Pasadena AYF member Tro Krikorian conducts town hall meeting with Armenian Presidential Candidate Vahan Hovannesian ahead of the February 2008 elections in Armenia.
"You cannot create experience, you must undergo it."
Taking Albert Camus’ truism to heart, the Armenian Youth Federation has spent the last 75 years preparing generations of leaders, giving young Armenian-Americans the opportunity to gain real world experience through service to their communities.
Keeping with tradition, the organization’s Central Executive kicked off this fiscal year by hosting a day of lectures, workshops and seminars on leadership development.
The participants, newly elected executives from local AYF chapters throughout the Western US, spent the day learning a range of skills, strategies, and theories on organizational management, applying them at the end in scenario based exercises.
But the training seminar, though extensive, is only one of many opportunities AYF members have throughout the year to cultivate skills critical to success in personal, professional, academic and community life.
The responsibility of having to oversee a group of people working to complete "complex tasks" within set schedules comes with great rewards and many in the AYF quickly realize the benefits that come with the long hours of work they regularly put into the organization, according to Sevag Jierian, the chairperson of the AYF’s Fresno chapter.
"Recognizing that things depend on you and rising to that task, has taught me how to be a leader, mentor and collaborator–traits one often needs to successfully manage a business, or any undertaking for that matter," he explained.
For the last few years, Vache Thomassian has been learning just that. As the editor of the organization’s quarterly publication, Haytoug, he has been responsible for everything expected from a professional magazine editor, working with a volunteer team to finance and produce a magazine that reaches tens of thousands of Armenia’s worldwide.
"For over 30 years AYF members have written for, designed, published and distributed the magazine," he explained, talking about some of the challenges he faced trying to grow the magazine. "When I was given the opportunity, we essentially had to reinvent the wheel and create a new and sustainable infrastructure for finding and managing talent for the magazine."
Vache, who is currently the Chairman of the AYF, described the job as an honor, noting the leap in his personal and professional growth while "learning how to delegate, organize and manage the functions of a publication."
"I remember the first issue of Haytoug I worked on was dedicated to examining the dire situation of the Armenians of Javakhk," he said, recalling his first project as the editor. "While working on that issue I had the opportunity to interview many experts and intellectuals, locally and internationally. That experience taught me how to research effectively, setting the stage, not only, for my future work with the magazine but also in my personal and academic life as well."
Carnie Armenian concurred, referring to her own experience helping to establish the AYF’s newest chapter in Las Vegas. As the chapter’s first chairperson, she is responsible for not only building its foundations, but also raising awareness about the organization in the community, doing outreach and getting people involved with the chapter.
"My responsibilities are endless," she said. "But so are the benefits."
For Levon Abrahamian, the AYF has been testing ground to develop leadership skills he always had but never explored. Currently the chairman of the AYF’s Central Fundraising Committee, Levon joined the organization to "make a difference in the community, to help it progress in any way he can."
"Being involved in planning some of the major events the AYF organizes has inspired me to go beyond the bare minimum, to always strive to do better than what’s expected and get the job done," he said, describing the "profound working habits and time management skills" he has developed as a result of his involvement.
No other organization or workplace environment gives its members as much freedom to explore and unearth hidden talents as the AYF does, Sevag Jierian noted, pointing to the many campaigns and projects he’s helped organize over the years.
Sevag’s chapter hosted this year’s annual AYF Olympics, a massive three day sports tournament and reunion celebration for the organization. Every year responsibility for organizing Olympics passes to a different chapter, giving its members an opportunity to put into motion their ideas for the event.
If the chapter rises to the challenge, the event easily becomes a phenomenally good time, as well as a fundraiser. As his chapter’s chairperson, Sevag, oversaw the efforts to organize the project and its various subsidiary elemen’s.
Another major initiative organized by the organization is an Alumni reunion hosted by the AYF’s Montebello chapter. This year was the 50th anniversary of the chapter and its chapter chairman, Zaven Altounian, oversaw a team who "worked on everything from conceptual planning to the final execution of the event," which is the chapter’s primary means to fund its yearly activities.
"I have learned to work on budgets and having to pick and choose different items for the event in order to stay within strict parameters in order to maintain the profitability, viability and ultimate success of the event," he said.
Montebello’s leadership, early on, recognized the strategic importance of long term planning, developing their reunion into a primary fundraising mechanism that would cultivate donors and patrons for the chapter, Zaven explained. "It’s vital that we create strong and lasting connections with our Alumni."
The reunion has been a powerful tool for showing the community that it has a vested interest in the chapter, he added. "I’ve learned that this is pivotal to the success of any non-profit."
