New Greek TV's featured Greek of the Week is Loukoumi author Nick Katsoris.
Katsoris began writing the popular Loukoumi series nearly ten years ago, that has been a national hit within the Greek-American community and beyond. In addition to penning his children's book series, the second generation Greek-American is a practicing attorney and serves as the Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund President.
In our interview below, Katsoris reveals how Loukoumi was initially created, the positive messages behind his works, Loukoumi's philanthropic initiatives, his own Hellenic background, and more!
Maria Athens: As a lawyer by trade, what inspired you to write your initial children's book?
Nick Katsoris: I have always enjoyed writing and Loukoumi all started one day when I was in the kitchen with my wife. Someone brought us a box of Loukoumi candy from Greece and I hadn't tried it in years so I asked Voula, "Could you please hand me that box of Loukoumi, Loukoumi!"
I called her Loukoumi - it just came out of my mouth and then we looked at each other and I said, "Wouldn't that make a cute name for a children's book character?" The following year our son was born and I did the first book for him. This April, Loukoumi will be celebrating her 10th birthday!
Maria Athens: What is the vision behind the characters of Loukoumi and her friends?
Nick Katsoris: Loukoumi is a fluffy little lamb that just wants to make the world a better place and my vision behind Loukoumi is to teach kids to take the lessons from the books and apply them to their lives so that they can make the world a better place.
Maria Athens: What do you want children to gain by reading your works?
Nick Katsoris: I want them to learn the lessons from the books and follow them in their own lives. I run several programs with the books. Our "Make A Difference with Loukoumi Day" is every October. That is based on the book Loukoumi's Good Deeds and last year over 40,000 kids read the book and then went out and did their very own good deeds. That is what I want them to gain from that book - that they should give back to others.
I also run a program called "Dream Day" where I make kids dream careers come true. With that program I want them to realize that anything is possible and that like the book says, if they believe in themselves their dreams can come true!
Maria Athens: You and Loukoumi are also heavily involved in charity work, can you touch upon that?
Nick Katsoris: My books have benefitted children's charities like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, The Make A Wish Foundation and Chefs for Humanity. Then last year our "Make A Difference with Loukoumi" project received a National Make A Difference Award from USA Weekend Magazine.
That prompted me to start the Loukoumi Make A Difference Foundation, a non-profit organization started with the consent of the NY State Department of Education, to teach kids to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others.
Our first project was the "Make A Difference with Loukoumi" Television special hosted by Cat Cora, which aired on FOX stations across the country in October 2014. The Foundation will also continue our programs on bullying awareness and help grow our "Make A Difference Day" and "Dream Day" programs.
Maria Athens: When you first began visualizing and creating the popular series, did you think it would turn into such a hit within the Greek-American and global community?
Nick Katsoris: Like the dream days that we make happen for kids, the last 10 years with Loukoumi have been my dream day!
Maria Athens: How did you select the narrators for each of your six books?
Nick Katsoris: I asked and they graciously said 'yes.' I have been so blessed by the celebrities that have supported Loukoumi. Narrators include Jennifer Aniston, Nia Vardalos, Morgan Freeman, Olympia Dukakis, Constantine Maroulis, Frank Dicopoulos, Gloria Gaynor, John Aniston and Alexis Christoforous. They each have done so much for this project!
Maria Athens: Is the Loukoumi book series available in Greece & Cyprus? Is it translated into Greek?
Nick Katsoris: The first book, Loukoumi, has been published by Livanis Publishing in Greek. Plans are on the way for the rest of the series.
Maria Athens: What's next for Loukoumi?
Nick Katsoris: Up next are two new books, Loukoumi In The Basket, an Easter book in which Loukoumi meets the Easter Bunny and learns that the secret to happiness is in doing things for others. We will be releasing a special edition through loukoumi.com this Easter with the official release of the book in 2016.
Then later this year will be a sequel to our Loukoumi Celebrity Cookbook titled Loukoumi's Favorite Holiday Recipe Celebrity Cookbook with recipes from over 100 celebrities including Matthew McConaughey, Meryl Streep, Michael Buble, Morgan Freeman, Drew Barrymore, Oprah Winfrey, Nicole Kidman and others.
Plans are also in the works for a second "Make A Difference with Loukoumi TV Special" like the one we had. Upcoming "Dream Days" include a boy that wants to be a football star and he will spend the day with the NY Giants, plus a kid that wants to be a meteorologist will hang out in the weather center with Nick Gregory. Announcements will be made on our Loukoumi Facebook page in the weeks ahead. Stay tuned!
Maria Athens: Can you tell us about your role as The Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund President?
Nick Katsoris: I can't believe it but it has been over 25 years since I founded the HTSF with John and Margo Catsimatidis. To date we have awarded almost 1,000 scholarships totaling over $2 million. To think, when this started I was a student myself!
Maria Athens: Can you describe your own Greek-American background?
Nick Katsoris: My grandparents are from Greece. My parents and I were born in New York but my Greek heritage is a huge part of who I am. I speak Greek as do my two children. My wife, Voula, is Greek as well and actually lived in Greece for 4 years when she was in middle school. She is also an attorney and a real estate broker. We actually met at the Hellenic Lawyer's Association Dinner Dance 17 years ago.
I have been to Greece more than a dozen times and we try to go every two years. The highlight for me was when I visited my grandfather's village 2 years ago. My papou Niko, who I am named after, was from Kiparissi on the East Coast of Peloponneso. When we went there I unbelievably heard stories of my grandfather who left there over 100 years ago. I visited the home he was born in and met relatives I never knew I had. We spent days on the beach by the breathtaking mountains. I was not a tourist anymore. I was home!
Maria Athens obtained her B.A. degree in Political Science at Seton Hall University and M.A. degree in Diplomacy & International Relations with a Concentration in Media, at The John C. Whitehead School at Seton Hall University. During graduate school she interned at CNN at The United Nations Headquarters and The Greek Press & Information Office for The United Nations & Consulate General of Greece, during Greece’s term on the Security Council. After one year in D.C. at The Committee of Concerned Journalists at The National Press Building and four years working in Athens, Athens is back in New York.
In addition to working at New Greek TV she is an on-air correspondent for AlleyWire.
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