IN THE BEGINING: the mission and the purpose nationally and locally: civil rights and education are the cornerstone of AHEPA history.
Did you know that the AHEPA Palm Beach Chapter was established in 1923 as the 18th Chapter in the United States? What a difference four score plus years of history makes! AHEPA, nationally and locally, was organized as a “civil rights” organization to help immigrant Greek families find there way within the social, economic, political and civic life of their new county. It helped them realize the value of citizenship and the power of the vote.
AHEPA became the voice of the Greek American Community and articulated the interests of this dynamic community as it struggled to succeed within the American Way. To this day one of the most unique spring events hosted by AHEPA is the evening that honors the Congress of the United States in Washington D.C. In the 1950-60’s AHEPA had a membership of over 24,000 members. Today these membership numbers are in transition. The challenge is to attract a newer generation. Appreciating the history of the organization is a way for generations to relate and hopefully for a new generation to get involved.
Education is the way forward
To help the immigrant families be an integral part of their new homeland AHEPA saw education as the means to success. AHEPA chapters nation wide offered scholarships on a local level to deserving students of financial need and academic promise. In West Palm Beach this scholarship program has been offered for over 50 years and thousands of dollars have been collected and awarded.
Early History of Palm Beach AHEPA Chapter 18
From the beginning, the wives and children of the AHEPAN’s assisted them in presenting cultural and educational programs locally. Nine years after the founding of AHEPA the Daughters of Penelope Leda Chapter 59 was established and AHEPA was there to help the Daughters in its formal institutionalization. The two groups functioned like a family, sometimes more harmoniously than other times, just like our own real life families. As the extended family of the Greek-American Community in Palm Beach County they participated in community life. They marched up Clematis Street in ethnic costumes on Labor Day, Memorial Day and the 4th of July. On Columbus Day AHEPANS celebrated together with a picnic. Through these activities they projected and preserved the values of the Greek-American Community in Palm Beach County.
By 1929, there were about 25 Greek-American families living in Palm Beach County, most of them in the restaurant or restaurant related businesses. AHEPA programs and activities in the 20’s and 30’s included bringing together the pioneer business community and representing their interests to the local government and business leaders. Members networked together and socialized, sharing stories about business and family life. It encouraged the Greek-American community to participate in civic affairs and to vote. Archie Zapatis got the vote out to elect Mr. Beecham to the senate. Phil O’Connell Sr., a local political leader and state attorney was a member of AHEPA. Joseph Farish, a prominent attorney is a life time member.
Preserving a cultural heritage and serving as the benefactor of Orthodox Christianity: Nationally and locally preserving and sharing Hellenism and Greek Orthodoxy
As the needs of the community changed the programs and activities of AHEPA and the Daughters changed. They became more cultural and family oriented in the late 1930’s and 1940’s. They matured as an organization to the point where they needed a home to meet and celebrate so that as a community they could have a sense of place. The wives of AHEPANS encouraged them to purchase the synagogue that was for sale on Broward Avenue in West Palm Beach. This was accomplished in 1946 when Temple Beth Israel was purchased for $19,000 with a $6,500 down payment.
Many celebrations, gatherings, picnics, dances were organized in this AHEPA multipurpose community hall. It was in these times that both organizations were truly a partnership. Greek school classes were held here at no cost to the student. AHEPA paid a small stipend to Mrs. Eleftheria Pensos, the first Greek school teacher. Mrs. Aphrodite Karatinos also taught Greek school for many years. Greek Independence Day celebrations were especially festive. Eventually Sunday school classes were held here too. Mrs. Maria Elertis was the first Sunday school teacher. Eventually monthly Orthodox Christian religious services were held here and the AHEPA Hall became the informal home of the first Orthodox Christian Mission/Church in Palm Beach County. Finally the present St. Catherine sanctuary was dedicated in 1957 and AHEPA was and remains her dedicated benefactor. With the establishment of a formal church community with church organizations, the sense of AHEPA and the Daughters as an extended community family waned.
