On July 12, 2009 the world as our family knew it ceased to exist. As of that day the lives of many people, most especially the lives of our family, changed in a way that is irreversible. On July 12th, our daughter Katerina Tsiboukis became an angel and along with our father Eleftherios Nicolopoulos and our mother Ekaterini, joined the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven.
Over a year has gone by since that tragic day, and for me and my husband, living has become a constant battle; a battle which our beautiful angel Katerina and our miracles, Christina & Eleni, help us overcome on a daily basis.
Many of you here today had the opportunity to in one way or another meet our Katerina. Some were fortunate enough to have known her better than others, but it didn’t really take much to know that she is special. I remember from the time she was born that people would say, “Effie-she is something else!” It wasn’t only the things she said, it was the way she carried herself and the way in which her mind worked, that made her a unique child. She always spoke and acted way beyond her actual age.
She is indeed a very unique and special child.
Whatever Katerina set her mind to she did and she always made sure to do it well. No matter what it was, dance, aikido, sports, art..she had to make sure she put in 100% or it wasn’t good enough. Even when others set limitations for her, she questioned the limitations and worked hard to prove that she could do it; that age was not a barrier.
Katerina loved school. She wanted to learn new things constantly. She would get up every morning happy and ready to take on any new challenges that came her way. I had taken an exam may 2009. When I came home Katerina asked, ‘how did you do?’ I responded “I did great. I received an 86.” Her response was, “Oh mommy that is not good. Next time you should study harder to get 100 like me.” “No seriously Katerina I think I did great" was my answer, but she insisted, "Oh mommy, oh mommy next time try harder!! I thought to myself-why does she even call me mommy? She was the one who always gave me advice and taught me by setting her standards higher than I could even imagine and I definitely knew that even if I attempted to reach her level, I would fall short by miles.
More than anything she loved this school, The William Spyropoulos School, her school. She loved the fact that her mommy had also been a student of the school, and that her favorite aunt, thea Kiki pp, was a teacher here. She was so excited on the days when her aunt would keep her and her cousin Eleni after school with her. She woke up every morning with a smile on her face, ready to go to learn and be with the many wonderful friends that she had made.
I remember though, that Katerina had one complaint. She would say, ‘Daddy, why doesn’t my school have a playground where my friends and I can play together?’ such a good question, from such a young child. We told her that the school would one day build a playground and she would be able to enjoy it with her friends.
All of you here today know that my Katerina never got the chance to see and enjoy a school playground with her friends, but her wish, that her school have a playground that all students would be able to enjoy, is the reason we are all gathered here today.
Katerina and her father, Teddy, had a special bond. They were buddies and always made plans and sort of collaborated together against me. For example they planned to celebrate her 18th birthday by going skydiving…and of course it was Katerina’s idea. This was a dream she had had since she was 3 years old and boy she was annoyed that she was not allowed to do it then. “It does not matter that I am 3. I can do it! I know I can.!”
Her drive and self confidence and endless dreams are the reasons why Teddy and I created the Ekaterini Tsiboukis Scholarship Fund. Katerina was and is an angel gifted to us. Her spirituality always amazed us at her young age. She taught us endless lessons and guided us. She was given to us on borrowed time but we were given the responsibility to spread her gifts, love, and strength to many others. We are trying to pay it forward by sharing this angel’s true zest for life, her love and kindness to other children. We want to give other children the opportunity to enjoy every moment of life and to treasure each minute by absorbing, learning and living life to the fullest.
We are grateful to the priests and the members of the parish council who gave us the opportunity to provide this gift from Katerina to all her friends. Her wish has come true today and she will be able to watch all her friends play here and enjoy each day while learning.
We are grateful to Katerina for giving us Cassie. Cassie was Katerina’s friend and she is the reason that Cassie is part of our family now (where are you Cassie?) I love to embarrass her because it’s sort of like pay back. Everyday and every night she held my hand forcing me to partake in life…pushing me…with her soft voice.. I know you can get through one more day…one more decision. Get up! Christina and Teddy really need you…She was and is the mastermind behind Katerina’s scholarship. Cassie we thank you! Katerina thanks you! And all the children who will play here today and those that will be able to live their dreams through the scholarship thank you.
We want to thank Ms Gracilel from Noah’s ark. Thank you for nurturing Christina and taking care of her as I ran from one meeting to another.
Thank you to Miss Gloria Chatsidakis. Katerina loved coming to school because you made learning fun. Thank you for holding my hand all last summer as Katerina told us both the last day of school: “Don’t forget to hang out all summer when I m gone!” Thank you to keria Kromida, Mrs. Tzallas and for the teachers who have embraced our family. Oh yes! And good luck with Christina! She is more of a spit fire than I am.
Thank you to our little miracle Christina whose boundless energy and wit gets us through another day!
We want to thank everyone for their support and donations to Katerina’s scholarship fund. We are excited to have been able to award 5 scholarships this year to deserving children. Two students were actually from the Wm. Spyropoulos School. Please continue to donate at www.rememberkaterina.org. Together we can help children live their dreams.
I want to take a moment and bring attention to the importance of today’s date: September 11!! We all were touched by the tragic events that unfolded that morning. Everyone has a story and remembers where they were on this day. I want to thank all the heroes that responded and ran towards the danger. Many of whom lost their lives trying to protect us. I send out prayers and love to all the families who lost a loved one that day. My husband should have been at the port authority that day. Every one on that floor did not make it. But a twist of faith kept him here with us because it was not his time. This brings me to thanking my husband. Teddy: thank you for all your love, strength, and support. It is through your promise to Katerina that we are here granting our angel her wish.
Thank you to the board of directors of the scholarship fund: Frank Reich and Nick Andreatis.
Thank you to our extended family at Triton! Lance Franklin, Charles Kulesa, Chris Pearson, Frank Reich, Nick Andreatis and their families. Without you we would be lost!
We also want to thank Chris Vasilas one of our board of directors of the playground. He made sure this playground was a successful gift to all of Katerina’s friends.
Thank you to Empire Recreation: Ed Miller and Stratos Mandalakis. Thank you to Burke Playground Equipment.
Thank you to the bagel club, oasis, and mythos for donating the food today. Thank you to the PTA and all the volunteers for helping us out today and especially on July 20, 2009. Thank you to Father Paul for graciously opening up our church on July 19, 2009. Thank you to the thousands of you that came to pay your respects to our family and for the continued emotional support!!!
Thank you to everyone that has supported all of our fund raisers.
And get your running gear ready for the first 5K marathon in the upcoming spring!!! You will all get a good laugh watching Teddy and I sprint (or actually crawl) to the finish line!
Thank you to Haeda Mihaltses and Dr. Kosta Bizekis for bringing Christina and Eleni home safely. Thank you to Ms. Chantal Weinhold, Executive Director of North Shore-LIJ, Dr Steele, Dr. Laplaza and the nurses and ancillary staff of the adolescent unit, for their phenomenal care!!
I personally want to thank my parents, Eleftherios and Ekaterini, from the bottom of my heart for their love and support and for watching over our angel. We are honored to be your children and will keep the promise we have made to you!
Teddy and I will now end by dedicating Katerina’s playground to all of you and to recognize all the other children of our community who are with Katerina in heaven today, watching over all of us and smiling, knowing that all of our children will enjoy this gift from heaven.
Remember to enjoy each moment and appreciate the gift of life and pay it forward each day. Live your dreams each and everyday!!!! And pay it forward!
With all my love,