By Christiane Ezgilioglu, AYF New Jersey “Arsen” Chapter
I have been a camper at Camp Haiastan for almost ten years. Since my arrival in 2012, I have never once questioned the fact that I wanted to work on staff. Why wouldn’t I want to work at the happiest place on earth? What reason could there be for me not to come back to camp when I was older and get paid for having fun? My dream was to be Ungerouhi Christiane for so long, and the thought of one day having one of those awesome staff raincoats was like a trophy for me.
While the dream of working at Camp started as a way to extend my fun times here, it quickly became something else. I realized that my time for having fun was coming to an end, and it was soon going to be my job to ensure that the same feeling I had as a camper for the last seven years continued in the next generation. I wanted to give that same magic to Camp that my counselors created for me and make Camp Haiastan the second home for a brand new group of campers. So when the 2022 Camp Haiastan applications opened, I applied.
In April, I attended the AYF Special Convention in Philadelphia. I won’t lie; I was beyond intimidated to attend and almost did not. I had learned about the convention at Camp Haiastan during Armenian school, and it always seemed like something that only older kids went to. Why should I be in a room that decided the fate of our organization? I did not perceive going into convention this year that I was now an older kid. It was my turn to attend the convention. It was my turn to make a change. It was my turn to voice my opinions on the past year and make the AYF something better than before. Attending the convention was a turning point for me in my career as an AYFer. Something in my brain lit up, and I realized it was my time to step up to seemingly hard challenges.
I applied to work to inspire other Armenians to love Camp as much as I do and return in the following years. After I left Philadelphia, I felt that my job at Camp would be much more than making sure kids have fun. My job would be to ensure that the new generation understood their roles as American-Armenian diasporans and to create a welcoming environment for our campers to feel that they belong in our Armenian community.
Our mission as a staff is to help the next generation know that if they are not the ones to step up to the challenge when their time comes, no one will. Working at Camp Haiastan is one of the best jobs there is, and I have never enjoyed working anywhere more. And although this job is fun and exciting, it is also a duty to our culture to show the next generations that there is a reason we are still here and fighting.
We do not just run a fun summer camp for our Armenian youth to come together, but also instill a passion in our campers for our culture, homeland and cause. It is here at Camp Haiastan where we fuel the burning passion of Armenians, and it is here where we create the next leaders of our community.