Elena Skardis Saviolakis (DEREE ‘04) is the Daughters of Penelope’s executive director at the organization’s headquarters in Washington DC, where she has made good use of her ACG degree in International Business and European Affairs, as she oversees the international organization’s overall management and operations. She also holds an MBA in International Business from George Washington University, which she earned while working.
Ms Skardis Saviolakis spoke to Touch Base about her studies at DEREE – The American College of Greece (ACG), her illustrious career to date – so impressive she was named one of Greek America’s Forty under 40 by the Greek America Foundation for 2012 – and also discusses the Daughters of Penelope, which is a women’s organization part of the AHEPA family, dedicated to promoting Hellenism, as well as a host of educational, charitable and social issues.
Can you tell us where you were born and raised and where you went to school, and also about your Diaspora experience – what it was like growing up as a Greek American – and how come you came to Greece and the American College of Greece (ACG) to study?
I was born in Washington, DC and raised in Potomac, Maryland. My mother, Barbara Ann Balcerzak-Skardis (DEREE ’78 – Associate Degree in Secretarial Studies), is a graduate of ACG and is from Athens and my father is from Thessaloniki. After college, my parents came to Washington, DC for graduate studies and decided to remain in Washington, DC to start a family and work.
Every Saturday until I was 15 years old, I attended Greek School and Greek Dance. I was very fortunate to live in a place with a very large Greek-American community and therefore I had many Greek-American friends and participated in many activities in the Greek-American community such as GOYA [the Greek Orthodox Youth of America], the Greek Festivals, and others.
After high school, my mother told me about her experience at ACG and I became interested in it. I always wanted to be immersed in our language and culture and ACG was the perfect opportunity to achieve that so I decided to complete my undergraduate studies at ACG.
What do you remember most about your time at DEREE – The American College of Greece?
I remember my wonderful professors and the friendships I made.
What did you gain most from your studies at ACG?
I not only gained a valuable education but also had the opportunity to learn the Greek language and culture. I also had the opportunity to work in the Athletics Department at ACG for Mr Christopher as the Athletics Coordinator, which was another great experience as I was able to gain valuable work experience and again establish new friendships. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of the professional women’s soccer league in Athens and also participated as a dance performer in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony.
What was your most memorable experience from the Athens 2004 Games?
Everything about the Olympics was memorable! Being able to participate was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and so special since it was in Athens where it all started. I loved being in the stadium during the ceremony and dancing and just hearing the crowd so enthusiastic. It was also so great meeting so many other volunteers and athletes.
Can you tell us what you did after your studies at ACG?
After my studies, I returned to Maryland and was a marketing manager for several large hotel chains. After a few years of work experience, I then joined the Daughters of Penelope and became its executive director at its headquarters in Washington, DC. While working, I completed my graduate studies and obtained an MBA in International Business from George Washington University in Washington, DC.
What inspired you to participate in Daughters of Penelope (DOP)?
I strongly believe in its mission as my family and I are members of the AHEPA [American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association] family. The objectives of the Daughters of Penelope are to promote Hellenism, education, philanthropy, civic responsibility, family & individual excellence.
Can you tell us about your work with the organization?
As the executive director of the organization, I oversee the overall management and operations of the Daughters of Penelope as an international organization.
What are the prerequisites for becoming a member?
Any woman who is of good moral character, a believer in the existence of God and in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, who believes in and advocates the maintenance and promulgation of the principles, objects and ideals of the Daughters of Penelope, who is willing to subscribe by its Constitution and the decrees and mandates of the Supreme Conventions, to obey its authorities and revere its Hellenic traditions, is eligible for membership in the Daughters of Penelope.
Can you tell us how many districts you have, the countries you are in, as well as how many members you have?
We have almost 300 Chapters in our 26 Districts. Our chapters are located in Greece, Canada, the USA and Germany. Our chapters comprise approximately 10,000 members.
In your travels, is there a common theme that you find people ask you about in your role within the organization?
The theme is always Hellenism and what the DOP’s mission is and how it helps to promote Hellenism, which the organization does in several ways.
The DOP is widely known for its support of research, scholarships and a host of other activities that promote Hellenism as well as social issues. Perhaps less known is the organization’s help in easing the suffering from the Greek economic crisis? Can you tell us about this aspect?
Yes, the DOP has helped to send boxes of food to hundreds of families in Greece through the Apostoli Program. In addition to this, our chapters in Greece have also helped distribute boxes of food to families in their communities. Some of our chapters have also sponsored blood drives in Greece, helped to collect medical supplies desperately needed in public hospitals in Greece, provided free medical examinations such as breast cancer screenings, and helped to rebuild facilities including orphanages for young children.
What inspires you the most about your Greek roots and culture?
I am very proud of my Greek roots. I am always inspired by the Greek word “filotimo” and what it means. I feel as though Greeks have always and always will exhibit “filotimo” no matter what the circumstance.