In 2020, the PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation will transform its annual Gala into a virtual gathering, due to restrictions enacted to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Founded in 2002 by famed Greek-American businessman and philanthropist Chris Tomaras, the foundation has provided over 500 scholarships to Greek-American students during the past 18 years.
The purpose of the foundation, in its own words, is… “to promote education by providing scholarships and educational programs to Greek American college students who, guided by the values of their Hellenic upbringing, have the potential to become life-long significant achievers and contribute meaningfully to society.”
Each year, the foundation awards $250,000 in scholarships.
The PanHellenic Scholarship Foundation is not a large membership-based organization. Rather, there is a Board of Directors consisting of 14 members and an Advisory Board made up of 23 couples, who guide the organization.
“The benefit of couples is that with a charity or a school your decisions are actually a family- and couple-decision process…..So if you have an Advisory Board with couples, they both have a different set of talents coming to the events. They both have different set of ideas, they both buy into the process. And so our Advisory Board is very involved and very significant to the process,” said Robert A. Buhler, Chairman of the Board.
Buhler is also President and CEO of Open Pantry Food Marts of Wisconsin.
To raise the money needed for the annual scholarships, a unique group of giving options are available to the community.
Donors can choose to give an annual amount for ten years. For instance, they might choose to donate $50,000, $100,000 or $200,000, in equal payments over ten years.
“They typically make their donation in recognition of a family member or a loved one, and it becomes a nice way for them to effectively make a very impactful donation. So, their family makes a commitment of $50,000 over five years. They then know that they can come to the Gala every year in Chicago as a family event. They generally fill a table and have a family event. They pick a scholar each year from our forty kids and, at their option, they meet the scholar and get to understand the scholar’s family and struggles, ambitions and aspirations, and many times people follow up with the scholars very actively,” noted Buhler.
Scholarships are distributed among students throughout the country. In 2020, eight will be granted to students from the midwest, 25 from the northeast, five from the south, and two from the west.
Since 2002, 570 scholarships will have been distributed among qualified Greek-American students, including in 2020.
Choosing from the hundreds of applicants for candidates is very difficult work, handled by an independent group of academics.
“Chris, to his credit from day one, set up an academic committee that was really independent and set the standards and the curriculum. Chris may have come up with the essay questions for the students to write about, regarding their Hellenic focus. Some of the questions were pretty tricky and pretty tough Greek historical questions that the students had to research.
“The academic committee is a marvelous group of independent people. We have seven members on the committee. There are professors from across the country who work very hard. Of the 200 applications this year, they have to winnow them down to 40, including needs-based and non-needs based applicants.
“The applications are due January 31st. So they work all of February, March, and hopefully by the end of April we announce the selection of scholars,“ said Buhler.
Being selected is a difficult process for candidates, as they must submit their past curriculums, their grade point averages, and, finally, letters of recommendation.
“Then we hone in on their Hellenism. Unfortunately, we’ve had 4.0 students going to great schools who have great aspirations and are going to do wonderful things, but they don’t really have much Hellenic depth in their lives. So they either haven’t or they don’t seem to have a pizzazz to do something in their lives about their culture. So some of those get winnowed away,” adds Buhler.
“Typically, a recipient must be a freshman and has to be done with his first semester. We then calibrate each year. So, a junior is going to receive a little bit more of an upgrade than a freshman, because if you’re a 3.9 freshman, that means you have one semester, and that’s good, but it’s not like a 3.9 junior. We do have some freshman this year, but this is typically designed to have upperclassmen who have been able to sustain these high grades.”
For those students receiving scholarships, the weekend begins on Friday, June 12, when they will participate in a Virtual Welcome Reception for all 40 students.
On Saturday, June 13, there will be an online Virtual Mentoring Luncheon, in which 15 mentors will be introduced to the scholarship winners. The luncheon is held in partnership with The Hellenic Initiative.
This will be followed up at 7:30 pm with the Virtual 2020 Awards Gala, in which each of the scholarship recipients will be presented.
The Master of Ceremonies for the Gala will be Greek-American broadcaster and journalist Lou Canellis.
Also, there will be a recognition of past scholarship recipients, along with celebrity shout-outs from Billy Zane, Chris Chelios, Yannis Pappas, and others.
Lastly, there will be a presentation of this year’s scholarships.
Those wishing to tune in to the 2020 Gala will find it streaming via YouTube and Facebook. The streaming link can be found at panhellenicsf.org