Apigian-Kessel: Hye Ho! Hye Ho! It’s off to Camp We Go!

Many youth camps are based on building values and character, and the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Camp Haiastan in Franklin, Mass., exceeds those expectations. It teaches youth about their Armenian heritage and culture, accomplishing their goals in many ways. Just ask Emily Der Manuelian, 14, of Rochester Hills, and Olivia Mouradian, 10, of Commerce Township.

Many youth camps are based on building values and character, and the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Camp Haiastan in Franklin, Mass., exceeds those expectations.

Both young ladies have had a head start at home in the area of values. Emily is the daughter of Raffi and Julie Der Manuelian, and the granddaughter of Steve and Ann Karadian. Olivia is the daughter of Vaughn and Kathy Mouradian, and the granddaughter of George and Rose Mouradian. All are respected members of the St. Sarkis Armenian Church community.

Emily is a Rochester High School freshman whose favorite subject is history. She is also on the Robotics Team. She is thinking about becoming a teacher or physical therapist. She is exuberant about Camp Haiastan, saying to her mother, “I can’t wait to go to camp next summer.” Her mother adds, “Emily has pictures of her camp friends all over her room. We wish we lived closer to the East Coast so the kids could see their Armenian friends. Just a couple live here.”

“I would love to be a camp counselor when I am old enough,” Emily says. “I first attended camp in 2008 and it was really hard because I had never been away that long. I was excited but nervous at the same time. I was wondering what two weeks would be like without family, but I quickly realized my new friends were soon becoming my family. We became close the first day. When I returned to camp in 2011, I felt like I was home again. Going back the second time was easier.”

“The counselors were awesome, like older brothers and sisters to me. They and my friends made the experience a blast. Some of my favorite things were waterfront, archery, and basketball. The food there is delicious. My favorite was Chicken Patty Wednesday. After dinner we would go to the Camp Store and buy ice cream and soda (what we Michiganders refer to as ‘pop’). Evening activities varied. We even went to a local bowling alley and that was fun.”

It is no surprise Emily is a high achiever in school. “She gives 110 percent to everything,” her mother says, “and I am proud of her.” As for the robotics, her GM engineer father Raffi has been a mentor to the team since Emily’s brother David was a freshman five years ago. Her brother Chris joined and so did Emily, but her interest is in the area of public relations and field build. They dedicate many after-school hours and all day Saturdays to robotics and love it. Emily also helped build the float for the Rochester Christmas parade.

Olivia Mouradian sat next to me at the church bazaar and just bubbled as she talked about her 2011 Camp Haiastan experience—her first. It was also her first time meeting me, and I was impressed by her outgoing personality and verbal skills for one so young. Would you expect a 10-year-old to reason being away from home by saying, ” Well, I knew if I went to camp, I would be returning back home again and it would be alright.”

“I was a first timer not knowing anyone and I wondered if the other kids were going to be nice or not,” she says. “It turned out to be more fun than I thought.”

“Some were nicer than others,” she says about the campers. “I enjoyed the girl campers in my cabin.”

Olivia Mouradian

Olive quickly got over her first-day jitters and tears. “My parents drove me to my aunt’s house in Washington, D.C. She and I flew to Boston, visited Newport, R.I., then went to Camp Haiastan.” The shower situation was not to her liking. “The water temperature was not well controlled and five minutes in the water is not enough for me!”

Olivia enjoyed the sports, cooking, and dancing. It was obvious she took to the dancing because she demonstrated her finely honed skills at the St. Sarkis Church, bazaar smiling and dancing at every opportunity, wearing her fancy boots. As for the camp food, she found it acceptable, and wisely expressed her appreciation for Grandma Rose’s fine culinary skills.

“The classes were great. We learned about Armenian history, famous people, and the genocide. I want to return to camp again. I learned that attending a camp like this is fun. I originally was signed up for one week but after a few days I called home and told my parents I wanted to stay another week. I now feel better knowing my history and having true friends.”

Emily Der Manuelian

“Unger Allen was my favorite counselor. He taught us a lot about wildlife. I came to the conclusion that Armenians are an extraordinary group of people and I am proud to be one. My school friends told me they wished they were Armenian too.” Olivia has a younger brother, Evan. Her father is an engineer like her grandfather, and her mother is a teacher.

Upon returning home Olivia discovered a new-found appreciation for not only her camp experience but for her home as well. “I was glad to get back and take a long shower with good temperature control without a time limit. I also liked being able to eat what and when I wanted.

So there you have it, Allie Krikorian, Emily Der Manuelian, and Olivia Mouradian—three lovely young ladies coming out of Camp Haiastan imbued with the Armenian spirit.

As one wise local lady, Barbara Haroutunian, whom you can hear before you see her, has said, “I am sending my kids to Camp Haiastan because they know how to build real Armenians.” And she did.

Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”


  1. Once you’ve spent one summer at Camp Hayastan, it’s like an addiction. I spent 3 of my best summers there in the late 60’s. I made friends, who I am still in contact with. I go to summer picnics there and have to make my way “under the trees” and around the camp circle. It’s a bond that remains for ever. A true connection to Armenians and what we stand for. You girls will remember these days for ever. It’s a wonderful feeling.

  2. The key to sustaining our heritage in the diaspora is to build an identity with our Armenian existence. Of course this is best accomplished at a young age; thus the importance of our Sunday schools, Armenian schools, dance groups and youth organizations. Camp Haiastan for years has been an identity builder for our young people that they carry into adulthood. The basic model, with appropriate adjustments, has worked for four generations. There are thousands of American-Armenians who attribute their emotional connection to their heritage to inspiring summers at the camp. Our summer camp programs be it Haiastan, Nubar or St. Vartan are critical to our continued success because they connect to the social needs of our youth and enable life long relationships. Along the way they find an identity with their heritage that can be nurtured locally or nationally. In my view, sending your children to camp is an worhtwhile investment in your children’s Armenian future.

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