By Dan Chakmakjian
Camp Haiastan has a place in the hearts of many members of the Armenian community in the United States and throughout the world. Although many people contribute their time and effort to the camp during the year, perhaps the most difficult job belongs to the executive director. On July 10, I interviewed the new executive director, David Hamparian, on his recent acceptance of the position and his history with the camp.
Dan Chakmakjian: How did Camp Haiastan affect your life when you were young?
David Hamparian: Well, it gave me more confidence. I was really shy at the time and coming here to camp gave me an opportunity to be away from home, to deal with being away from home, making new friends, developing stronger friendships, to learn about being Armenian and what it meant to me.
DC: Can you share a story or a memory from camp?
DH: There are so many that I probably can’t… What happens at camp stays at camp to a certain extent. But, you know, I can still remember being really shy and being “snowballed”… Some of those things haven’t changed over the years: Counselors being nice, knowing that you were shy, and helping you develop and be more of a young adult. So, a lot of good memories. Too many, too many to list.
DC: What was your favorite thing about the summer of 1990, when you were summer director?
DH: The end of the summer, when we had a successful year, the kids learned a lot, the counselors learned a lot, and everybody was safe. It’s just a great sense of satisfaction knowing that we made a difference in kids’ lives. And the counselors grew. There was a lot of personal growth for the counselors, which I didn’t really expect. Seeing them change and evolve as managers for the first time in many of their lives was an interesting progression to watch.
DC: How do you think that experience affected your decision to take the job?
DH: No doubt, it impacted it greatly. Bob Avakian was a mentor in many ways and at that time it was—I said it then and I’ll say it now—probably the best job I ever had. The most rewarding job definitely.
DC: What was your first reaction when you were approached about the executive director position?
DH: I thought they were kidding. [Chuckles] I was entertained by the thought but I wasn’t sure how serious they were. It wasn’t something I’d really been contemplating. I have love for the camp but until the opportunity was made official, it was in the back of my mind. I had to think seriously about what I wanted to do, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized, “This is something I’d love to do.”
DC: How does it feel to work at camp again?
DH: It’s harder to run [up] the hill than it was back then. [Big smile and a laugh] The hill seems a little steeper. The kids have changed a little bit, parents have changed, the perspective on camp has changed. It’s evolved and grown but the core tenants of camp really haven’t. The core programs are still in place, the requirements on counselors, and the demands place on them. The programs have gotten better over time.
DC: Do you prefer Baron Dave, or Mr. Hamparian?
DH: I don’t like Baron Dave because Baron Dave was in 1990, that’s in the rearview mirror. The Baron title is, to me, only appropriate for the director of the summer camp—the lower camp. I don’t think that there is another Baron at the camp because without that Baron doing his job, the rest of the camp doesn’t function right. It’s integral and to me it’s a title of respect for the person, what I think is the most important job at the camp. So, I had my day and now I have a different perspective on things, and we have different issues to deal with up here [at the executive office].
DC: What are some improvements that you want to see during your tenure?
DH: It’s nice to see that there is a little bit more emphasis on the Armenian School. Baron Hagop has done a great job emphasizing that it’s an Armenian camp and we need to be more Armenian when the chance is there. It’s nice to see that it is being stressed and I think [the Armenian School teachers] are doing a great job.
The camp has capital issues facing it. The bathrooms are a major concern that the community has to be made aware of—we’re facing deadlines and major fundraising has to happen before next year to get that done because it’s going to be an expensive project. We need people to be aware and we need support, financial support, in order to get the camp open next year. It’s a possibility that without this happening the town won’t give us the permit to open. That’s first and foremost.
Long-term goal? I’d like to see the camp grow and expand its programs further into the community. A week ago the founders came and saw the progress we’ve made, but we can always make it better [than it was].
Dan Chakmakjian is a member of the AYF Greater Boston Nejdeh chapter.