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"Building our Lives": Interview with Young Professionals Conference Co-Chairs

The Orthodox Young Professionals Conference slated for August 14-17, 2014 is a new initiative designed especially for career-bound and professional young adults. Hosted by the Antiochian Archdiocese organization Fellowship of St. John the Divine, the Conference will offer participants the opportunity to network with other Orthodox Christians from across the country. asked dynamic Co-Chairs Kyra Pelachik and Fadi George Madanat to share their goals for the inaugural gathering. 

Tell us a little about how the idea for this conference originated. Who are the sponsoring groups?

Kyra – This conference originated as a plea from Metropolitan Philip of Blessed Memory and other bishops to the NAC Fellowship of St. John the Divine, to help bring young adults back to the church. I also heard from several friends that they wished there were other opportunities for young adults to get together throughout the year. Because I have served within the Fellowship on the diocese and national level, and had put together young adult conferences in the past, I knew I could help make something happen.

Fadi and I have known each other through church, but it was during a late night talk in the lobby of the hotel at the Archdiocesan convention in Houston that we really started discussing making this a reality. This conference is hosted by the NAC Fellowship of St. John the Divine, and we are receiving sponsorships from individuals and churches. We are very grateful for their financial support, allowing this to be an affordable conference.

Fadi – As Kyra stated, this conference emerged from a late night chat on the final evening of the 2013 Archdiocesan Convention. We basically held a de-briefing of the convention. Kyra and I discussed issues ranging from the quality and relevance of young adult education, the availability of young adult gatherings, young adult presence within our respective churches, and so on. Over the next couple of weeks we determined that the attention given to the career-bound young adult and young professional population of the Archdiocese was inadequate. A nine-point survey was submitted to a number of people across the country, and the results showed significant demand for a conference such as the one we will be hosting this summer.

What is the need you are trying to address by planning this event, how do you hope to meet that need through this conference?

Kyra -I've attended five Archdiocesan National Conventions and while it's great to see my friends, it's only held every other year, and is focused on the purpose of having our annual business meetings. The Young Professionals Conference will serve the purpose of focusing on the young adults with topics they want to hear about, and fun events in the evening that allow for interaction among each other. We currently have our evening events in various locations showcasing downtown San Diego; a dinner boat cruise around the harbor, a welcome reception from fifteen stories up overlooking National League Baseball's Petco Park, and a dinner Saturday night allowing for the young adults to enjoy the evening with music and fun! The conference will allow for networking, spiritual edification, education, and will be a place for the young adults to reunite with old friends and create new friendships.

Fadi - This conference will allow us to address two fundamental areas of interest for the Archdiocese: First, the inadequate young adult participation that Kyra previously alluded to; second, a void in activities that are narrowly tailored to career-bound young adults. Naturally, most young adults go down a path of self-discovery during their college years, and after graduation their primary focus is on building up their lives. That transition is a very critical time for young adults; some young adults strengthen their ties to the Church community, but many more seem to take a leave of absence while they work towards securing their professional future.

We want our young adult population to understand that life-building and connectivity to the Church are not mutually exclusive. This conference will foster an environment in which young adults from across the country can network, attend workshops catered especially for career-bound young adults and young professionals, and as Kyra mentioned, participate in very exciting social activities. We hope that the net result of all this is for career-bound young adults and young professionals to use the church community both locally and nationally as a foundation on which to build their lives.

Since you are reaching out to career-bound young adults and young professionals, tell us what you feel some of the distinct challenges are for this particular segment of Orthodox Christians?

Kyra – For my own personal experience, I feel it's an everyday challenge to be the strongest Christian I can be with all the distractions of everyday life. I'm past the college days and working in the real world where my decisions are my decisions. But yet, those decisions are ones I have to make with a conscious effort. I feel that as a young professional who's not married but established in my life, I need those reminders in my daily Christian life.

Fadi – I share a very similar viewpoint as Kyra. In a society where so much is driven by bottom line thinking, it can be extremely difficult to live the Orthodox Christian life. Actually, there are a number of professions that are perceived as being totally incompatible with Orthodox Christianity. This conference will address these issues and give attendees the proper perspective by which to evaluate their lives both personally and professionally.

