By Vanessa Kamberis, Research Associate, HALC
Since graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012, Ted Koutsoubas has played a vital role in the Greek American community. A core HALC member, Ted is a first generation Greek American originally from Roxbury, New Jersey whose family hails from the Aitoloakarnania region of Greece, near the city of Agrinio.
Ted is Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs at Viohl & Associates, a Washington, DC consulting firm. He is an expert in healthcare policy, specifically health insurance and the Medicaid program, and helps his clients, which include healthcare-focused Fortune 500 companies, non-profit organizations, and startups, navigate the federal and state governments. Through his work with the organization, Ted is particularly dedicated to helping young and exceptional Hellenic Americans through relationship building and networking, internship opportunities, and mentoring.
Ted’s passion for Hellenism and commitment to our community is one of the many reasons we are proud to feature him in our I am HALC series.
What does HALC mean to you?
It means championing, steadfastly promoting, and preserving Hellenism, our values, and our identity. HALC is fighting not only for the Hellenic American community today but also for our ancestors. Whether it’s ensuring religious freedom and human rights or resolving the injustice of the ongoing occupation of Cyprus, HALC is the present and future voice of our community.
How are you involved in HALC in DC?
I initially got involved in HALC with the mission of organizing Greek American staffers on Capitol Hill. While we have made a lot of progress on that front and this remains my pet project, my role for HALC has consistently expanded. I monitor Congressional hearings and attend events around D.C. on behalf of HALC. I communicate with the Embassies of Greece and Cyprus and congressional offices. I am proud to serve as the primary non-staff contact for HALC in our relationship with the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). This year, I am excited to take the lead in organizing the growing membership base we have established in the D.C. area.
What makes HALC different than other organizations?
Having worked extensively with lawmakers and understanding the difficulties associated with driving policy change, I continue to be impressed by the significant inroads and meaningful relationships that HALC has built and maintained within the federal government in just a few years. In my view, the unique vision of HALC’s Executive Director Endy Zemenides plays a critical role in the organization’s successes. Not only does his vision welcome the respected and established older generation of Hellenic American leaders, it focuses on developing up-and- coming Hellenic American students and young professionals and also engaging all Hellenes, whether or not they are interested in government or foreign policy. HALC truly values the input of its members and engages them both through traditional methods including petitions, issue briefings, and advocacy in Congress and through modern approaches such as social media activism.
What direction do you want to see the Greek Community and HALC move towards in the future?
I’d like to see more Hellenic Americans working together, and most importantly, I’d like HALC to help increase our community’s knowledge and understanding of our issues. I am a first generation Greek American so the lens through which I understand and recognize certain matters may be different from other Greek Americans. I was fortunate to grow up with my grandparents and parents reminding me of my family’s history and their hardships, their stories of Turkish aggression, particularly the invasion and occupation of Cyprus, all of which were shared with me so I would never forget. I remember learning about my grandparents’ struggles during World War II when the Nazis came to their villages. All of these lessens color my perspective on several issues, whether it the Ecumenical Patriarch’s suffering under a repressive Turkish regime, why European and other leaders continue to balk at debt relief for Greece, and the ongoing violations of Greek territorial waters and airspace. I think many Hellenic Americans know our issues, but we need to better describe them, explain why they matter, provide the critically-important larger context, and have the facts always at the ready. Our community is incredibly successful in the United States, but we lack a sense of urgency, and in some cases, a collaborative spirit; we need to take action or else we run the risk of ceding our advantages, and more importantly, dishonoring our ancestors and their sacrifices.
How do you want to educate younger members and those who care about Hellenic issues?
I think we need to meet the younger generations where they are and determine what appeals to them, how best to engage them, and how to invest in them. HALC does not employ a one-size- fits-all model; there are several different avenues through which one can get involved depending on one’s interests. In DC, I’ve focused on introducing as many smart, successful, and exceptional Hellenic Americans to each other as I can, most notably our Hellenic Americans working in the federal government. When one Greek finds another Greek, as you know, we practically become close friends in a matter of minutes. But it‘’s unfortunate that we don’t leverage that for the benefit of our entire community. We need to constantly be thinking about how we can help each other, both personally and professionally, as early as possible. I encourage the younger generations of Hellenic Americans to continue to be present and engaged in all facets of our society, through their local churches, Greek schools, dance groups, and in other community groups.
What advice would you give to the younger generation of HALC members?
Words of wisdom are always tough, but here are a few: Always be proud of, showcase, and fortify your distinct Hellenic heritage and values. Find your passion and pursue excellence in all matters. Never stop learning and asking questions. Help others, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Seek and maintain a mentor. Put fear aside and jump in head-first. And of course, know thyself.