From the Vault: Hidden Jewels

Get growing: a giant drive for new members

As many know, the AYF Eastern Region recently started an archiving project to protect and preserve the organization’s history and past.

From the Vault (image 1)
From the Vault (image 1)

The contents of our archives crowd sections of the basement in the Hairenik Building and the AYF Central Office just three floors above.  While sifting through the enormous amount of papers—membership applications, educational exams, correspondence, and membership rosters—we figured it would be a trip down memory lane to share some of these artifacts (what we call our “hidden jewels”) with the community.

For the first installment of our hidden jewels feature, I was in a rut, and in a rush. We had just started to shuffle through the archives to get a feel of what we had to organize, file, and scan.  Prior to that, I had just started a project entering membership applications into a master database, with what seems to be a never-ending work in progress.

I had come across membership information sheets and membership rosters filled out and submitted circa the late 60’s and 70’s.  In the mix was a hand-drawn flier advertising the “Get Growing” campaign—an initiative to recruit 555 AYF members and 195 Junior members.  I continued to dig further and found that the flier was followed with a handbook featuring a packet of guidelines that would aid chapters in successfully launching this project.  The goals were to be accomplished by Dec. 31, 1960, 49 years ago.

From the Vault: Document 1
From the Vault: Document 1

To my amazement, I learned that these documents, prepared most likely in 1960 by the AYF Central Executive and Central Membership Council, were a call to action to significantly boost the ranks of the AYF.  To say there was a decline in membership might be premature, but there was a need to recruit new, qualified individuals into the organization.  But a decline in the organizations almost 25-years prior helped to put things in perspective.

“In 1941 there broke out the great World War II, an event which succeeded the declaration of National Selective Service in this country in 1940. Thus, from 1940 on, until the termination of the War, the male youth of the nation became involved in the greatest military adventure of all time.  Personal considerations by necessity were pushed to one side. The boys, so to speak, marched off to war. Thus, through five important years, with the boys away in service, very few marriages took place in our community. The lack of marriages in the Armenian American community was especially pronounced because the War came almost the precise moment when the young people of Armenian families were in their marriageable ages—that is, between 20-30.  The phenomenon is best illustrated by the fact that the war and the draft took away almost the entire male membership of the AYF—one thousand to be near exact.”

The sharp decline in the number of marriages in the Armenian and AYF communities at the time of the war was accompanied with the decline of the number of AYF members in the decade after 1940.   Upon the end of the war, marriages boosted, and children started to come along. Now in 1960, these children would be between the ages of 14 and 19—the AYF “get busy” years.

From the Vault: Document 2
From the Vault: Document 2

So there came 1960, and the “Get Growing” campaign was underway.  The ultimate goal of the campaign was simple: to enroll 555 “new regular AYF members” and 195 Junior members in the organization.  Each chapter executive was sent an instructional book that outlined how to recruit members.  This included types of recruitment, interview questions, and strict requirements on eligibility.  Finally, each chapter had a quota to fulfill (see right).

Though the goal was to boost the membership significantly, the underlying mission was to gain good, committed, passionate individuals who would work for the cause and stay true to the works of the AYF.

I’m not certain if the campaign met its goals, but to see such an initiative set in motion, with such determination to grow and develop the ranks, shows the commitment and devotion of the leadership at the time to ensure the survival of the organization.  Today, the commitment still stands—to grow our Junior membership, to transfer them into the Senior ranks, and finally, to encourage them to join the ranks of our parent organization, the ARF.

These hidden jewels show us what our predecessors did to keep the AYF moving and can teach us ways to motivate and cultivate our current membership.


Tamar Kanarian


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