Nikos Argeroplos & Vasiliki Argeroplos co-founded “Okay To Play”, they live in Maryland and here in a remarkable interview, they talk about their determination to help others, the organization they set up and how they feel about their notable achievement:
1. Vasiliki: Before we talk about ”Okay To Play” and its tremendous success, please tell me a little about yourself, your family and your Greek roots?
My name is Vasiliki Argeroplos , I am 12 yrs old and I will be 13 on Nov 10th. I like to draw, play field hockey, swim, sing and read. I have a brother, Niko, who started this organization with me who is 16 yrs old. I have two wonderful parents Ted and Demetra. My father’s family are from Corinth and my mother’s are from Dombrena, a village 30 minutes from Thiva. My mother was born in Athens and immigrated here at the age of 2. My father was born in Dayton, Ohio and we live in Maryland.
2. Niko: Do you and Vasiliki, ever visit Greece? What do you like about the country and society in general? Can you sympathize with the citizens over the present situation they find themselves in?
Vasiliki and I have visited Greece every year since we were born. When we were young up until a year ago, we would come to Greece with our Grandparents from June until August. Now as we are older, we have other commitments so we come with our parents for a month every year. I love our Greek culture, our amazing history, and it is truly the most beautiful country I have visited. Yes, I do sympathize with the citizens over the present situation. It is very upsetting for us Greek Americans because we are so proud to be Greek.
3. Vasiliki: What is ”Okay To Play” all about and what or who was the inspiration behind it?
“Okay to Play” is about giving joy to underprivileged children by giving them toys and other fun things they wish for. My brother and I were watching a documentary on how kids develop and grow by playing, and then we thought of children who are orphans or in foster care where they do not have the opportunity to play as we do. What we do, is collect cell phones, PDA’s and other used electronics. Then, we sell them to a recycling center. The profits of the electronics go to buying orphans toys from amazon.com, including soccer goals, basketball hoops and roller blades. We also recieve donations as well from personal and business contributors.
4. Niko: Would you like to see the idea of making children smile spread around the world?
I would love to see children smile and play around the world. It is what life is all about.
5. Vasiliki: Can you tell me something about the rest of the team involved in the organization and their roles?
The rest of the team of “Okay to Play” are cousins and close friends that live in other states and so they all run their own piece of “Okay to Play” in their states. Here are the names and states: Panayota Perdikis, NJ : Vlasi and Niko Pappas-Cleveland, Ohio: Nikolina Janakievski -Columbus, Ohio and Lucky, Rena Masoutis in NYC: Katerina and Jeff Jordan in Maryland.
6. Niko: Has it been fairly easy to persuade people to donate their cellphones and other electronics?
Yes. It has been very easy to have people give up their old electronics. Most people want to be able to help the environment and not allow their items to end up in land fills polluting our country. It does not cost them anything so that makes it even easier.
7. Vasiliki: How many cell phones have you collected so far and do you encourage young people to recycle products too?
We have collected over 1000 cell phones that we have recycled and received some form of money for them. We have collected several hundred other cell phones where there was not any money we received, but we still recycled them to keep these cell phones out of land fills. Yes. I encourage everyone to recycle because we need to keep our planet intact.
8. Niko: Have you had any help from large sponsors or interest in the organization from local authorities?
We need more sponsors and awareness out in the world. We do have several corporate sponsors that have recently voiced their support of our non profit charity. There are many others we would like to see support us in the near future. We are not anywhere near where we need to be, but are thankful for the supporters we have.
9. Vasiliki: How can people become involved in ”Okay To Play?” What kind of fundraising events would help the organization?
People can get involved in many ways. They can donate phones directly off our website or donate money right off our website. They can hold cell phone drives in their schools and churches. They can do various fundraisers such as car washes, bake sales, and gift card sales. Fundraising that would help “Okay to Play” would be to get corporate sponsors to support our cause by running promotions in their stores where a percentage of the sales can go to our charity. Any fundraiser would help us in any way. Also, I’d like to say here that if people have any orphanage in mind that needs our help, then they just have to contact us so that we can deliver some toys. The kids draw up a wish list and we try to see to it that they get exactly what they want.
10 Niko: What kinds of reactions do you get from the children when they see all the toys?
The children are skeptical at first when they receive these toys and items from their wish list. They do not trust us and are very withdrawn in the beginning. It seems to take a few hours of time spent with them before they then start to relax, trust and have fun. Some of the younger children have a happy and excited reaction right away and that is great to see.
11 Vasiliki: Do you find it heart-breaking to see so many children in orphanages and foster homes?
Yes. I find it heart-breaking to see other kids in these homes. We have heard some very sad stories that make me want to do even more. I feel the saddest part is that they are missing loving parents.
12. Niko: Can you tell our readers about any amusing incidents that have taken place when handing out the toys?
An amusing thing that occurred when we were giving out roller blades to one orphanage was that the children asked for these roller blades but only 2 of the children actually knew how to use them. So all of us from “Okay to Play” held on to each of them and tried to get them to learn how to roller blade. It was a lot of fun. The amusing part was watching all of us fall down together and start laughing, as none of us were really pros at this.
13. Vasiliki: Why do you think child development play is a very important part of growing up?
If you did not play, life would be boring. When you are little and you play it helps your brain develop and you learn different things. Also play keeps children from becoming obese because it keeps you active which can decrease diabetes.
14. Niko: What plans do you have for the future of ”Okay To Play”?
The plans we have for the future, involve raising more money in order to be able to grant more wishes to as many underprivileged children as we can. We are all kids running this organization and therefore we are quite busy with school and sports and all kinds of other activities, so the progress does not run as quickly as I would like to see it run. My sister and I, devote a great deal of time on the weekends to promote and build the organization. I would like to secure more grants from companies and create more awareness of our charity in any way that I can. I would like to have more corporate sponsors. I would also like to increase awareness and secure other children in other states promoting the charity. We have a long way to go, but I feel we are moving in the right direction.
15. Vasiliki: How do you feel about being chosen by Junior Achievement of Central Maryland as one of three Maryland young entrepreneurs?
I thought being picked for Junior Achievement through my school at Garrison Forest was a big honor and it was a very amazing experience. The Junior Achievement program helped me to learn how to set up a business and is what partly gave me the motivation.
16 Niko: What started off as a small affair in a conference room has now took off in several U.S. states. Why do you think that the organization is doing so well?
I feel the organization is doing well because we are just kids trying to make a difference by bringing some happiness to other kids, while at the same time helping the environment. We do not need money, we are just kids, so 100 percent of the money raised goes straight to the underprivileged children. We are an official 501 3 c non profit charity, so any donations are tax deductible. We hope it continues to grow and prosper so that we can see many more children’s lives impacted. I also feel that my school, The Park School of Baltimore, MD and their unique way of teaching us how to learn to think, has helped us immensely in our journey.
17. Vasiliki/Niko: Finally, what would you both like to say to the youth of America?
Vasiliki: Thank God for everything you have and make sure to always give back.
Niko: To not be passive in life, they need to get involved and help make the world a better place for all of our futures.
To become involved with “Okay to Play’, volunteer your help, become a sponsor, or donate cell phones and other electronics, click on: www.okaytoplay.org
“The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.” ~ Plato