Leadership requires vision and the AYF is a place to learn how to think outside the box, according to Sose Thomassian, the chairperson of the Orange County AYF.
"Motivating people to approach new challenges in innovative ways, requires an unconventional perspective, and the AYF brings out that creative problem solver in you," she said.
Sose is also the director of the AYF’s Youth Corps Program, which is one of the organizations most successful ongoing projects.
Having first occupied itself with small scale projects rebuilding damaged structures in Karabakh, Youth Corps took a bold and unprecedented step last year and opened what the AYF hopes to be a permanent summer camp for underprivileged youth in Gyumri.
Sending a team of 7 young Armenia’s to Gyumri to manage a summer day camp for hundreds of children was completely new to the AYF and it "needed serious planning and bold creativity," she explained, adding that "the program required a solid vision if it was to be successful and lasting."
The AYF is a chance to take hold of responsibility, to take on challenges, and make ideas happen, many in the organization often realize after completing their first fundraiser, or large scale event.
For some members a chance at leadership is why they joined the AYF. For others, the AYF helped them see a side of themselves they didn’t know existed.
"Being thrust into situations that require you to adapt to new circumstances changes people, and builds their capabilities," said Hasmig Karkouzian, the chairperson of the South Bay AYF.
Having to constantly take on new roles and responsibilities teaches you how to manage a diverse array of projects, she said. "I have been a project manager, supervisor, event planner, researcher, cook, promoter, negotiator, mentor, hostess, accountant, secretary, communicator, and educator."
Being involved provides you with a place to grow, agreed Saro Haroun, a former treasurer for the Crescenta Valley AYF, who described how his character had been shaped by the various responsibilities placed on his shoulders over the years.
Saro was the chair the organization’s Central Educational Committee last year, overseeing the curriculum of over 500 members throughout the entire organization. That responsibility is "extremely empowering," he exclaimed, stressing how his experiences in the organization shaped his trust in himself.
Membership in the AYF, in and of itself, is a remarkable opportunity for Armenian youth to develop their character, to become confident and responsible trail-blazers in anything they take on, commented the organization’s Vice Chairman, Berj Parseghian.
Two year’s ago Berj served as the AYF’s treasurer. He explained how the responsibility of having to "manage the organization’s books, budget money, and spend wisely" taught him skills he never thought he would learn. "Being in such a critical position taught me how to run a large organization, and how to achieve something greater than myself."
"Youth today are rarely given the kind of responsibility and level of freedom that the AYF provides," Vache explained, noting the AYF’s unique role in the community. “It brings youth together to volunteer for the betterment of our communities, and Armenia, while also helping them become better individuals, capable of leading our people into the future.”
BOCA RATON, Fla.Hundreds of activists from around the country, and from as far as Australia and Argentina, joined together in the 19th District of Florida to rally against genocide denier Cong. Robert Wexler (D-FL-19), and stand in support with democratic primary candidate Dr. Benjamin Graber on Saturday, January 12 reported the Armenian National Committee of South Florida.
“The ANC of South Florida felt it was time to voice our concerns about Congressman Wexler. Enough is enough. It is time for change, and to elect someone who will represent Floridas 19th District. We now have a candidate who is the right man for the job, and the Armenian and Greek communities stand by him one-hundred percent,” commented Albert Mazmanian, Chairman of the ANC of S. Florida.
The event, organized by the Armenian Youth Federation, and co-hosted by the Armenian National Committee of South Florida the Armenian Student Association, and the Cyprus Action Network of America amounted to a great success. Also present at the rally was Dr. Benjamin Graber, the democratic primary challenger to Rep. Wexler in the 19th district, as well as his family.
For over two hours, activists held up signs and chanted “Vote Graber 2008” and “Wexler Out of Congress.” Following the rally, a program was organized with the following participants offering remarks and motivating activists to take action: Isabel Ohanian, chairwoman of the AYF Central Hai Tahd Committee; Albert Mazmanian, chairman of the ANC of S. Florida; Nikos Taneris of CANA; John Bosnitch of the Serbian community; Dr. Benjamin Graber; and Karine Birazian, Executive Director of the ANCA Eastern Region.
During his speech, Graber commented: “The world needs leaders who are fair, calm, and intelligent. The time for war should be over. A new era of peace, understanding, and cooperation amongst people and nations needs to begin. The leaders of the status quo like Robert Wexler need to retire and make room for the agents of change who will lead us into a secure and stable future. I am an agent of change, a believer in peace and a mediator of ideas. I will develop consensus and accomplish our goals. Thats why I am running to be your congressman.”
