Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram I want to share some thoughts with you about why I agreed to become the patron of the Australian Greek Welfare Society (AGWS). The key words that describe my motivation are respect and gratitude.The word respect is apt because I have always admired people and organisations that are dedicated to helping others in need and who are motivated by a sense of community service rather than a desire to personally profit. This describes the society perfectly. It is a non-profit organisation that depends on volunteers and financial assistance from the community for its effectiveness. The word gratitude is apt because the key beneficiaries of the society’s services include Greek Australians of my parents’ generation who migrated to Australia after the Second World War. Most of them are now in their 70s and 80s and are becoming increasingly frail. Many of them also had limited educational opportunities in Greece and Australia and continue to have English language difficulties. This means that some mainstream health and welfare services are not easily accessible to them. In order for such services to be fully effective, they need to be provided in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner by organisations with which that generation feels comfortable. The AGWS is clearly such an organisation.My generation, which has benefited immensely from the sacrifices of my parents’ generation, needs to do more to acknowledge our gratitude for those sacrifices and to actively promote the welfare of that generation. We need to do this personally, at the family level, as well as collectively, by supporting organisations such as the society.Prior to my appointment as a judge in May 2008, my involvement with the Greek community of Melbourne was mainly confined to Greek community groups representing the area where I grew up in Melbourne and the area from which my family emigrated in Greece. The key bodies with which I was involved were the Greek Orthodox Community of Broadmeadows and Districts and the Philanthropic Association of Imathia Veria. I was not involved with the peak body, the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, or welfare bodies such as the AGWS and Fronditha Care. The level of my involvement changed after May 2008. As I was then and remain the only Greek-born judge in Victoria, I received invitations from many Greek Australian organisations to participate in their activities. I made a policy decision to accept those invitations where my involvement might add some value to the organisations in question or the people that they assist. I have been particularly keen to be involved with organisations providing services to Greek youth, as my educational and professional experiences may provide some guidance and encouragement. I have also been keen to be involved with organisations that provide services to my parents’ generation for the reasons that I have already mentioned.Until the society invited me to become its patron, I did not have a detailed understanding of its history, services and personnel. So I made discreet enquiries. I was delighted to learn that the AGWS was well known in the Greek Australian community and enjoyed an excellent reputation. Those to whom I spoke were unanimous in praising Voula Messimeri, George Spiliotis and the board and staff of the society. I was told that they were all very professional and well liked. Indeed, a senior Greek lawyer said of George, ‘Eine kalo pedi o Giorgos’. The society was universally seen as providing much needed services and making a tangible difference to the wellbeing of its clients. This positive feedback made it very easy for me to accept the role as the society’s patron. It is a pity that the AGWS did not exist in April 1968, when my family arrived from Greece. My family’s adjustment to life in Melbourne was very difficult because no member of my family spoke English and there were few established Greek families in Broadmeadows to assist us. The assistance we received was well-meaning but ad hoc and incomplete. Those early years would have been less confusing and stressful if the society was in existence because it could have taken us under its wings and helped us like it did many new arrivals following its establishment in 1972.Who would have expected that the services that the society provided to new arrivals in the 1970s would again be in high demand 40 years later? Yet this is precisely what has occurred due to the spike in Greek Australians who have been living in Greece returning to Australia due to Greece’s economic crisis. The society should be congratulated for having the flexibility to respond to the settlement needs of these individuals, which include accommodation, employment, social welfare entitlements and education.When I was initially shown around the society’s headquarters in Brunswick earlier this year, I was very impressed by everything I saw. However, three things stood out. The first was the enthusiasm of the staff and the fact that many of them were bilingual. The second was the cardiac program to assist in meeting the rehabilitation needs of ageing members of our community. The third was the computer literacy classes, in particular those directed at the use of the internet and communication tools such as email and Skype. When I saw the exercise bikes and the computers, it struck me that the two programs were essential to tackle two important challenges of my parents’ generation, namely, the risk of recurrence of adverse health