The young Greek Australian community is showing that its generation is very far removed from the stereotypes surrounding its age group.
The young are becoming a huge force in fundraising for much needed charities and causes, surpassing the efforts of many Greek associations in Australia.
For many of the new youth organisations in Australia, philanthropy is part of their constitution and is something they go out of their way to uphold.
Just recently, AHEPA’s Youth chapter in Victoria raised more than $4,000 to help fight the growing Ebola outbreak.
The National Union of Greek Australian Students (NUGAS) has united university students for years and is a huge contributor to fundraising for charities directly related to the Greek community.
Earlier on in the year, MUNGA, the Melbourne University student association, raised $2,500 for the Greek Centre for Contemporary Culture.
Melbourne’s dance groups also contribute, many times using their ticket prices to donate to worthy causes.
Pontiaki Estia has many young members that are involved with their dancing programs and recently the group raised $4100 for the Lemnos Gallipoli memorial.
The contribution of the young isn’t just pigeon-holed to large groups, the urge to give back is in everyone.
Events promoter for Fist Pump Entertainment Group, Billy Biliris, 20, has spent most of his short career running charity events for the Greek community.
He is currently organising a charity dinner event to become a part of his upcoming food and wine festival in Sydney and will raise funds for something close to his heart.
“My dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when he was 30 years old, so for a great part of my life I’ve seen what MS does to you,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
“I decided to do a Greek night for MS, I started that when I was 16 years old.”
He raised a whopping $40,000 in 2010 for the cause, and had more than 450 people in attendance.
He’s hoping to replicate that in his event next year, but hasn’t stopped at the one charity.
In 2012, he helped raise $70,000 for the Gasnier Foundation, an organisation invested in cancer research and treatment and fundraised for the Sydney Children’s Hospital.
He says the urge to give back is in every Greek innately, but sometimes more so in young Greek Australians, who understand the sacrifice and hardships their parents and grandparents suffered through in coming to Australia.
“If you go into our culture, it’s so enriched in giving back,” he says.
“Being Greek is more than just a label, it’s an honour. It’s not about who you are it’s about the person you are.”
Sadly he sees there’s still a reluctance for the older members of the community to trust the young and get them involved.
“They’re not giving enough of the young people an opportunity to achieve something and take over,” he says.
“We have so many associations, so many community organisations that and I can guarantee you no more than six of those organistaions out of the hundreds that we have someone under the age of 25 and that’s alarming.”
Founding member of the AHEPA Achilleas Youth wing, Jiannis Taousis had to work to get the organsiation to come around to the idea that a youth chapter was viable and wanted by the community.
Being invited to speak at an AHEPA event, he presented the idea of creating a youth wing and was met with laughter.
“They laughed at me because they had failed many many times to get youth involved,” Mr Taousis tells Neos Kosmos.
“They had never been approached by a young member of the Greek community.”
The creation of the youth chapter was a direct reaction to lack of clubs for the young that were about giving back to the community.
Achilleas Youth never tried to be a group that solely organised dinner dances, booze cruises or be another dancing group that have been on offer for years through student Greek societies. Rather, it chose to define itself by its philanthropic character and its networking focus.
In his presidency, Mr Tsaousis has managed to create precedents for AHEPA. With the group’s fundraising work for the charity O Kivotos tou Kosmou, which cares for disadvantaged children in Greece he got the Victorian branch to take notice. Together, the two branches have raised over $79,000.
Many young Greek Australians have been introduced to charity work and community service through their High Schools, and are very open to continuing
that work but haven’t been able to become members of worthwhile causes till now.
President of NUGAS Victoria, Tass Sgardelis says not all philanthropic work should be about raising funds. He is working to launch a new initiative in the next month that will have students visiting and volunteering their time at Greek charity AGAPI and nursing home Fronditha Care.
“In the last couple of years we’ve figured out we can only contribute so much financially, we do as much as we can, but where our greatest power is in our volunteering,” he tells Neos Kosmos.
“In the next month starting in October we’ll be doing regular visits to Fronditha and Agapi Care.
“We’re also really trying to make an effort to go to Greek schools over the next three weeks to educate them about where they can learn Greek.”
He feels the character of NUGAS has changed, and is seeing a shift in what members expect from the club.
There is a consensus that many young people are feeling stifled at existing Greek associations. The old guard blames a lack of interest from the young,
while the young feel they aren’t wanted at the clubs and can’t see change coming anytime soon.
Mr Taousis says the young are finding their voice in these new groups and are showing that they can be reliable.
“Whenever there’s a change in power, obviously some people loose out, they’re reluctant to hand over the reigns,” he says.
“But ultimately we’ve got these youth that are energized, and they’re going to bring this renewed energy towards philanthropy.”
At least the young are leading by example and showing new ways of reaching out to the community.