The existence of the Velentzeio Foundation recently became widely known as a result of the air ambulance project, but the foundation has actually been active for almost half a century, supporting the health services and several other socially beneficial projects for the people of Paros.
The idea of the foundation was first conceived nearly 50 years ago by Frangiskos Velentzas – a man who left home and made his fortune on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, only to return after the Second World War to find the island in a state of severe poverty.
Born in 1893 to a family of six children in Kostos, Frangiskos had a restless spirit and wanted to see and learn more about the world. He left Paros for Athens at the tender age of 17, embarking on a boat to America where he studied in New York at the merchant marine academy. He subsequently worked as an engineer for a number of years at the American Export Line, a company which had helped Greece substantially during and after the war years, and then as chief engineer for the companies Embirikos and Goulandri. On his retirement, he returned home to Paros.
“He never talked about his life in America”, his godson and later his adopted son – to whom he gave his name – Frangiskos, tells us. “Actually he was not one to talk about himself at all. He was more interested in the lives of other people and would enquire after everyone; young, old, rich and poor. When he returned to Paros from America and saw the sad state of affairs here, he very much wanted to help improve the situation.”
His first idea was to create a boarding school
“At that time if children wanted to continue their studies through high school, every Sunday they would have to walk for hours from the villages into Paroikia, where they stayed for the whole week, either with relatives or at the cells of the Ekatontapyliani. They had barely enough money to feed themselves. My father initially set up the foundation in order to create a boarding school for the children of the island, where they would be offered lodging, nourishment, and materials for their studies.
“The Velentzeio Foundation was officially founded on October 30th 1963. But times were changing, buses had begun to connect the villages, and so the plans for this project were dropped as a boarding school was no longer needed. As a result my father broadened his views and directed his attention to improving the health care services of Paros. At the time of his death in August 1966, this was his main objective for the Foundation.”
The contribution of the Foundation
Despite the loss of Velentzas, the foundation was put into effect and the committee – the composition of which he had chosen after much thought – would realize his idea. As he had directed, the committee would serve a term of three years and would be comprised of 8 members: one would be the head of the church on the island, another two the headmasters of the Primary and Secondary School, plus the mayor, the judge of the court of first instances and finally three outstanding citizens of the community, one of whom would be have to be related to the family.
He had also ordered that the council of Kostos, the school and church of Kostos would be funded every year with a total amount of 18,000 euro. This money has been used for the needs and the repairs of the school and church, as well as the construction of a cultural centre in the village.
Some years later, in 1982, the board decided to fund the extension of the Health Centre, which was until then a tiny building: 50 million drachmas, at that time, made the construction possible. And every year since, the centre receives around 60,000 euro towards its operating costs.
Recently, in 2004, the Foundation donated 147,000 euro towards the construction of the home for senior citizens and finally 592,000 euro in 2007 for the purchase of the Velentzeio Air Ambulance.
The Foundation is also concerned with the cultural needs of the people of Paros and in this respect has financed the designs of a study plan for the construction of a modern cultural centre in Paroikia.
“I believe my father would be satisfied today with the decisions and actions of the committee. He was a man with an open mind, who wanted his assistance to be substantial, corresponding to the needs of the community and the changing times.
“The only advice he ever gave me was to honour my name and to become a good person. Nothing more. He had plans and dreams for my future and Eleftheria’s (his adopted daughter) which he often talked about before his death.
“The world would be a better place if there were more people like him around. He offered his fortune to help his community, even though life was not easy for him; he made his money despite many hardships. Although there are many people on this island who have the same financial status he had, only a few want to be philanthropists. Most are more interested in increasing their personal wealth, rather than helping their fellow citizen. Sadly, we live in a time characterized by ego and greed, where even what is offered generously is not always appreciated.”
Frangiskos Velentzas (the younger) has been a member of the Foundation for many years. In the past six years he has been actively involved in local politics, first as president of the Local Council of Kostos, and today as president of the Demotic Sports and Youth Organisation.