Photos by Aleko Boghoskhanian, courtesy of the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry
LOS ANGELES, Calif. & WATERTOWN, Mass.— On Saturday, September 25, the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR) held simultaneous walkathons on the east and west coasts of the United States to honor the memory of fallen soldiers in the 2020 Artsakh War and in solidarity with ABMDR patients in need of a stem cell donor match.
The walkathons, which took place in Watertown and Los Angeles, drew unprecedented community support and youth involvement, with numerous schools and grassroots organizations participating in both events.
The jubilant opening ceremony of the walk in Watertown, the tenth annual Walk of Life, took place at the St. James Charles Mosesian Cultural and Youth Center. ABMDR NE Committee Chair Michael Demirchian welcomed the participants. “We’re touched to see many community organizations and individuals that have come together today to participate in our tenth walkathon,” he said. “Some of you have been with us since day one. Thanks to supporters like you, we’re raising awareness and funds for this worthy cause and saving lives across the globe.”
Subsequently, the participants began a two-mile walk, led by Jack Antounian and other representatives of the Armenian Business Network. The walk concluded at Saltonstall Park, where participants enjoyed music, dancing and food, along with those attending the annual Faire on the Square festival.
In his remarks during the closing ceremony, Shant Der Torossian of ABMDR New England extended the committee’s appreciation to the event’s sponsors for their continued support year after year. He also acknowledged new sponsors including the Hajjar Family Fund, Dr. and Mrs. Carolann and George Najarian, and the Ghahraman Family.
Following Der Torossian’s remarks, Alec Der Sirakian, Sossy Yogurtian (on behalf of the Armenian American Pharmacist’s Association) and Miganush Stepanians of PROMETRIKA LLC were awarded the gold, silver and bronze top-fundraiser awards, respectively. For the ninth consecutive year, the Armenia Tree Project will plant commemorative trees in Armenia in honor of the walkathon winners, as part of the #LivingCentury Initiative.
Across the country on the same day, the walkathon in Los Angeles—the 16th annual Walk of Life—started with a festive opening ceremony at the plaza of the Glendale City building. Among the more than 350 attendees, there were state and local elected officials, community leaders and teams representing schools, community organizations and individual supporters. Participating schools included Providence High School, St. Francis High School and Crescenta Valley High School.
“We are glad to be back this year to an in-person event, on the same day that our team in Boston is also hosting the walkathon on the east coast,” said Walkathon Committee co-chair Dr. Christina Ashjian in her opening remarks. “Last year’s virtual walk was a bit different, but it still made an impact, getting walkers from all over the globe to participate over a month’s period, raising awareness to continue our life-saving mission. Thank you all for coming and being believers in this organization.”
Dr. Ashjian said youth participation in this year’s walkathon was extraordinary. “A special thank you to Providence High School for showing up today with the biggest group we’ve seen in our 16 years of hosting this walkathon,” she said. “This was thanks to Janet Fontane, Dr. Arjan Harjani and Sona Ashjian. Academy of Science Medicine students from Crescenta Valley High School are also here with big numbers, thanks to Eric Markarian.”
Dr. Ashjian acknowledged several dignitaries in attendance, including California State Senator Anthony Portantino; Glendale City Councilmember Ardy Kassakhian; Teresa Lamb Simpson, representing US Congressman Adam Schiff; Christopher Khachadour, representing California State Assemblymember Laura Friedman; and Greg Krikorian of the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education.
Dr. Ashjian was joined on the podium by Walkathon Committee co-chair Hratch Postik, who stressed the vital importance of volunteers in the continued sustainability of ABMDR. “We are an all-volunteer organization and always looking for dedicated volunteers to join our ranks,” he said. Postik went on to acknowledge the walkathon’s sponsors, including Foundation Lab, the event’s major sponsor; Softline Solutions; Andre and Ivette Sinani; Ella and Mila; Janet Parsanj; Los Angeles County District Supervisor Kathryn Barger; Paulette Malekian of Dilbeck Real Estate; DJ Eddy O; Turnaround Time Transcription; Rafik and Arpi Moghadesian; Carmen Lukassian; Dr. Raquel Keledjian of pH Solutions; Dr. Vergine Madelian; Providence High School; and Porto’s Bakery and Café.
The walkathon’s invocation was performed by Father Zaven Markosyan of the Western Diocese and Father Movses Shannakian of the Western Prelacy.
“I’d like to thank our tireless Walkathon Committee for organizing this beautiful event,” said ABMDR president Dr. Frieda Jordan. “Last year, Armenia had to fight not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the Artsakh War, which claimed the lives of thousands of innocent civilians and soldiers. Among those fallen soldiers were many ABMDR donors who had joined ABMDR in times of peace to be able to save a patient’s life. Today, we salute these heroes and walk in their honor. As we do so, we pledge to continue to get stronger, recruit more donors, save more precious lives and help rebuild our nation. There is no doubt that we can accomplish all of these goals if we stand united.”
Remarks were also delivered by State Senator Anthony Portantino, a longtime supporter of ABMDR. “We all know someone who’s been struck by cancer, or someone who has had another health issue. Many of us probably know someone who has been affected by the war in Artsakh as well. So it’s very appropriate that we commemorate and honor those who were impacted by the war,” said Portantino, who will be visiting Artsakh next month for the fourth time.
Senator Portantino presented a Certificate of Recognition to Dr. Jordan in appreciation of ABMDR’s dedication to serving families affected by cancer. “This event brings people together around a unified cause,” stated the signed certificate by Portantino.
A Certificate of Recognition was also presented to ABMDR board members on behalf of Assemblymember Friedman and the California State Assembly, honoring the lifesaving mission of ABMDR.
Once again, a beloved feature of this year’s walkathon was a large banner, displayed in the plaza of the Glendale City building, on which walk supporters wrote down their individual reasons for participating in the event, whether in honor of loved ones or in support of all those who need a lifesaving stem cell donor match.
Before the conclusion of the ceremony, Dr. Ashjian introduced Minella Harabidian, a walk participant, to share her story of how she became a supporter of the Registry’s work. “Some years ago, we began recruiting everyone around us to help us find a match for Biurad, my nine-year-old cousin who was diagnosed with leukemia,” recalled Harabidian. “After waiting for what felt like an eternity, we finally found a match for him. However, in 2007, we lost our little Biurad before he could have his transplant surgery. This is why your presence here today is so important: not only because you can help save someone’s life, but you can provide a sliver of hope for someone who’s going through a really dark time.”
Following Walk of Life’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, the 5K walk-run looped through central Glendale. The walkathon concluded at the plaza of the Glendale City building, where the festivities continued into the day. The event also gave participants the opportunity to join the ranks of ABMDR as potential bone marrow stem cell donors, as many volunteers were on hand to answer questions and welcome new recruits.
This year, the team with the most participants in the walkathon was the one from Providence High School. The team that raised the most funds was Team Angel in memory of Biurad Moghadesian.
About the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry: Established in 1999, ABMDR, a nonprofit organization, helps Armenians and non-Armenians worldwide survive life-threatening blood-related illnesses by recruiting and matching donors to those requiring bone marrow stem cell transplants. To date, the registry has recruited over 32,000 donors in 44 countries across four continents, identified over 9,000 patients, and facilitated 36 bone marrow transplants.