Martin C. Barry
A “cocktail dînatoire” held for the benefit of the Giant Steps School and the Montreal Hellenic Community’s École Socrates-Démosthène exceeded some of the supporters’ best expectations by raising $216,000 for the two organizations.
The second “Children First” fundraiser drew at least 300 supporters to the Palace in Laval on the evening of May 11. While the Hellenic community of Greater Montreal (HCGM) oversees École Socrates-Démosthène, Giant Steps is the only autism-specific school that offers academic and social inclusion programs in Quebec.
For two worthy causes
Senator Leo Housakos gets the credit for coming up with the idea of holding a fundraiser that would help both causes simultaneously with a joint event. The funds raised are being split evenly between Giant Steps and École Socrates-Démosthène and other schools under the umbrella of the Hellenic Community of Greater Montreal (HCGM).
The amount raised this year was higher than with the previous event. “It’s very impressive and we’re very happy,” said Nicholas Katalifos, president of Giant Steps School’s board of directors. “Credit belongs to Senator Housakos and his co-chair, Tony Loffreda, as well as generous sponsors like Mr. Tsatas from the Palace.”
Nicholas Pagonis, president of the HCGM, also praised Housakos for putting the gears in motion to organize the event. “All this was made possible because Sen. Leo Housakos thought of it,” he said. “Of course it involves a lot of volunteers who devoted an enormous amount of time to make this happen. Every year the event is getting better and better.”
Pagonis, who was one of several speakers, also praised the HCGM’s school system for providing children of Hellenic origin with a trilingual education while maintaining their Greek identity. “In the Greek diaspora it is the only trilingual school,” said Pagonis.
City’s autism program
Laval executive-committee vice-president David De Cotis noted some of the measures the city has implemented to improve life for those with autism. They include sensitizing police officers as well as Laval Transit Corp. drivers to the needs of the autistic, as well as providing them with special training in how to respond when faced with situations involving autism. As De Cotis pointed out, Laval currently leads cities in Canada with such measures.
“This is a group of people I want to thank along with all of you, because thanks goes to all of you for being here this evening to support this cause,” Housakos said after calling up the fundraiser’s principal organizers to the stage. He recalled how he and Tony Loffreda were having dinner one evening when the idea for Children First came to them.
Giving back important
“Each of us who do well in society understands that we have an obligation to give back to society and that is the measure of success,” added Housakos. “To me when I support these two causes I support them because they’re both close to my heart.
“Giant Steps is geared to my heart because I think that no child in society should ever be left behind,” he continued. “Every child has a special gift. It’s just that they get to the finish line at different speeds and we have a moral obligation to support them to make sure they get to the finish line.”
Housakos said he supports Montreal’s Hellenic schools because they are “a part of what I am and I’ve very proud of where I come from and I think all of us who are Greeks have every reason to be proud.”