Aging Out: Reflections from Providence AYF Alumni

U. Alysha Melkoun

Pictured left to right: Alysha Phillips Melkoun, Alice Sarajian and Sarah Vartanian

Twenty years. Two decades. That is a lot of time for one person to be a part of an organization, but being a part of the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF), it absolutely flew by. The memories, experiences and friendships cannot be measured, but only treasured. An organization must be something special to have members be a part of it for so long, and the AYF Providence “Varantian” Chapter is no exception.

My earliest memories as an AYF member started when I was a junior and just years old. I would attend meetings in the basement of Sts. Vartanantz Church surrounded by friends and family from church, Sunday school and Armenian school. I would always be in awe of the seniors and how they would help run our junior meetings. They always seemed so professional, and I knew I couldn’t wait to be a senior member one day. My favorite part of being a junior, however, was JAG (Junior Athletic Games); I would look forward to using my swimming skills in competition. One of my favorite memories was my first JAG, where I swam in many events, wearing my uncle’s swim goggles. Uncle Bunky (Mark Norigian to everyone else) was always at the end of the pool cheering me on and motivating me to do my absolute best at swimming. Having Uncle Bunky there at the finish line of each race was one of the best parts of the swimming events. That first year, I finished in first place in most of my events and was crowned the High Scorer of JAG. As I grew older, I continued to wear Uncle Bunky’s goggles as they became a good luck charm to me.

As I grew older in the organization, I made so many friends near and far. I became closer to the people in my immediate chapter and also had the opportunity to meet members from other chapters around the country. Attending events like JAG, JEW (Junior Educational Weekend – now ACE weekend) and so many others solidified my membership in the AYF.

Once I turned 17, it was time to become a senior. I had been waiting years for this and I couldn’t believe the time was here. I was excited to compete in Senior Olympics, be able to attend senior events and to truly make a difference in the Armenian community. I was so excited to have an opportunity to be on the executive, to help with protests, athletics, socials and so much more. There are too many events to count, but a few of my favorites were always Senior Olympics, V-Ball (whether it be Varantian Ball or Victory Ball), NATs and all of the cultural events. I had my hand in helping run many of these events, whether they were being held in Providence or not. Being a part of the V-Ball committee was always a favorite of mine, because the event was always so much fun with the music and dancing and many times lined up with my birthday. Being involved in so many different events was what made my time as a senior so enjoyable. I loved being able to help plan and run events that had such a special place in my heart. I have always been an advocate for the Armenian people, especially in the cultural sense, and I am forever grateful that the AYF allowed me to accomplish such things.

Of course there are so many more names to name and so many more memories to recall, but the overall message I am trying to convey is that the AYF is truly a special organization. It has allowed me to flourish, to grow personally and professionally, and to make lifelong friends. It has challenged me mentally and physically and to become a better version of myself. I am eternally grateful for this organization and will forever cherish the memories I made with my fellow members. It feels odd to now have the title of alumnus, but I am thankful to have had the past twenty years as an active member under my belt. To the Providence “Varantian” Chapter I would like to say thank you, and in the words of Steve Elmasian, “A job well done.”

U. Levon Zobian

Levon Zobian

Aging out of the AYF-YOARF is bittersweet for me. Bitter because I will miss the camaraderie in attending events, rallies and gatherings as a member, but sweet because of the fact that I am left with so many valuable friendships and memories and the feeling that I have helped further the Armenian cause. The level of camaraderie I have experienced in the AYF has been unmatched both in my personal and professional life, and I am forever grateful to the ARF for providing this to the Armenian youth/community for the past 87 years.

Being an active AYF member has not only helped me grow as an Armenian but also as a person in general. As a member, I have been blessed to serve in a variety of capacities throughout the years, from being elected to Providence “Varantian” Chapter Executive to serving on central councils such as Central PR Council, and most notably being on the Web Team for nearly a decade. There is no shortage of opportunities presented to members; these opportunities range from traveling to Armenia to take part in the AYF Internship to attending AYF Olympics as an athlete and competing with fellow members.

To the current ungers: do not take your time in the AYF for granted. One thing that sets Armenians apart from other groups is our undying sense of community and unwavering ability to uplift one another in true grassroots fashion. In these burdensome times at home and in Armenia, this aspect of our identity is something of utmost importance to grasp and build upon. Be active, educate others and recruit. Our community needs us now more than ever. Armenia needs us, and our work must continue.

U. Anna-Marie Danayan

Anna-Marie Danayan

The AYF has offered me unforgettable experiences that have allowed me to grow and deepen my connection with all things Armenian.

Under wonderful leadership, past and present, I have no doubt that the future generation of AYF members will be in great hands and will obtain knowledge, experience, understanding, familiarity and awareness of the Armenian heritage as I have. I am also hopeful that as the younger generation gets older and more deeply involved in the AYF, they will leave their mark in the ever-growing AYF family. 

Personally, the AYF is more than an Armenian organization which stands on its five pillars guiding activities through education, Hai Tahd, social, athletics and culture. It is a family-like environment that provides members with the opportunity to connect with other Armenians around the world.

Even through a health pandemic and recent unfortunate events in our motherland, the AYF has still been able to maintain its core pride and family ties. This reassures me that nothing can demolish our Armenian spirits, and nothing can break the bond that has been growing stronger since the AYF’s beginnings in 1933. 

My experiences with the AYF go beyond just a typical organization; the friendships and relationships I have built through Camp Haiastan, Olympics and Seminar will stay with me well into my life.

The AYF has always gone above and beyond to provide its members with possibilities of traveling internationally to Armenia and getting hands-on internship experience with hospitals, businesses, support centers, designers, engineers and technology companies. 

I will forever be proud to call myself an AYF alumnus! 

Founded in 1933, The Armenian Youth Federation is an international, non-profit, youth organization of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF). The AYF-YOARF Eastern United States stands on five pillars that guide its central activities and initiatives: Educational, Hai Tahd, Social, Athletic and Cultural. The AYF also promotes a fraternal attitude of respect for ideas and individuals amongst its membership. Unity and cooperation are essential traits that allow members of the organization to work together to realize the AYF’s objectives.

1 Comment

  1. Congratulations to the three young adults who have finished their time in the Providence A.Y.F. “Varantian” Chapter. I am sure they will continue their work for the Armenian community and church. All three have accomplished so much over the years. I have known them all since childhood and am so proud of them all. Also happy to say they have joined the Providence A.R.S. “Ani” Chapter and will continue their work and dedication for our nation. God Bless them.

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