By Michael Bahtiarian
Special for the Armenian Weekly
FRANKLIN, Mass. (A.W.)—On a recent hot Sunday afternoon, Camp Haiastan held a ribbon cutting ceremony for its long-awaited facilities expansion: the new shower, bathroom, and washstand building. The ribbon cutting marked the completion of a five-year Expand & Renew project that cost over one million dollars and resulted in the renewal of nearly all of the Camp’s water and septic infrastructure.
The new building includes bathrooms and showers for boys and girls. It replaces three other buildings, which were at least 50 years old. It is the largest, most expensive, and complicated project in the Camp’s 66-year history.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony began at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and drew more than 150 spectators.
Before the formal program began, a moment of silence was held for Mark Alashaian, who had passed away the previous week. Mark was a longtime Camp Haiastan Board of Directors member or liaison for the past 13 years. Most notably, he was its chairman during the planning, design, and construction of the new shower, bathroom, and washstand building.
“Mark was a father, a husband, a brother, a mentor, and a beloved unger to us all, ” said the current chairman of the camp board, Levon Attarian. “Although there is a physical void, his presence will always be felt on these grounds.”
The program commenced with a formal welcome by board member Adam Boyajian, and the new building was then blessed by Rev. Antranig Baljian of St. Stephen’s Armenian Apostolic Church of Watertown, Mass.
“What you see…is a nice new shiny building,” Boyajian said, and went on to enumerate “what you don’t see,” listing many of the things (new septic and waterlines), and the work of countless volunteers who helped make the new building a reality. He closed by saying, “What you don’t see is every little step it took for that nice new shiny building to exist.” He also acknowledged many of the in-kind donations for the building, including engineering services, lights, plumbing, and doors.
George Aghjayan, chairperson of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) Central Committee, offered congratulations from the ARF’s Eastern U.S. Region. “For over 60 years, Camp Haiastan has been a source of inspiration for generations of Armenian youth,” he pointed out. “The founders of the Camp were visionary. Just try to imagine our community today without the thousands who have passed through these gates and been inspired. The Central Committee commends all those who dedicate their time and resources to expanding and renewing this critical institution.”
MaryAnne Bonjuklian, an Armenian Relief Society (ARS) of Eastern U.S. Board member and liaison to Camp Haiastan, spoke on behalf of her organization. “Many of today’s ARS members from the Eastern Region were past campers, and most have children who have attended or are attending Camp Haiastan,” she said. “We [the ARS] have and always have had, and always will have, a vested interest in Camp Haiastan.”
Finally, Garo Tashian, the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF) Central Executive chairperson, spoke on behalf of the AYF. “I’d like to thank not only all of the donors who made all of these renovations possible, but the (board) and Baron Dave, who put in the countless hours of work to see these projects through,” Tashian said.
Camp Haiastan invited the principal donors for the new building to make remarks during the ribbon cutting. They included Armen Megeurditchian, Michael Guzelian, and Stepan Kanarian. Armen’s parents, Dikran and Maro Meguerditchian, gave over $300,000 to the project. Later in the program, Executive Director Dave Hamparian noted, “He kept writing checks…his generosity bought me to tears.” Michael Guzelian spoke about his aunt Nancy Guzelian’s support of the bathroom project from Day One. Stepan Kanarian, chairperson of the Armenian Youth Foundation, spoke about all the Camp Haiastan projects the Foundation has supported since the Foundation’s establishment.
The final speaker of the day was introduced as the person that made this project happen, David Hamparian, Camp Haiastan’s executive director since 2013. Dave was busy this off-season, having completed six significant infrastructure projects, including the new shower, bathroom, washstand building, the new Circle of Friends meeting space, a new sand volleyball court, a new badminton court, installation of a new pool liner, and conversion of some storage space to additional counselor quarters. With those changes, Session 1 of the camping season will have an unprecedented 152 campers—the largest single session attendance in the 66-year history of Camp Haiastan. “All donors, large or small, will always have a special place in my heart as you all believed and trusted the board of directors and me,” Hamparian concluded.
The Expand & Renew Project was started in 2012 with the idea of building a new bathroom-shower-washstand complex housed in one building. However, Expand and Renew is much more than that. In the fall and spring of 2014/2015, Camp Haiastan undertook the replacement of the Camp’s entire septic system, as well as the replacement of the water supply system and the construction of a new water well. The new bath/shower building construction started in September 2016 and was completed in June 2017. The building is now officially open for use.
The ribbon cutting also celebrated the opening of the Circle of Friends, the newest place at Camp Haiastan for donors to be recognized. It holds plaques for the large number of supporters to this $1,200,000 project. Executive Director Hamparian noted, “It will hopefully become a place for campers and visitors to relax and reflect on those who have given generously to Camp Haiastan.”
Hamparian concluded by saying, “You believed in the magic of Camp Haiastan…. You believed our future as Armenians is bright…. You helped us leave Camp Haiastan better than we found it.”