By Lauren DaSilva
I joined the AYF because my mother told me it was fun and that I would make a lot of friends. She told me that she was still friends with the AYFers she grew up with and the memories of her years were some of the best of her life. My five aunts were all members of the AYF and said the same thing. I joined the AYF because I wanted to have the time of my life.
But they lied to me… I soon realized the AYF was not all fun; there was a lot of work that needed to be done.
I remember taking my oath, in one of the classrooms at St. Gregory’s Church in North Andover, Mass. I didn’t understand why my mother was so happy I joined. The first order of business was assigning tasks for PR-ing the upcoming dance. My task was to flyer all the stores in Watertown. She had to drive me. But she was almost overly delighted to take me.
When I was 16, I moved from Boston to Fairfield, Conn., and transferred to the senior membership there. Moving in the middle of high school was devastating for me, but I understood what my mother meant about lifelong friends. The first Sunday in Connecticut that we went to church, my mother met up with one for her friends from Providence who was living in Connecticut. He invited my family to meet the AYFers at his house. We moved to a new town and within days we were at a social. The Varadians made the few years we lived in Connecticut fun and enjoyable.
By the time I went to college, I understood that the AYF was fun, camp was fun, educationals were boring, but seminar was amazing. But it was when I joined the Greater Boston “Nejdeh” Chapter that I got a whole new perspective. I had been on executives before, but chairing the GBN chapter was a whole new ball game. Being in a large senior chapter was completely different than the small, combined junior and senior chapters I was used to. I was intimidated at first, but I quickly felt at home. Over the last decade I’ve worked with many different chapter members, all of whom have a piece of my heart. Saying goodbye at my last chapter meeting was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.
In 2002, I signed up for my first Central Committee: Junior Seminar Committee. The JSC was responsible for planning and executing Junior Seminar, my favorite event at the time. The two years I served on JSC were the best years. My fellow members were from different chapters; some I knew from my years as a camper and some I met at our first meeting, but we worked together so well that I looked forward to our eight-hour-long meetings each month. Hearing everyone’s different perspective on the Armenian educational program opened my eyes in a lot of ways.
In my years, I served six terms on the Central Executive. Each term, each member was different, and some years were better than others. But every decision made, every report written, every conversation had was worth the work. To see the organization move forward and strive after 77 years has been amazing. In my time, I’ve seen the organization become a 501(c)3, my juniors become seniors, my juniors’ juniors become seniors…
Throughout the years, I started to see the AYF as more than just fun and friends. All of a sudden the educationals were no longer boring, but thought provoking. Stories of Kevork Chavoush and General Antranig didn’t seem so far away. To me, the AYF is not just the Armenian Youth Federation; it is the Armenian Youth Federation, the Youth Organization of the ARF. In college I took my oath for the ARF, a decision I will never regret.
On April 5, 2010 my nephew Jonathan turned 10 years old, and the first thing he said to me on his birthday was, “I am finally old enough to join the AYF.” And I understood why my mother was so happy when I joined the AYF.
At one point Jonathan was the youngest member in our organization, and I was the oldest; although I am not happy to be growing older, it was the best feeling in the world. I am so happy that I had one year in the AYF-YOARF with him. Jonathan has been to his first Junior Seminar and this year will be his fourth camping season at Camp Haiastan.
Over the years, the AYF-YOARF has taken me to LA, Montreal, Miami, Prospect, the Poconos, Waterbury, London, Yerevan, and all up and down the East Coast. And in my travels I’ve created a new family, a family that I would never have known without the AYF.
This organization gives the Armenian youth all over the world a chance to connect and make a difference. But the only way to reap the benefits is to participate in everything. Don’t see the organization as just a social network because although it is the greatest social network, there is so much more. For me the greatest thing about the AYF and ARF is that everyone has a role, everyone is needed, everyone is responsible, and everyone can make a difference.
My story as an AYF-YOARFer is the average tale. I joined as a junior, went to camp, went to seminar, joined seniors, and joined the ARF. But for me, the 13 seminars, 10 conventions, the hundreds of conference calls, thousands of meetings, and countless nights slept at camp equals happy memories that will carry me through my life, hundreds of friends, and most importantly to me, maybe a small change in the Armenian world.