This summer, 10 North American students were sent by the Greek America Foundation to spend several weeks in Athens, volunteering at shelters of The Home Project, an organization founded to protect and care for unaccompanied refugee minors — children who have arrived in Greece from various conflict zones throughout the world and who are alone and without families.
The nine Americans and one Canadian were selected from dozens of applicants we received and carefully screened, given the sensitivity of the project.
The volunteers were Darden Livesay (Connecticut), Paul Grosso (Chicago), Stefanos Lazaridis (Houston), Daniel Nikolaidis (Baltimore), Constantine Cesak (Chicago), Maria Gad (Columbus), Evgenia Mantikas (New York), Katerina Busuttil (Toronto), Zoe Zacharopoulos (Phoenix), and Vasiliki Radaios (Chicago).
Over the course of the month of July, volunteers participated in various projects, tending to both the physical needs of the shelters, as well as the emotional well-being of the children living inside them.
Simple things like beach excursions, soccer matches and visits to museums turned into life-changing moments for both our volunteers and the refugee children, who were able to connect and share personal experiences, as well as their hopes and dreams.
Our volunteers also organized excursions to Delphi, Sounion and other sites outside of Athens where the children were able to leave the city center and experience more of the country they now call home.
The personal connections helped humanize the refugee crisis from front page news stories to something real and tangible that our volunteers will be able to take home with them to Columbus, Houston, New York, Baltimore, Chicago and other cities where they came from and share with their own family and friends.
One of the highlights of the program was an invitation for the volunteers to meet the United States Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt at the Embassy and share their experiences with him.
The Service Learning Program was funded with major support from Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos from the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago and peter Vlitas of Pro Travel in New York City. Additional funding in the form of sponsorship of individual students came from Dr. Marie Bountrogianni and Patricia Lambrecht, both board members of the Greek America Foundation.