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St. Sophia Greek Festival celebrates Greek heritage | News

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St. Sophia Greek Festival celebrates Greek heritage
News

ALBANY - For 42 years running, St. Sophia's Greek Orthodox Church in Albany has hosted its annual Greek festival. And although through the years, food, family, and fun have remained a constant, this year, there's something else on the minds of festival goers.

There's always plenty of souvlaki and gyro's at the festival, but this year, with the Greek nation possibly on the brink of economic collapse, there's also plenty of food-for-thought being served up.

Greek Americans couldn't be prouder of who they are or where they came from.

"My father and our fathers and our grandfathers, when they came to this country, they had nothing," noted George Sokaris, a spokesman for the St. Sophia Greek Festival. "We made a home here and we became prosperous from what America had to offer."

That's why young children were wearing costumes Saturday afternoon and why they learn traditional dance steps. It's why people listen to Greek music and serve Greek food, and shop for Greek trinkets; to share their culture and pass along their heritage.

But while Greek Americans celebrate their heritage, back home in Greece, family and friends are struggling for survival. The economic crisis there that has forced 80,000 businesses to shut down has driven the country's unemployment rate to 22%.

Rhea Kollias was born in Albany but, as a child, moved to Ptolemaida, in the north of Greece. She later returned to America and received an Economics degree from the University at Albany, always with another goal in mind.

"It was a dream to be able to go back to Greece some day," she says, "now, as things are going, it's becoming difficult."

Difficult is a polite word for dangerous. Worsening economic conditions have led to violence in the streets. In recent months, homelessness, drug dependency, depression and suicide rates have increased at an alarming pace.

"I'm just waiting to see how the Greeks will react to all the challenges they're facing," says Petros Michailidis, who grew up in Greece and now works for Schenectady GE. "It's beyond the capabilities of Greece to tackle all the problems."

"Most of my friends are not in Greece any longer," Kollias states. "Who ever has the ability to come here is here."

Kollias believes that's Greece's biggest problem, the mass exodus of educated people, those who could best help the country, have all left.

Many who have left continue to celebrate their Greek heritage in other countries around the world, just like they did this weekend at St. Sophia in Albany.

"We certainly remember where we came from," Sokaris says. "We do feel for our ancestors and relatives in Greece. They're a strong country but they've been through this many times with wars and earthquakes. They're going to get through this too."

The St. Sophia Greek Festivals wraps up on Sunday (5/20) at the church on Whitehall Road in Albany from noon until 7:00 P.M.

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