AHEPA and TOWARD A MORE PERFECT UNION
Today AHEPA is involved with other community agencies in preserving the Historic Temple Beth Israel Building built in 1923 and is working to relocate it to a downtown West Palm Beach site. AHEPA was represented on the city committee that awarded the building to the non profit agency, Toward A More Perfect Union, whose mission is “to unite our community through civic participation and open dialogue that leads to constructive action on race and ethnic relations, promoting human dignity and creating opportunity for all.” What a perfect match with AHEPA’s mission. Toward A More Perfect Union will honor the fact that the building was occupied by AHEPA for over fifty years with a permanent display of AHEPA Family memorabilia. Please look through your family albums and records and make these memorabilia available to AHEPA for duplication so that they can become part of this community exhibit honoring our past. This project is worthy of your financial support.
Sharing our cultural heritage with the local community
For many years AHEPA and the Daughters participated in the Annual KALEIDOSCOPE Festival sponsored by the City of West Palm Beach to celebrate the many cultures that make the City of West Palm Beach a community. AHEPANS and friends would adopt a public school in the area and for about a six week period offer an enrichment program to students in Greek history, culture, foods and dancing. The students would create a showcase that brought together their learning experiences and host an exhibit downtown West Palm Beach at Centennial Square. The Heart of Greece and other dance groups associated with them would perform as part of the program activities. Greek foods were offered by AHEAP members and friends at the international food festival. KALEIDOSCOPE is still an annual program but AHEPA does not participate because of a lack of “peoplepower” willing to share time and talent.
Philanthropy: Serving the needs of the Community – AHEPA 18 Inc. a service to the elderly
A new era began for Palm Beach AHEPA Chapter 18 in 1993. In that year AHEPA 18 INC was incorporated and the chapter voted to purchase the land at 4370 Community Drive. These brothers acting for the good of the local chapter and the community of West Palm Beach voted to apply for a Housing and Urban Development Grant to construct 98 apartment units responding to the community need to develop affordable and safe housing for our elders. The HUD grant was awarded October 1994. A ground breaking ceremony took place February 1995 and the first tenants occupied the apartments December 20, 1995. Similar projects in the community built through HUD programs and sponsored by church agencies include Villa Madonna, Villa Francisco, St. James and St Andrew Apartments. Palm Beach Chapter 18 AHEPA Inc. is one of 80 properties managed with the assistance of AHEPA National Housing Corporation.
Palm Beach AHEPA Chapter 18 provides and supports many activities for the residents of AHEPA 18 Housing. Every Thanksgiving, Fourth of July AHEPANS and Daughters and their families’ host, cook and serve barbeques and full course dinners to the residents who in turn organize fellowship programs of singing and other performances. The Chapter is also available to support social services and medical needs that arise from time to time.
AHEPA FAMILY CHARITIES of the Palm Beaches Inc. Supports local organizations that reflect our values.
In 1999 AHEPA Family Charities of the Palm Beaches Inc. was established as required by HUD and exists to broaden AHEPA’s philanthropic, educational, health care, social and cultural interests. It supports projects that enhance the quality of life in the Palm Beaches in these interest areas. Since 2001 it has dispersed $38,200 to local charities including:
- Support for the Professorship of Greek Studies at Florida Atlantic University by providing four grants for a total of $5,000.
- Support for the Hellenic Society PAIDEIA Project to develop a center for classical Greek Studies at FAU $17,000
- Provided the first grant to Toward a More Perfect Union to develop the multicultural community program as part of the preservation of the historic Temple Beth Israel building $3,200
- First Care Family Resources for its “Be the One” high school program $500.
- Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County to establish the AHEPA Children’s Fund two grants $4,000
- Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Palm Beach County for programs support offered to women to promote preconception health care, two grants total of $4,000
- Alzheimer Community Care $2,000
- Seagull Industries for the Disabled, Incl. Assisted Living Facility at Seagull Place, an independent living facility with a bedroom named after AHEPA $3,000.
PROGRESS will continue to be a hallmark of AHEPA if you choose to join!
Palm Beach AHEPA Chapter 18 needs new members and younger members to step up and carry on and perpetuate the work and mission of this organization. AHEPA NEEDS YOU. There are many activities to join and new ones to create if new energy is infused with the old timers. You can be part of
- Chapter activities
- AHEPA 18 Housing
- AHEPA Charities
- Community Outreach thru Kaleidoscope
- Preserving Historic Temple Beth Israel
- Developing and building the Center of Greek Studies at FAU
- Creating new programs with our youth in the Hellenic-American youth such as sponsoring and coaching a soccer team.
This historical overview was prepared by George Matsoukas, former chapter president and president of AHEPA Family Charities of the Palm Beaches.