What are some of the ingredients to this conference that you think will make it worth the young professional's time and money?

Kyra – First, this isn't happening anywhere else; there are no other conferences like this in any jurisdiction. So in a way, missing this is missing a once in a lifetime opportunity! Second, San Diego provides an amazing venue and the thirty committee members and I have worked hard to put this conference in a prime location: downtown Historic Gaslamp in the heart of San Diego. Young professionals will be in the middle of all the best restaurants, the best bars (San Diego is becoming known for their microbreweries) the best weather, and by being in this location, we are able to provide unique evening venues that wouldn't be available if we chose a "cheaper" or more distant location.

Fadi – As Kyra stated, this conference will be an incredible social experience for the attendees; but it will be balanced with a strong educational component. We have expended a great deal of effort to secure a solid slate of speakers, and we've worked diligently to craft very focused, very relevant topics of discussion.

I believe our attendees will be especially pleased with and inspired by our keynote speaker, Paul Karos, who will be speaking during the Friday and Saturday speaker sessions. Mr. Karos is a big Wall Street name, having achieved a remarkable level of success (eventually becoming the President of Equities and Investment Banking at Piper Jaffray) all the while being 99% blind. Mr. Karos will be making special presentations on vocation and life-building from an Orthodox perspective.

We are also pleased to announce that The Rev. Dr. George Ajalat (M.D.), and Charles Ajalat, Esq., will be presenting at the conference. Father George is a gifted vascular surgeon who also dedicates a great deal of his time and energy to St. Nicholas Cathedral in Los Angeles, where he serves as a member of the clergy. I believe conference attendees will find Fr. George to be a very dynamic speaker, considering the unique life transition he's made over the years to serve the Church. Father George's topic of discussion will be "Living the Orthodox Spiritual Life: What is it, and how can we carry it into the workplace?"

Charles Ajalat will be leading a discussion on social activism and philanthropy. Mr. Ajalat is an extremely successful tax lawyer, having represented major institutions ranging from Exxon Mobil to Disney. He has spent a considerable amount of time working on efforts ranging from the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) to his more recent effort, Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve (FOCUS).

Is this something to plan to build upon, after the event is over?

Kyra –Our intention is for this conference to happen in the off year of the Archdiocese National Convention. Therefore it provides an "every" year opportunity to bring together the young adults of our Archdiocese, who can attend the Archdiocese National Convention and then the Young Professionals Conference the following year. Since 2014 is in San Diego, 2016 will most likely be on the East Coast or Midwest, so that the Conference can travel around the county as well. But you never know, the idea of Hawaii, or a young professional's cruise, has already been thrown out there.

Fadi – We definitely have a great opportunity to build upon this Conference. As stated previously, the goal is to create an environment that gives members of our Archdiocese, as well as the Pan-Orthodox community, an opportunity to look within the Orthodox community as they build their lives professionally. Once we start building some real momentum, we can implement new efforts such as annual regional gatherings, mentorship programs, or whatever it takes to remain relevant to the people we serve.

About the Conference Co-Chairs, Kyra Pelachik and Fadi George Madanat

Kyra has been involved in the Fellowship of St. John the Divine for the last 9 years, both in the Diocese level as President of the Diocese of Los Angeles and the West, and on the NAC level as Secretary for 4 years and currently holds the Vice President position. She also currently serves on her local Parish Council at St. Mark in Irvine, CA. Professionally; Kyra has worked in Non Profit Organizations for over 10 years and in addition to her bachelor's degree also holds certificates in Professional Fundraising and in Meeting and Event Planning. Kyra currently resides in Orange County, CA and is excited for this upcoming conference.

The Orthodox Young Professionals Conference is Fadi's debut serving the Antiochian Archdiocese on the national level. He is currently the Vice Chairman of the Parish Council at St. James in Placentia, CA, and he is also a parishioner at St. Nicholas Cathedral in Los Angeles, a community he has called home since the 1980's.

Professionally, Fadi holds a Juris Doctorate from Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Policy, Management and Planning from the University of Southern California. Fadi currently operates his own business. He resides in Diamond Bar, CA.