Several thousand Greeks and Armenias reside in Floridas 19th District and have already begun taking action against Rep. Wexler. His past actions on the Cyprus issue as well as his denial of the Armenian Genocide have concerned several constituents and have led them to join Grabers campaign.
The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) is the largest and most influential Armenian American grassroots political organization. Working in coordination with a network of offices, chapters and supporters throughout the United States and affiliated organizations around the world, the ANCA actively advances the
concerns of the Armenian American community on a broad range of issues.
GLENDALE–Hundreds of former AYF campers reunited at Verdugo Park Sunday for a day of food, games, and holiday fun organized by the Armenian Youth Federation.
The picnic brought together old and new friends, as youth from across the community joined the outing.
The event was organized to strengthen ties between the AYF and the community youth, according to Mike Bederian, an organizer of the event, who noted the importance of giving back to a community that gave so much to him growing up.
Bederian, who is also a member of the AYF Valley "Sardarabad" chapter described the picnic as a significant way to engage the younger generation, who are to be "the future leaders of our Diaspora."
"We really want to see the youth be more involved within their communities in an Armenian environment, he added."Most importantly, we wanted to better acquaint ourselves with the kids on a more personal level outside of the usual interaction at AYF Camp."
Amongst the youth at the picnic were many summer campers from the AYF Camp, which is held for seven weeks every summer at Big Pines.
Since 1977, the AYF Camp has been a preferred summer activity for kids ages 8-17, providing a place for kids from all over to interact with other Armenian youth and build life long friendships in a cultured and enjoyable atmosphere.
Editor’s Note:Arek Santikian is a member of the Hollywood "Musa Dagh" Chapter of the Armenian Youth Federation.
Twenty years ago, the Armenian nation suffered one of its most horrific natural disasters in modern history. A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the then Soviet Armenian Republic, destroying Spitak, and severely devastating Gyumri and its surrounging towns and villages. In the end, nearly 25,000 people were killed and up to a million people left homeless.
This past December 7, the day marking the anniversary of the 1988 Armenian Earthquake, the members of the Orange County Ashod Yergat AYF and the AYF-WR Youth Corps Central Council came together to mark this somber occasion in a spirit of determination, not despair. Rather than simply reflect upon the losses wrought by this disaster, they decided to raise funds for the AYFs humanitarian operations in Gyumri by holding a Sunday-morning foul breakfast fundraiser at the Orange County Armenian Center.
The breakfast succeeded in giving our community an opportunity to contribute directly to humanitarian efforts at the Gyumri earthquake recovery zone, said Youth Corps Council Chairperson Sos? Thomassian. It was no coincidence that this years inaugural fund raiser was held on the 20th anniversary of the Armenian earthquake. The AYF cant rebuild the buildings, but we can help rebuild hope by giving back to the families hit hardest by the quake.
Over 150 attendees came out to mark the anniversary and express their support for the Youth Corps program. The crowd was a great cross-section of young and old, explains Thomassian. There were local community regulars, AYF members from various chapters, Youth Corps alumni; honestly, everyone seemed to have turned out!
Attendees were served a traditional mamounia and foul breakfast with customary side dishes such as cheese, bread and greenery. In addition to the food, a continuous slide show projected pictures from the 2008 Youth Corps summer in Armenia onto the wall of the community center. A moment of silence for the victims of the 1988 earthquake was also observed.
By no means was it a celebration, it was simply a day to remember the tragic damage the earthquake caused and the lives that were lost, said Youth Corps Council member Knar Kitabjian. It is important for AYF to do these sort of events because not only are we providing a service for the community and bringing attention to Gyumri which still needs aid, but we are raising money for a program that goes directly to the homeland and provides hands on help.
Since 1994, the AYF Youth Corps program has been providing young Armenian Americans with the opportunity to experience daily life in Armenia and Artsakh and contribute as volunteers on various humanitarian and rebuilding project. Last summer, the Youth Corps volunteers established a free day camp for underprivileged children in Gyumri. The two-month camp touched the lives of hundreds of children that summer and provided much needed assistance to many of Gyumris struggling families who have to grapple with economic and social challenges that continue to linger 20 years after the earthquake. The money raised through this latest fundraiser will be channeled into the 2009 Youth Corps Program, which will once again operate the free summer camp in Gyumri.
The breakfast was our first major fundraising initiative for this year and it has already given us good footing for our upcoming events, concludes Thomassian. The next major event being planned is a 15th anniversary event celebrating the establishment and longevity of the Youth Corps initiative. Other fundraising efforts are also in the works with the aim of giving the program a more flexible budget next year to run the camp with.
For information about the AYF Youth Corps Summer Program, please contact (818) 507-1933 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.