American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, or AHEPA, was founded in 1922 in Atlanta, Georgia to help Greek immigrants assimilate to their new life in the United States, as well as protect them from discrimination. In 1969, Chapter 438 was established as “Arlington Virginia Chapter” but would later be changed to “The Peter N. Derzis Chapter 438 of Arlington, Virginia” in honor of Past Supreme President Peter N. Derzis.
AHEPA’s mission worldwide is to promote the ancient Hellenic ideals of education, philanthropy, civic responsibility, family and individual excellence through community service and volunteerism. There are over 400 chapters across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia – Chapter 438 is one of the largest and most distinguished in the U.S., producing many national and district leaders throughout their 52 year history.
Although the influx of immigrants isn’t what it used to be, the organization has continued with its charitable endeavors supporting and raising funds for: scholarships, career fairs, daycare centers, affordable housing, churches, cemetery restorations, archdiocese orphanages & schools, disaster relief, educational programs, “Support the Troops”, and the list goes on!
It’s no secret that a huge component of the organization is education. Several years back, one of AHEPA’s youngest chapter members championed the concept to create something called the AHEPA Academy. The Academy is a unique program that was designed to mentor exceptional high school students as they progress in high school and college. With this special program, students are given an opportunity not only to network and benefit from various mentorships that AHEPA provides, but to also get them engaged in the whole concept of giving back to the community.
Meet Past President of the Chapter, Jim Stoucker
To learn a bit about AHEPA, I had the pleasure of speaking with an active member of the AHEPA community and Past President of the Chapter, Jim Stoucker. From birth, Jim was fully immersed in Greek culture because both of his parents were Greeks living here in the United States. He is a retired military officer who became a member of AHEPA to find an avenue that would allow him to give back to the community. He has found much joy in promoting Greek principles and ideals, while also helping people in need.
Being a member of AHEPA may traditionally run in the family, but you don’t have to be Greek to join this amazing community; Membership is open to anyone who believes in the same ideals!
Forging A Partnership with Beacon Design
When asked what attracted him and his organization to Beacon Design, Jim says: “Well that’s probably the simplest answer I’m going to give you all day… Your reputation and the quality of the product!” He goes on to say, “…And you know, obviously most of us were aware of the White House Christmas ornaments before we ever knew about ChemArt, or what eventually became Beacon Design, but when the idea of the ornaments came up, that was a logical place to go, and you know the rest as they say, is history.”
Back in 2008 as part of their chapter’s 40th anniversary celebration, Jim decided to create an annual ornament that would feature a topic of interest to the community. This ornament would primarily be a fundraiser that would enable the organization’s good works and other charitable activities, and that’s how it started. 100% of the proceeds from this ornament’s sales went to Chapter 438’s long list of various charities.
Jim says “Here we are, this is the fourteenth year that we’ve done our ornaments and it’s really pleasing for me to tell you that the response has been overwhelmingly positive.” Over the years, 438’s donors have seen a range of ornaments from traditional to whimsical, and now more recently, commemorative. Jim goes on to say, “They’ve become true collectibles in every sense of the word. Every year about the time the ornaments come out, people get excited and can’t wait to see the new ornament.”
Jim believes that with any endeavor it’s always good to forge positive relationships and communicate as effectively as possible, and he’s been able to do that with Beacon Design. Over the last 14 years Jim has had 3 different account reps and he says, “and they’ve all been great! I’ve always been able to rely on them and I’m constantly amazed at the design capabilities. They essentially take our vision and translate it into some inspiring ornament. It’s just been a remarkable thing to see.”
Building Lifelong Collectors
Jim and the rest of the executive committee have noticed that there are several people coming back every year to purchase their annual ornament. Jim says that 438 hosts community events and they’re always pleasantly surprised when people that don’t even necessarily belong to the community stop by to check it out. These people have gotten in habit of collecting their annual ornaments year and year and that’s been very rewarding over the last 14 years. 438’s annual ornament sales have been a big success and everyone involved is very grateful, and humbled.
To celebrate 200 years of Greek independence this year, Chapter 438’s annual ornament is a little bit different from previous years because they decided to go the commemorative route rather than the traditional Christmas route. 438 took a risk in choosing to design an ornament in commemoration of the bicentennial celebration for Greek’s independence, and let’s just say it really paid off because it’s been wildly popular.
They’re also in the process of getting ready to celebrate AHEPA’s 100th anniversary in 2022. Jim says, “When you think about all that’s happening with our organization over the course of the last century, I think it’s easy to understand that we’ve been a significant legacy of accomplishment.” Now, their focus among other things has been philanthropy, and because of its diverse nature they really have an opportunity to help any number of people across all segments of society. One of the things Jim says they’re really proud of is that over the course of AHEPA’s history, they’ve donated well over a billion dollars to charities. Everyone involved in the organization is extremely proud and of their legacy and it’s really rewarding for them to be in a position to continue to give back to the community.
Jim’s Final Note
Jim ends us with a sort of ‘fun fact’ and says that when they first started their annual ornament program, they sold them at churches, festivals, bazaars, and things of that nature. They would set up a booth and basically only have walk-up traffic to sell the ornaments, which worked just OK. In the last couple of years they were able to develop an online storefront and Jim exclaims, “and I’m telling you, it’s just a world of difference!” Now that they have a storefront on their website, it allows them to market to anyone and everyone, and has broadened their sales capability immeasurably. Jim goes on to say “We used to basically sell in the local area, or maybe to people who happened to be visiting the local areas. The first year that we had this storefront up and running, we had orders from California, Illinois, Florida, Texas, you name it! We never had access to those markets before and that’s been a big big big boost for us, and frankly, something we should have done years ago, but better late than never!”
To learn more about creating your own custom keepsake program for fundraising, click here.