having fun but also we were bonding at the same time. I was mostly stationed near the aquatics area and got to watch a variety of events and races. Even though there was a language barrier being in a different country there is something that we all had in common which was to help others. We were a support system, and everyday that extra smile and ‘high five’ made a total difference in not only an athletes day, but also my own. I found Special Olympics reaffirming my faith in good deeds in the world and that I can make a difference. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I would do all over again. I feel so extremely blessed to have participated in this event with amazing friends that I will have for the rest of my life. I can officially say it was the best Summer I ever had.”
- Kellie Nicole Noyes, Long Beach State University, Glendale, California
Katherine Relle, Ionian Village counselor and 2009 HelleNext Athens Fellow
“I was a camp counselor at the Ionian Village, a Greek Orthodox youth camp (for Greek-Americans, ages 12-18) run by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and set in Glyfa, Greece (just outside of Bartholomio). My mother was an Ionian Village camper in 1970, the first year the camp opened. I was a camper in 2005 and enjoyed the experience so much I decided to go back to be a counselor when I turned 21 (in 2010).
As a counselor, I lived on the Ionian Sea in Greece from June-August 2010. I worked closely with a staff of about 20 other Greek-American volunteers as well as some of the local villagers from Glyfa, the seaside “horio” where we lived. When camp was in session, we traveled every other day to a monastery, island, or Greek landmark such as Olympia and Delphi. During each session, we spent five days in Athens touring historic sites such as the Acropolis.
The experience helped me to better understand how Orthodoxy has influenced Greece throughout the country’s colorful history. Visiting places like Zakynthos to venerate the relics of St. Dionysios and Patras to venerate the relics of St. Andrew were unique experiences that left an impression on me about depth of my religion and heritage. There is more to Greece than economic distress and I recommend all Greek-Americans find this out by connecting with their roots.
I think the program is also a great way to introduce Greek-American adolescents to Greece–the campers really seemed to enjoy the experience. Some campers were fluent in Greek and some had never tasted pastichio before; there was a wide range of campers who, throughout the summer, helped each other along their own Bynzantine adventures. The campers felt comfortable being surrounded by other Americans, yet really got a feel for traditional Greece by living in a rural village and eating home cooked Greek cuisine everyday, as well as taking part in traditions such as the village’s August celebration of the Panagia. Campers also spent time in Athens and visited the islands of Aegina, Poros, and Hydra. They were able to get a taste of a variety of country’s diverse landscape. The most rewarding part of being a counselor was hearing the campers plan their trips BACK to Greece at the end of the summer!”
- Katherine Relle, London, England, (originally from Washington, DC)
GREEK ORGANIZATIONS WORKING WITH VOLUNTEERS
Assisting Women Victims of Violence and Trafficking
The European Network of Women (ENOW), a non-profit organization based in Greece working on issues that affect women, has seen an increase in recent years in the number of individuals that approach the organization to seek the training required to assist victims of violence and trafficking.
“Our volunteers receive training to gain the skills to support victims of violence and trafficking over the phone and in person,” says ENOW’s director, Niki Roubani.
The organization’s volunteers also offer seminars, take interviews, write articles and organize meetings to bring women together and to build a network of teachers, experts and the public with awareness on domestic violence and human trafficking issues. Volunteers must be over 18 years of age, and, according to Roubani, are often “young lawyers, teachers, psychologists, or social sciences professionals that come to ENOW to gain experience and offer their services.”
Despite the increase in interested volunteers and the ongoing need for the victim support services that ENOW provides, a lack of funding has restricted the group’s ability to organize volunteer selection and training programs to give new volunteers the skills to respond in these sensitive situations.
Helping Children and Families
We interviewed Kiki Bourcha, Volunteer Coordinator with Hamogelo tou Paidiou, or The Smile of the Child, a Greek non-profit organization that helps children and families when they are most in need. “The volunteers in our organization are very important and are involved in all our activities. Truly they are the driving force in our actions and they participate to the evolution of the organization. Anyone can give as much time their schedule allows and they can choose to engage in an area they will enjoy.”
