On March 24, the Ladies’ Guild of St. Gregory’s Church co-hosted the National Association of Ladies’ Guilds (NALG) and the Armenian Relief Society of Eastern USA (ARS) joint Mid-Atlantic Regional Seminar. The Guild coordinated planning efforts for this seminar with the ARS “Ani” and “Artemis” Chapters. More than 65 members—from New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.—from both organizations participated in the seminar, which was unprecedented and warmly welcomed by those who attended.
Der Nerses Manoogian opened the seminar with a prayer. He was followed by Ladies’ Guild chairlady Karine Shamlian who welcomed the guests. In her opening remarks, Shamlian acknowledged the important role that both the NALG and ARS have played in strengthening and preserving our Armenian spiritual and cultural identity in the United States. She pointed out that the NALG and ARS, predominantly Armenian women’s organizations, were at critical points in their existence in that today’s generation of Armenian women is different from that of our mother’s and grandmothers’. Both organizations are faced with the challenge to recruit new (usually younger) members and to retain them as active members. Elders have much to offer younger members about the history and substance of each organization. Likewise, younger members can bring a fresh perspective, different skill sets, and new ideas about how to move the organizations forward. The key is to be able to listen to each other and effectively communicate our knowledge to one another. Shamlian closed her remarks by noting that the strength of an Armenian woman is well known and that if we combine our strengths and work together, there would be no limit to our achievements.
The seminar featured three guest speakers. The first speaker, Maria Bakalian, is the wife of Pastor Nishan Bakalian of the Armenian Martyrs Congregational Church in Havertown. The title of Bakalian’s discussion was “Inner Beauty.” In her remarks, she described outer beauty as a reflection of our inner beauty. She explained that we often allow emotions such as fear, worry, and anger to rob us of our beauty, with fear being the greatest threat. By quoting from the Bible, she provided guidance on how to deal with our fears and worries. She counseled that as Christians we should maintain our trust in God who has provided us with the tools to strengthen our inner beauty: forgiveness, faith, and prayer. In closing, Bakalian noted that in today’s society it is far too easy for women to be overly focused on their outer beauty. She reminded everyone that God prefers to see women focusing on their inner beauty.
Silva Kouyoumdjian, the chairlady of the ARS Eastern USA, then gave a PowerPoint presentation on the ARS’s projects and programs in the U.S. and Armenia. Founded in 1910, the Armenian Relief Society is the oldest and largest international Armenia women’s organization. It has more than 15,000 members in 27 countries. As Kouyoumdjian explained, the mission of the ARS is to serve the humanitarian, educational, and cultural needs of the Armenian people. Towards this end, the ARS Eastern Region has established various institutions, such as the Mother and Child Clinic in Armenia, which assists in 1,000 live births annually. It also established the Soseh Kindergarten in Artsakh. The ARS “Sponsor a Child” program has provided basic needs for more than 940 orphans since 1992. And, since orphans older than 18 years of age no longer qualify for the program, the ARS created the Orphan Educational Fund. For $320 per year, sponsors provide the financial means for these orphans to enroll in institutions of higher education.
In the U.S., the ARS Eastern Region jointly administers the Armenian National Education Committee (ANEC) with the Prelacy. Through ANEC, the ARS provides financial assistance to Armenian day schools and Saturday schools. In addition, the ARS awards $35,000 annually in undergraduate and graduate scholarships. The ARS Eastern Region has long been a supporter of the AYF Camp Haiastan and has developed the curriculum for its Armenian program. These programs are just a few of the many valuable contributions that the ARS has made in supporting and sustaining the Armenian nation here and abroad
The final speaker of the day was Clare Sautter, president of Sparks Fly Enterprises and a certified Dale Carnegie trainer. In her presentation entitled “Finding Your Voice,” Sautter skillfully demonstrated how the same emotions earlier addressed by Bakalian (fear, worry, and anger) limit our ability to be effective communicators. She noted that 75 percent of people have what is referred to as speech anxiety, or apprehension about speaking in front of others. Sautter explained three key characteristics of a successful speaker: First, be calm. Find a technique that helps you relax whether it is focused breathing or just taking a few moments to find your focus. Second, be concise. Do not over-talk your message. Practice it many times so that you do not feel the need to keep adding more words. Third, be clear. Know your main points and be exact in expressing them. After discussing these basic guidelines, Sautter asked each table to pick a topic that was relevant to their organization, whether it was new member recruitment or fundraising. She then guided seminar attendees through the process of speaking comfortably about their topic. As an active member in her own church community, Sautter understood the issues and challenges that the seminar attendees faced, and effectively drew upon analogies from her own experiences. Sautter’s presentation was well received by those in attendance, many of whom expressed their appreciation for having had this opportunity.
At the end of the seminar, each speaker was presented with a lovely bouquet of roses, donated by Nora Babaian, and a copy of the 100th anniversary of the ARS Commemorative Book. The Guild extended its sincere thanks to Naiyiri Balanian for preparing and donating the luncheon for the seminar.