Nick Katsoris, a lawyer from Eastchester, went from writing crime thrillers to penning a beloved children’s book series that has galvanized thousands of children across the country to take part in a national day of service.
How exactly did a lawyer aspiring to be the next John Grisham come to do this?
“One step at a time,” he says.
With his crime writing failing to take off and the birth of his son around the corner, Katsoris took a different approach and decided to write an encouraging children’s book.
“The more we can teach our children about doing good at a young age, the more it will follow them throughout their lives,” he says.
Self-publishing his first book in 2005, Katsoris hit the literary jackpot with a series revolving around a little lamb named Loukoumi (after a popular Greek candy also known as Turkish delight). The first book sold out in its first printing, garnering coverage in The New York Times and ranking fourth on the Barnes & Noble best-seller list.
“Before I knew it, I was doing book signings,” he says.
The increasingly successful series — which included “Loukoumi’s Good Deeds” (2009), narrated by Jennifer Aniston — led to the creation of the nonprofit Loukoumi Make a Difference Foundation, which has partnered with USA Today’s National Make A Difference Day — held every year on Oct. 24, United Nations Day — for the Make a Difference with Loukoumi Project.
This year, Katsoris helped rally 50,000 people across the country for the event. Locally, he filled a bus with dedicated Loukoumi fans, about 50 children and parents, and visited a number of organizations, including the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in New Rochelle, the Philoptochos Chapter of the Greek Orthodox Church of Our Saviour in Rye, the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Club at Fordham University and The William Spyropoulos Greek-American School of St. Nicholas in Flushing, Queens.
Across the various locations, children made contributions, including assembling baskets for homeless veterans transitioning to permanent housing, making cards for children with cancer at St. Jude, hosting coat drives for those in need and raising money for shelter animals.
“The beauty of this project is that it encourages children to make a difference in their own special way, through projects that they enjoy, benefiting charities and organizations that mean something to them,” Katsoris says.
Perhaps the most notable of the stops was the first at the Westchester Children’s Museum in Rye, where the Loukoumi foundation presented the museum with a check for a forthcoming Make A Difference with Loukoumi exhibit that will focus on literary awareness and appreciation.
“It really has become a movement,” Katsoris says. “It is growing and catching on not only here in but in other parts of the country where kids just love doing this. This is the way it should be. This is what kids should focusing their time on.”
Under the foundation, Katsoris also runs Loukoumi’s Dream Day, a contest program which supports children’s career aspirations by giving them daylong experiences with professionals in their desired careers.
Winners of the foundation’s Dream Day contest have been given incredible access, from watching the Phoenix spacecraft land on Mars in 2008 with NASA officials to more terrestrial pursuits, such as playing with professional sports teams and cooking with celebrity chefs.
“My dream of becoming a writer came true in a way I never expected,” Katsoris says. “That’s why I wanted to then encourage kids to follow their dreams. A lot of kids get discouraged by certain dreams that they have that are a little out of the box. If you encourage them and show them that other kids can achieve what they want to do, and if they work hard and believe in themselves, then there is no better gift you can give to a kid than that.”
Katsoris acknowledges that he has been blessed with some high-profile support, which has helped propel his books into the national spotlight.
Celebrities such as Morgan Freeman, John Aniston and Olympia Dukakis have narrated books in the series, while a lengthy list of notables has contributed to “Loukoumi’s Celebrity Cookbook,” which features dishes like Rachael Ray’s French Toast Cups, Oprah Winfrey’s Corn Fritters, Ellen DeGeneres’ Vegan Sliders and Beyoncé’s Easy Guacamole.
“Kindness is contagious,” Katsoris says. “The more you do, the more people want to do. When you are doing good, I always find that people will support you and people will want to get involved.”
Despite the foundation’s success, he has no plans to rest on his laurels.
In October 2014, the Loukoumi foundation produced a national TV special, “Make a Difference With Loukoumi.”
Katsoris credits the TV appearance with much of the current year’s success and now plans to expand his TV presence to a 10-week series, featuring animation and live footage of Loukoumi children and their good deeds.
He is in the midst of raising funds for the series and is in talks with networks.
“Our schools do a great job teaching our kids about reading, math, social studies and science, but what also needs to be taught is how to make a difference and how to be good people,” he says. “The more kids see these great good deeds that are done, then they’ll want to do a good deed that means something to them.”
For more, visit loukoumi.com.