RG: What are some of the different ways volunteers can get involved with your programs? What do volunteers do?
Kiki: Our volunteers are equally important as our employees, at times even occupying positions and covering basic needs that could only be carried out by specialized personnel. Pending on the type of various needs arising each time and based, of course, on their availability and desire we mobilize our volunteers to complete the tasks.
Aside from the ad-hoc needs and emergencies that arise at times, which are addressed by our volunteers, there are also other activities where every individual can participate, volunteering either on a steady basis or whenever they are available. Specifically:
Child Care In Hospitals: At various Children’s Hospitals in Athens and its regions, there are children hospitalized because of a court order. These children are not in hospitals due to illness but because the Public Prosecutor requested to remove them from their family environment due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. These children, ranging from a few months old to teenagers, are hospitalized until they are placed with a foster family or a shelter that will accept them. Our volunteers are required to ensure that these children are taken care of, the same way as they would look after their own children, and embrace them with the love and affection they need.
Creative Activities In Hospitals: At the Children’s Hospitals “Aghia Sofia,” “Hippokration” Hospital of Thessaloniki, AHEPA Thessaloniki, Pediatric Hospital of University of Patras (Rio) and the Pediatric Hospital of Karamandaneiou Hospital in Patras, our people from the Creative Activities department comfort and stimulate hospitalized children, inspiring them to continue their battle for life. Staff and volunteers of this team stand by the children, giving them strength and passing on their enthusiasm to put the much needed smile on their faces.
Our Community Homes: Our Homes are considered to be the ultimate point for volunteers. We have to be extremely cautious of whom we welcome in our Homes and entrust with children. We need to know our volunteers and by the same token our volunteers would have to get to know us. Before they get involved in our Homes they have to participate in other actions, get acquainted with the Organization, its objectives, the people, the work and the children. Then, if they wish to further contribute, and based on their skills and abilities, we ask them to help in the Homes, escorting the children to their out-of-school plays and outdoor activities or helping them with recreational activities within the Home.
Centre For Child Support And Family: The Child and Family Support Center collects items for our Community Homes but also for families that need our support and face serious survival problems. This place depends on our volunteers, since they contribute both by donating goods and by helping sort items to keep the place organized. Such voluntary work is required in all areas where our Organization is active.
Volunteer Creative Workshop: Our Organization’s existence depends solely on the participation of people. By utilizing the valuable contributions of our volunteers to the utmost, we have managed to create our own Workshop, which offers a rich collection of wedding favors and invitations for those who wish to use our products and help us while sharing their joy with us.
Bazaars and Exhibits: Throughout the year, “The Smile of the Child” organizes bazaars and participates in various fairs and exhibitions, where people gain information about our work and the Organization has an opportunity to promote our work. It’s needless to say that during these exhibits, volunteers play a vital role and are more than necessary.
Professional Volunteers: People contributing their professional services to the organization are of great value. The children of “The Smile of the Child” enjoy the pro-bono services of volunteer doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals, that are always there when such needs arise.
Office: Office work in our organization requires knowledge of computers or just the goodwill and zesty feeling for doing the filing and paperwork!
RG: What kind of volunteers come to Hamogelo?
Kiki: We have all kinds of people helping us. We are like a community inside the community. Individuals that get involved in our actions include students, adults, seniors, professionals or individuals that are helping with manual labor. We choose together in which program or action they will participate based in our needs and their abilities.
RG: Have you seen any increase or change in the number of people that reach out to your organization to volunteer or contribute donated resources in recent years?
Kiki: The recession made Greeks lose their jobs, so there are more that a few who decided to donate their free time in volunteer work. There is hope in this change because we can see that even when our country is going through a very difficult period, our people rally to help each other.
