Vartabedian: Time for AYF Alumni to Regroup

More and more, I’m seeing the need for a formal association of AYF Alumni.

When you consider the thousands that have filtered through this organization since 1933, it seems illogical that nothing’s been done to form some sort of confederation to bring graduates together.

Okay, so the last thing we need is another organization in our midst. Speaking for myself, I could slip one or two under the rug. And people are still trying to get me into other groups, saying I would be a valuable asset to their organization.

In the past couple weeks, I attended three functions in which AYF alumni were presented. One was a cigar night at my church. After shelling out $100, I gave the cigars away to a smoker, packaged the lobster for my wife, shunned the steamers (not a fish aficionado), and lost every bid at a silent auction.

But I got my money’s worth. Among the 100 guests were former AYFers I hadn’t seen in decades, dating back to the late 1960’s when I first started covering these events for the Armenian Weekly.

Among them was Gary Aprahamian, a formidable sprinter in his day for Providence, who earned a few stories from me over his AYF career. There we were, rekindling the flame and savoring the past.

I recall his brother John high jumping against Detroit’s Tim Paulian in what was probably the singular most exciting event over the past 50 years. It’s memories like these that bind us together and keep the cinders burning.

Attempts to organize an alumni association have been festered in the past. Names have been compiled, but the idea keeps stalling in its tracks for whatever reason.

The second time was at an ARS dance when three former peers from the Somerville chapter showed up and together we traveled down memory lane. We talked about our jobs, our grandchildren, retirement, and the trips we’ve taken.

These were three girls I would pack into my car, and off to meetings and dances we would go. It was a tinsel-coated world for all of us. Little did we realize at the time that adulthood would rob us of such fertility.

It’s nice to know that life had treated them well. There’s nothing like a bit of nostalgia to heighten the interest at such a gathering, if you can talk and listen above the noise.

We have our Friday alumni nights at the AYF Olympics each year, and here again the conversation is usually overpowered by the music. I’m beginning to think that people would rather sit and talk and enjoy one another’s company than scream out a conversation until they grow hoarse.

So what would be the purpose of such a society, you ask? Fraternal, yes. But more along the lines of humanitarian. We could start a scholarship fund and help a worthy child of some AYF graduate. We could also pump a few extra dollars into the organization’s needs.

A webpage could be established, noting the accomplishments of many alumni. By keeping in touch with others, you also reconnect with yourself.

Military types have their reunions. So do high school and college grads. They form their alumni associations and perform some good. For 77 years, our AYF has withstood the test of time and remained our beacon of light in an often turbulent ocean.

Then, all of a sudden, the ship is moored and never returns to sea again. Nothing impresses me more than to see children and grandchildren of AYFers I knew carry that torch toward a perpetual dynasty.

And nothing bothers me more than to see them shun a parent organization and suddenly disappear from sight. By creating an alumni association, we could arouse the lost and forsaken, bring them back into the circle of life, and give them a renewed purpose.

Perhaps a parent organization isn’t for them. Maybe they’re not into the political scene. If the AYF was bent of fraternalism, then we could maintain those same values.

My closest friends to this day are one-time AYFers. We get together socially, share the same prayer books at church, and keep the community solvent. I believe it’s time we broadened our scope and gone regionally, if not nationally.

A good place to start is with the papers and websites. Push one domino and the rest will fall. We could hold an annual convention, perhaps at Camp Haiastan, and plan our agenda accordingly. We could hear success stories, even honor an alumni of the year for contributions to society. We could help the sick and infirmed. Perhaps we could assist a worthy charity in Armenia.

Our strength would be in numbers.


Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.

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  1. One reason this idea has not taken shape over the years is that those who graduated from the AYF were encouraged to join the ARF, not an alumni association.
    In fact, for as long as I can recall, an AYF alumni association was kind of considered taboo.
    Do you think our leadership has changed its thinking on this matter?

  2. Armenian American organizations need full-time paid staff to organize and put on events and grow the organization.  There is no other way.

    As for the AYF itself, I do not think they are very active politically on the east coast.  They are supposed to be, but about all I see is a march or demonstration once in a while.  When they get too old for the AYF, I doubt they are politically active then.
    There are exceptions but I am talking about as a general rule.
    Then again, when you really look at them, how active are the gomidehs themselves and are they getting new members?  I think the answers are “not very” and “no.”

  3. Paul, I agree with you about paid staff. After all, most of the diaspora youth organizations (not just the AYF, which is the least “social only” of the bunch) are suffering nowadays. Just look at the ASA, falling apart everywhere except maybe NY; the Armenian Network — R.I.P; AGBU young professionals — who can get a crowd in LA or NY if all the attendees have to do is show up and shell out $175 a pop to hobnob in Prada at a chi-chi bar with other “credentialed” Armo young adults. The concept of volunteering for a fraternal organization as its own reward just doesn’t translate to the majority of our new generations.

  4. Tom, I’m surprised there is one yet.  It’s a must thing to do.  Has anyone considered doing it on the Facebook?  The association page can be setup on the Facebbok.  With many people on that social network it will be easy to find members, keep people connected, send announcements, post news and organize events.  Just an idea.  I agree with Paul about professional staff too.  I would even suggest that we need unified organization that can provide support and training in this area for all Armenian organizations.

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