For the fifth year, dozens of young adults from the United States and Canada traveled to various parts of Greece to participate in the Greek America Foundation’s summer volunteer program, Greek America Corps, which aims to serve the country’s most vulnerable populations while immersing participants in local culture and society.
This summer saw 34 young North Americans take part in four three-week programs in Athens, Thessaloniki and Chios working alongside our Greek charity partners whose work benefits different vulnerable groups.
Service projects included organizing a variety of recreational activities with refugee children from Ukraine, Afghanistan and other war-torn countries; saving thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables from farmer’s markets; painting projects; cleaning parks and beaches and numerous other endeavors.
Our volunteers worked alongside organizations such as Elpida Home, a Thessaloniki-based charity serving refugees and asylum seekers.
Elpida Home has recently dedicated most of its resources toward helping Afghan families who fled the Taliban in August 2021 and are on hold in Greece awaiting resettlement to Canada and the United States.
Our team supported Elpida Home and the Afghan children by organizing activities, providing a variety of classes and working with the American Farm School, an independent, non-profit educational institution in Thessaloniki.
Activities included English lessons; a mini outdoor olympics; olive wreath decorating; learning traditional Greek dances; yoga classes and music lessons, among many others.
Our Greek America Corps also supported Boroume, a charity which aims to reduce food waste and fight malnutrition and which gathers unsold food from farmers markets that will otherwise be thrown away.
In farmer’s markets throughout Athens and Thessaloniki, volunteers helped Boroume gather thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables to be redistributed to soup kitchens, shelters and institutions that serve disenfranchised Greeks, immigrants, children and other people in need.
In Athens, the volunteers spent afternoons working with young children from the refugee community, many of them who have arrived in Greece after fleeing the ongoing war in Ukraine.
They organized Greek lessons, arts activities and excursions for newly arrived Ukrainians and children from other countries, helping them to integrate into Greek society and normalize their experiences following severe trauma.
Activities were done in collaboration with the Greek Council for Refugees, an organization that provides various services to refugees and asylum seekers in Greece.
Every year, the Greek Council for Refugees offers a summer camp for refugee children in order to provide them and their families with supplemental educational resources, activities and assistance outside the regular school year.
Our team also traveled to the outskirts of the city and took part in various environmental activities, including a beach clean up in Piraeus alongside the environmental non-profit we4all and the International Organization for Migration.
In the Athenian neighborhood of Nea Smyrni the young adults completed a paint project in collaboration with George Krikris, the local deputy mayor.
The team also learned about an initiative called THEGREENCITY and the municipality’s efforts to provide accessible recycling to local communities.
On the island of Chios, our volunteers worked alongside METAdrasi, an organization supporting unaccompanied refugee children; Kivotos Tou Thodori (Ark of Theodore), an animal welfare organization which operates a shelter for rescued and abused dogs; and Kivotos Tou Kosmou (Ark of the World), an orphanage which provides an upbringing, housing and general support system for abused and abandonded children.
Every day, volunteers spent hours at the METAdrasi shelter in the main Chios town to offer English lessons, play games and organize other educational projects for the children living there. They also spent evenings playing soccer and went on numerous beach trips to enjoy “fun in the sun” with activities such as volleyball and “raketes.”
The young North Americans provided Kivotos Tou Thodori with much-needed help in caring for the dozens of dogs living in its shelter; they helped feed, walk and generally tend to the canines, many of which have suffered severe abuse and/or neglect.
Projects Kivotos Tou Kosmou ranged from painting and beautifying the orphanage to playing basketball with the children — a much-needed release and escape from the trauma they’ve faced.
Consistent with the Greek America Corps program mission to immerse participants in local customs and history, off-days were filled with unique cultural activities.
Throughout the summer, our volunteers experienced a concert at the ancient Odeon of Herodes Atticus; wine tastings; mastiha harvesting in the fields; visits to museums, archeological sites and other historically significant places; beach trips; hiking and sailing excursions and other experiences — including a day trip to Izmir, Turkey (known to Greeks as Smyrna) for the Chios team.
Weekly schedules also included multiple lunches and dinners at authentic tavernas and other restaurants to expose participants to Greece’s rich and diverse cuisine. And thanks to the generosity of our donors who sponsored the costs, we were able to provide occasional ice cream parties after long days in the heat.
Multiple volunteers offered reflections after the programs and said that they felt significantly impacted by their experiences.
“The program has had a significant impact on me as an individual and has reiterated the importance of gratitude. The children opening up and sharing their stories with me has inspired me to continue participating in refugee work and create environments where people feel as though they are safe, accepted, understood and inspired.” – Brenna, 22, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
“This program is the ultimate win-win. You’re both doing life-changing work with incredible people — you get to meet all these people and hear all of these stories — but you’re also in Greece, and you have the lovely weather, food and beaches. It’s the best of both worlds.” – Yanni, 23, Toronto
“The thought of these children being here [in Greece] on their own without their families or parents really bothered me, and so being able to give them these three weeks has been such a joy, and it’s the least that I could do for them,” Chrysoula, 20, Charlotte, North Carolina
“The experience, especially working with the refugee children, has really put into perspective what ‘going through it’ is and what struggle is and how you can still work through that with a positive attitude.” – Peter, 22, New York City
“This program has expanded my mind and made me a better, more knowledgeable person. This program has reinforced my desire to expand my horizons by exploring new countries and learning new languages. I will remember this amazing experience for the rest of my life.” – Alyana, 20, Vancouver
“I feel like I grew in almost an independent way while still having the opportunity to be involved with other members of the group. A lot of this was new for me — doing things on my own outside of my family, having just graduated high school. As far as growth, the program definitely gave me a sense of independence.” – Nate, 18, Granite Bay, California
The 2022 Greek America Corps program costs were funded by the Greek America Foundation, thanks to the generosity of numerous donors including a major gift from Michael Psaros, who made an annual pledge of $60,000 to fund the entire Chios program. Major gifts were also made by John Georges, Arthur and Susan Karas, Spiro Macris, the Order of AHEPA and Jack Gantz Foundation.
The Greek America Foundation has plans to expand the Greek America Corps program in summer 2023 with a program in Hania, Crete, and another environmental program in the Cycladic Islands.
For more information about Greek America Corps, click here.