The organization has only had one volunteer from the Greek diaspora, who joined the Creative Workshop for a month, but the organization welcomes volunteers from Greek diaspora communities. “In the future we hope for more active participation, and please note that someone can also complete an internship at our organization.”
“Anyone who will start volunteer work with The Smile of the Child will have an extremely interesting and educational time.”
Additional information for interested volunteers can be found in Greek here: http://www.hamogelo.gr/40.1/Ethelontismos
Luke Hamel, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Intern and American Farm School in Thessaloniki Alumnus
“I finished high school last May and decided to take a gap year before going to college in the fall. Because of my affinity for Greece and my love of volunteering, I decided to take spend my gap year enjoying just those things. This amounted to eight months in Greece, two volunteer projects and an internship. My first volunteer project was with ANIMA, the Organization for Hellenic Wildlife. I worked with them for three months. Their center in Tavros, Athens, accepts injured animals from around Attica and Greece. The staff of four and their large complement of volunteers feed and provide medical care for these animals until they are ready to return to the wild. My jobs included feeding the animals, upkeep of the office, and cleaning the animals’ cages.
While I volunteered for ANIMA, I took occasional weekend shifts with a similar organization, Archelon. Archelon is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of sea turtles. For several Fridays in December, I worked in their clinic cleaning the turtles and their tanks, learning how to feed them, and learning how to administer their medicine via injection and intravenous drip. The Archelon center is right on the sea at Glyfada. The high point of my volunteership with Archelon was the day we released two of the rehabilitated turtles.
Perhaps the best part of volunteering in Greece is the people I’ve met. They come from all over Europe to volunteer here, mostly with the European Voluntary Service, and they are as varied as they are incredible. The volunteer community is close-knit, accepting and full of energy. I can assure anyone thinking of volunteering here, particularly in Athens, that you will play and have fun as much as you work. I love the people here – volunteers, native Greeks, travelers, students. So many of them have brought so many smiles, so much laughter to me.
Having volunteered and worked here five months so far, I don’t want to go home. When my last project finishes, I’ll probably find a different one and stay in Greece until I have to start school next fall. I would not be surprised if my parents have to fly here and drag me back home themselves.
- Luke (Loukas) Hamel, Severna Park, Maryland. Currently in Athens, and soon on Samos.
Teens learn, gain inspiration and build connections with rural villages in Greece through community service
The American Farm School in Thessaloniki, Greece allows students to earn credit for volunteering with the School’s educational farm or for volunteer projects with local or international community service organizations. The School’s programs are designed around its founder’s vision of “educating the whole individual: the head, the hands and the heart.”
AFS offers a summer program for teens from around the world, and community service projects are a key element of this experience. In 2011, students participating in this program helped locals in the Greek village of Nea Gonia build a recreation and seating area around a historic stone springhouse. Read about the project and the students’ experience in Athens News.
About the summer program:
Greek Summer is an intercultural exchange program established in 1970. It is designed for U.S. and international teenagers who are enthusiastic about immersing themselves in Greek culture, contributing to the quality of life in a rural Greek village, and exploring the natural beauty of Greece, including a climb to the summit of Mt. Olympus. Throughout the years, the American Farm School has built a tradition of helping Greek villagers meet their evolving needs through community service projects carried out by Greek Summer participants. During Greek Summer, young Americans undergo their own metamorphosis of thought and spirit as they work to accomplish set goals. The intensity of the experience leads participants to realize new potential and discover resources within themselves and each other.
Additional info on finding opportunities and sharing experiences of volunteering in Greece:
A list of organizations in Greece seeking to have a positive effect on society, under the categories of Civil Society and Volunteerism, Events and Learning, Entrepreneurship, and Co-Working, is located here.
Share your experiences on My Greece – get the word out!
We will be featuring more organizations that work with volunteers, and more stories from young Hellenes living abroad and friends of Greece that volunteered while visiting Greece. Share your suggestions with us!