episodes and the risk of isolation, loneliness and being cut off from family and friends both in Australia and in Greece.I hope that some of the society’s clients are inspired to use their newly acquired computer skills to record their life stories. In my opinion, the lives of people of my parents’ generation are truly amazing. I have a real concern that many remarkable life stories will be lost to the community with the passing of that generation. The services that the AGWS provides are not confined to individuals of my parents’ generation. For example, the society conducts a childcare program out of the ALPHA Children’s Centre. It caters to all in the Greek Australian community, including at both ends of the life cycle. Its diverse programs have a common aim: to look after vulnerable members of the Greek Australian community and to promote their interests.On 17 April this year, I attended a breakfast function at the society’s head office, during which a promotional video was shown. The video included footage of young families arriving from Greece after the Second World War and snippets of their life progression, including men and women who arrived in their 20s and 30s and are now over 70. I found the video very moving because it reminded me of my family’s journey as migrants. My father was 34 years of age in 1968 when we arrived in Australia and he is now 80. My mother was 31 years of age and she is now 77. I remember them as tall, strong and fearless when we arrived in Australia. Now they are elderly and do not appear as tall. They suffer from the usual health issues that come with age and seem to become stressed more readily. These attributes are common among individuals of my parents’ generation.When my family arrived in Australia, my brother and I were aged eight and four, respectively. We depended on our parents to provide for us and to protect us. Now, our parents are increasingly depending on us to look after them. As busy professionals, we cannot be at our parents’ side at all times. They need to continue looking after themselves as best they can on a day-to-day basis and to seek support and companionship from their network of friends when we cannot be with them. As the friends in their network are also elderly, there is a real need for organisations such as the society to act as a safety net to ensure that the needs of elderly Greek Australians who are still able to live independently are met. The society’s social support program and community visitors scheme, which provide for visits by volunteers to frail elderly people, make a vital difference to the morale and wellbeing of those individuals. Equally important is the society’s respite program for carers of family members who are elderly or suffer from a disability.Knowing that someone cares and that if you ask for help you will receive it is so important for the peace of mind of the elderly. I will give you a personal example. My parents live in their own home. Although they cannot read English, they cope with routine mail because this normally comprises bills with which they are familiar. However, when they receive mail that is out of the ordinary, my father telephones me wherever I am and the following conversation takes place. ‘Emilie, elava ena grama ke then xero ti lei’. ‘Baba, pou na xero ti lei afou then boro na to do. Tha ertho apopse apo to spiti ke tha sto exigiso.’ When I say this, I can hear my father breathe more easily. All he was after was reassurance that, whatever the nature of the letter, it will be looked after. My parents’ generation have, through their hard work, laid solid foundations for not only their children but also for the Greek community of Australia to flourish and succeed. They will not be with us forever, so we must all do what we can to support and honour them both individually and through organisations such as the society. We cannot forget them or neglect them. We must look after them not only financially but provide companionship and emotional support for them. They were strong and proud when they first arrived in Australia. Although there are limits to what can be done with age-related health issues, there is much that we can do both individually and collectively to ensure that they remain happy and proud rather than feeling lonely and isolated. As an organisation, the society excels at making elderly Greek Australians feel welcome and cared for. The services it provides are truly invaluable. Having the right programs in place is only one of the components that are required for effective service delivery. The other important components are the people who provide the services and the culture within which they are provided. The AGWS is pre-eminent in all of the above. As I have already said, when I first visited the society’s head office, I was struck by the dedication, professionalism and enthusiasm of the staff. These qualities are essential to ensure that elderly Greek Australians who are the recipients of the society’s services feel that they are respected and that they are treated with dignity. Based on my involvement with the society to date, it is clear that respect and dignity are the hallmarks of the society’s service delivery.I respect the work that the AGWS performs for the Greek Australian community and I am grateful for the dedicated way in which the work is performed, particularly for individuals of my parents’ generation. *This is an edited version of a paper presented by Justice Emilios Kyrou at the Annual General Meeting of the Australian Greek Welfare Society.