The Reach of Camp Haiastan, part two

It never ceases to amaze me how precious our Camp Haiastan is. Our grandparents knew; our parents knew. We finally got the message. For many years it has provided a wholesome atmosphere for our youth, with the backdrop of Armenian culture and preservation of history. How lucky we are to have this oasis.

Since my retirement, I have tried to visit camp a couple of times a week and help the executive director Kenar Charchaflian and caretaker John Miller with the never ending tasks required to keep camp at the top of its game. It is my happy place. This year, retiree Michael Guzelian, with his vast handyman talents, can also be found lending a helping hand every week. I am sure he would attest that there is no better place to spend a few hours each week. I hope our little fraternity grows as our peers start falling into the ranks of the retired.

Mike Guzelian

With the amount of work to be done each year, help is always at hand. There are volunteer days, scheduled each fall with the confidence that there will be enough help to open as well as close down Camp properly at the end of the summer. This is one of the best examples of the “reach” of Camp Haiastan. A simple Facebook post or a call to Stephen Elmasian in Providence and Greg Minasian in Andover is all that is needed. As they say, if camp calls – they will come. We normally have 30+ volunteers on volunteer days. The attendees’ talents are all over the place, but the desire to pay back is the same for all.

The “reach” is not only a New England thing. It is what lures Kevork Khrimian to drive four hours from New York to take down shutters on the cabins and then drive four hours to return home. He will return at the end of the summer to put those same shutters back on the cabins again. Four hours up – four hours back.

Kevork Khrimian on the ladder taking care of the shutters

Our camp experiences are part of our development as diasporan Armenians. Camp’s “reach” does not end in Franklin. In June, I will once again lead a group of volunteers traveling to Armenia to help build homes for the needy. This will be the fourth year my wife Junie and I make this “pilgrimage with a purpose.” (“Pilgrimage with a purpose” is a phrase recently coined by Arpy Coherian, another camp alumna.)

Each year, our Fuller group is made up of Camp Haiastan alumni. This coming summer will be no different. Of course, there are Junie and I, who met at Camp in 1973, along with my sister Anita Mangassarian Bolz, who was a camper in the 60s and a counselor in 1971, and my great niece Rebecca Wyman, who was one of the first “day campers.” She graduated to camper for several years and was a counselor in 2022. Angel Kazandjian Stevens (1987-92) and her son Bobby will also join us. Lastly, with us will be lifelong friend Louise Kanian, who was a camper for several summers in the 60s. 

In Armenia, we will be joined once again for the third year by this year’s crop of AYF Interns. They will spend two days working side by side with us, helping a family build a respectable home. The group of 16 interns will include 13 Camp Haiastan alumni. They are everywhere! They bring with them an energy and a light that are an inspiration.

Last year in Armenia, one of the volunteers in our group, Adreena Tamakian Harley (a camp alumna), asked if we could visit the Women’s Resource Center in Yerevan. Her church group back in Michigan wanted to make a donation to this center that supports battered women. When we arrived, by coincidence, out the front door came Lisa Giragosian Iskikian (camp alumna), daughter of the late Penny Giragosian (camp nurse). Lisa was dropping off some children’s clothes at the shelter, which she does routinely. Lisa now lives in Yerevan and supports many groups helping those less fortunate. She brought us inside and introduced us to Ani Jilozian, the Director of Development for the center. We spent some time with Ani, who is a very impressive young lady, originally from Philadelphia. Oh yeah, by the way, she attended Camp Haiastan (1997-2000) as a youngster. Crazy right? The “reach” never ends. Meeting someone as impressive as Ani, who I had nothing in common with except that part of our upbringing was blessed with the Camp Haiastan experience, made me feel proud. I do not know how better to describe it.

Ani Jilozian, director of development for the Women’s Support Center

Along with the Paros Foundation, we raised money last year to renovate a gymnasium at a rural school. We traveled to the school for the ribbon cutting last summer, when I promised that I would raise money to convert a pitiful vacant lot adjacent to the school into a modest soccer field. Over this past year, I did some research on how to get this done. My research brought me to an organization called GOALS – “Girls of Armenia Leadership Soccer.” They run soccer leagues for young girls throughout Armenia. 

The CEO of this organization based in Yerevan is Teny Avakian. Teny has dedicated her life to “children, education, human rights and social services.” Of course she attended Camp Haiastan (’95) as a youngster! Hopefully I will be able to collaborate with her on this year’s soccer field project.

Teny Avakian, CEO of “Girls of Armenia Leadership Soccer”

Being at camp routinely these days, I see the dedication of so many much younger than me. Whether it be the Board of Directors, the administrative staff or the summer help, I see firsthand their desire to offer the best summer experience to our youth. Camp acts as a bridge between maturing youngsters and the exemplary Armenians who go on to do wonderful things wherever life takes them – forever extending Camp Haiastan’s “reach.”

John Mangassarian

John Mangassarian

John Mangassarian is a former camper, counselor, board member and lifelong supporter of Camp Haiastan.
John Mangassarian

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1 Comment

  1. As always John, your heart will always be at Camp Haiastan & it will travel with you wherever you go…Armenia included. We always remember what the camp gave us and we all find ways to give back. So many of us are with you & the group you lead every summer… God Bless you all🙏🏻🇦🇲

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