Lighting a “spark” in campers

By Sevan Soukiasian, AYF Greater Boston “Nejdeh” Chapter

Upon my arrival at Camp Haiastan this season, I felt the familiar chill that runs down my spine each year as my brother Garen drove me down to lower Camp. I knew I was entering as a staff member, but I felt the same anticipation I did as a first-year camper. I quickly settled into my cabin and made my way to rec hall, where my now-best friends Areni and Sosé were beginning to decorate. We spent hours deciding where each poster should go and how to make the rec hall more than just the conveniently air-conditioned room in Camp—to make it a place where people truly wanted to engage in Armenian culture, literature and conversation.

Sevan Soukiasian (right front) dancing with enthusiastic campers

Throughout the weeks and sessions at Camp, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I learned about myself. From a strong work ethic, to cooperation with different age groups, and persistence to work through the days when you felt homesick, I can say that these past eight weeks have taught me about my attitude in a work setting. Similarly, I have learned so much more about Armenian issues, improving my lessons each week after reading one of the countless books in the rec hall and especially by having intellectual conversations with other staff members and campers.

Although campers depend on us to provide them with a safe environment, walk them to the nurse for a bandage, or play basketball with them during free time, I’ve learned that the staff’s contribution to Camp is dependent on how much they interact with the kids. If I woke up every morning and taught the three hours of Hye Jham that is explicitly stated in my contract and did nothing else all day, I would have no impact on the campers. Sitting with my friend’s cabins in the afternoon, picking out colors for bracelets and talking about ‘snowball’ dances are just a few of the unwritten job requirements of working at Camp Haiastan. Oftentimes, I wouldn’t even need to approach kids to talk about that day’s lesson; they would feel comfortable enough to begin a conversation with me, giving me suggestions for tomorrow’s lesson and even teaching me a thing or two.

I always reminded myself that even though this was a job that I wanted to accomplish, it came down to whether or not kids left Camp feeling inspired and educated. Even in a room full of 30 kids who just want to play outside and perhaps feel like Hye Jham is pointless, there would always be the handful of kids who developed a visible spark in their eyes when they heard a statement that encouraged them to go a step further in their journey to becoming an active Armenian ready to make a difference. Those moments for me as a camper led me to my job at Camp Haiastan, and I would be honored if a camper I taught this summer experienced that electrifying feeling about something that was presented in Hye Jham this year. 

Thank you to all of the campers and staff this year—you have impacted me in ways that I never thought were possible in just two months, and I cannot wait to come back.

Camp Haiastan
Located in Franklin, Massachusetts, AYF Camp Haiastan, was founded in 1951 and is the oldest Armenian camp in the United States. The Camp prides itself on providing a healthy and safe experience to Armenian-American youth to help them foster their Armenian identity and establish lifelong friendships.
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