Luncheon Honors AIWA’s 25th Anniversary, Women’s History Month

NORTH BERGEN, N.J.—The Armenian International Women’s Association (AIWA) New Jersey Affiliate, celebrated its annual luncheon in honor of Women’s Entrepreneurship, AIWA’s 25th Anniversary and Women’s History Month, on March 13, at Waterside Restaurant.

Ani Kalayjian, left, performs on the cello. Lisa Stepanian, right, was honored for her contributions to AIWA.
Ani Kalayjian, left, performs on the cello. Lisa Stepanian, right, was honored for her contributions to AIWA.

Following a warm welcome from Margaret Janikian, AIWA N.J. President, Mistress of Ceremonies Nvair Beylerian highlighted the impact of AIWA, which promotes and enriches the social, economic, and personal advancement of Armenian women around the globe, while raising funds and awareness for educational and community programs and activities.

Armenia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations His Eminence Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, who has had ties to AIWA dating back to the 2004 AIWA International Conference in Geneva, conveyed the importance of Armenian women around the world belonging to a community, which is made possible by AIWA’s international affiliates. He noted the instrumental role Armenian women have played throughout history and their strength in working together towards issues of Armenian identity.

Featured entrepreneur, Sossie Dadoyan Arlia—owner of Jack In The Box Schools, located in Closter, N.J., and recently chosen to be a part of a book titled, Redefining Success, by Ally Nathaniel—spoke about her decision to buy Jack In The Box School in 1983 and her hard work towards expanding it over the course of 30 plus years.

“Once I became the owner of Jack in the Box School, all I could think of was to make it better,” said Dadoyan Arlia. “It took years of renovations and remodeling until I made the school something to be proud of.”

Following her initial school’s success, she opened two additional locations in Alpine and Tenafly, while also devoting her time to serve as a volunteer at a non-profit preschool as a mentor and advisor. Portions of the book sale proceeds of Redefining Success were donated to the Women’s Entrepreneurship Program in Yerevan, one of AIWA’s major programs in Armenia.

Dadoyan Arlia imparted words of advice to the audience, noting the importance of recognizing opportunity, being surrounded by good people, and being kind and generous.

“Life has a funny way of guiding you, but it has to make sense, and it has to be at the right time,” she said. “When opportunity presents itself to you, say yes, and do not look back. I was not afraid to open the doors that were placed in front of me.”

The event’s honoree, Lisa Stepanian, has served as the founder and president of the AIWA New Jersey Affiliate for over 20 years, during which she represented the organization at the United Nations and served on the NGO Committee on the Status of Women. She currently serves as executive director of Armenia Fund USA. Her volunteerism continues as a member of the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking, and as founding member of Caring Hands Fund, a non-profit charity organization that raised funds and provided critical medical surgeries to underprivileged individuals in Yerevan.

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy,” said Stepanian. “We vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in. I can’t express how grateful I was to be honored for my volunteer work for AIWA.”

Founding member of AIWA and Board of Directors Representative Barbara Merguerian traced the history of AIWA back to 1991, when the announcement of the organization’s formation was met with skepticism and people said there was no need for another Armenian organization.

“But we felt that our organization is unique,” said Merguerian, historian, writer, and former editor of the Armenian Mirror Spectator. “It was important to have in the Armenian diaspora an independent women’s organization, non-political and non-sectarian, dedicated to the interests and concerns of Armenian women.”

Merguerian noted that AIWA was established the same year that Armenia became independent, which propelled the organization’s efforts. She highlighted the first successful initiative in Yerevan, which was to support the Yerevan Women’s Reproductive Health Center. Present-day, AIWA’s efforts in Armenia are concentrated on the Women’s Entrepreneurship Program at the American University of Armenia.

“We believe that all Armenian women, wherever they live, whatever their level of education, their social class or status in life, whether professionals or not, all have interests in common and can benefit by coming together and charting a course for the future,” said Merguerian.

On AIWA’s 25th anniversary, Merguerian said she looks forward to continuing to “promote and enrich the social, economic and personal advancement of Armenian women worldwide through educational and other community activities that unite Armenian women, promote gender equity, and emphasize our Armenian cultural heritage.”

Musical selections were played by Ani Kalayjian, a prize-winning concert cellist who performed a selection of Armenian and classical pieces.

“It was an honor to be invited to this event as a guest speaker and entrepreneur,” said Dadoyan Arlia. “I was very impressed with the organization’s dedication as well as each of the accomplishments of the members, each in their own fields.”

“It was truly inspiring to feel the extraordinary energy in the room from the podium,” said Beylerian, founder and president of HYEfamily, a music production company specializing in children’s music in Armenian. “By supporting AIWA’s initiatives, attendees proved that they understand the importance of empowering women in Armenia, along with Diaspora-Armenian women worldwide.”

Beylerian, whose professional background is in television production, has also served as communications consultant at the UN Children Fund and has volunteered her skills and expertise to benefit strategic fundraising, event planning and teaching song and folk dance.

“Whether running a Fortune 500 company or helping the less fortunate through charitable work; whether starting a new business from scratch or entering your final work-year before retirement; single, married, divorced or widowed; whether raising a family as a working mom, stay-at-home mom or caring for an elderly relative, we are all in this together,” said Beylerian. “We, as Armenian women, have the power to create, nurture, educate, and transform society.”

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Taleen Babayan

Taleen Babayan earned her masters in journalism from Columbia University in 2008 and her bachelors degree in history and international relations from Tufts University in 2006. Her work has been published widely in both Armenian and non-Armenian media. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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