Helen Knar Cirrito awarded Lifetime Achievement Award in Michigan

Helen Knar (Arakelian) Cirrito has received the Governor George Romney Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognizes individuals who demonstrate a lifelong commitment to community involvement and volunteer service. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Community Service Commission honored Cirrito on November 28, 2023 at the Governor’s Service Awards in Detroit.

Cirrito was born in Detroit to George and the late Zabel Arakelian. Her grandparents, Andrew and Sophie Arakelian and Yesahi and Armenouhi Gononian, were Armenian Genocide survivors from Ottoman Turkey. Raised in Detroit and Highland Park, where her parents and grandparents were active members of the Armenian community and church, Cirrito attended both Sunday school and Armenian school.

Helen Knar (Arakelian) Cirrito at the first Lansing Armenian community 4th of July picnic held at Francis Park, Lansing, MI. July 4, 1992

A graduate of the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in zoology and Michigan State University with a master’s in zoology, Cirrito was employed at Michigan State for 30 years in various research labs. She married Michael Cirrito, and they raised their children Andrea and Michael in the Greater Lansing area, where she has lived for 54 years.

Cirrito has had a life-changing effect on hundreds within the Armenian refugee community in the Greater Lansing region of Michigan. For more than three decades, Cirrito welcomed refugee families from all over the world into her home and helped them establish roots in the Greater Lansing area.

“In 1991, the first wave of Armenian refugees from Baku, Azerbaijan began to arrive in Michigan. In Lansing, about 40 refugees arrived that first year, at which time I became active in meeting and helping them in their resettlement,” Cirrito wrote to the Weekly. “Eventually, we welcomed over 250 people in Lansing and met many more in Detroit and Grand Rapids.”

As a descendant of Genocide survivors, Cirrito’s commitment to helping those in need was ingrained in her. In 1992, as Armenians were displaced by the first Artsakh War, Cirrito founded the Armenian Resettlement and Refugee Assistance Trust Fund using her resources and time. She worked closely with St. Vincent Catholic Charities to secure opportunities for the new arrivals. Cirrito also facilitated employment, education, transportation and medical care, setting the stage for success and integration into the Lansing community.

What truly sets Cirrito apart is her ability to remember and celebrate the milestones of each person she has helped. Her commitment to the well-being and growth of these individuals is a testament to her dedication and care. As the Armenian American community flourished, her efforts continued to expand. More than 90-percent of the refugees she assisted purchased homes, opened local businesses and provided employment opportunities to other community members. Cirrito’s influence has rippled through generations, as young Armenian Americans achieve academic, artistic and athletic success on national and international stages.

Cirrito’s profound service has not gone unnoticed by her community. Her selflessness and generosity have garnered deep respect and gratitude from everyone she has helped. The Armenian American community stands united in support of her nomination, echoing sentiments of appreciation for her dedication and life-changing work.  

“Helen Cirrito is an amazing woman who cherished all of us as her own family and gave us another chance to build a new life in America and succeed. She is worthy of hundreds of awards and recognitions, but she never sought or expected anything in return for all her hard work,” said Asya Vardanova, a member of the Lansing Armenian community. “We are all forever grateful for everything she has done for our entire community.”

“The Armenian Community in Lansing remains connected, but has seen many changes in the past 33 years,” Cirrito wrote. “It has been for me a personal journey of commitment and service to fellow Armenians.”

Cirrito’s legacy is one of unwavering compassion, boundless dedication and a resounding belief in the potential of every individual to thrive. Her lifetime achievement of saving lives, creating opportunities and fostering unity is a shining example of how one person’s actions can truly make a profound and lasting impact.


  1. I heard a lot of nice things about Helen from my husband Aleksandr Khechumyan ..she was very caring person for each Armenian visiting East Lansing..greetings from Alik and his family

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