Emergency Preparedness & the Ferrahian High School Class of 1985

By Jack Der-Sarkissian–MD

What do the 1988 earthquake in Armenia–hurricane Katrina–Los Angeles community emergency response training–and the Ferrahian High School Class of 1985 have in common? It turns out–quite a bit–and these seemingly disconnected events all converged when the Ferrahian High School Class of 1985 held its 20-year reunion.

The reunion occurred June 11–at the Encino campus. In attendance were many students–along with their families–who had been a part of the Class of ’85–even if they had graduated from other high schools. Joining the festivities were Principal John Kossakian–former Principal Gabriel Injejikian–teachers Marilyn Arshagouni–Parsegh Ananian–Varsenig Der Megerdichian–Arsine Gendal–and Kay Shaw. In total about 100 people–some flying in from out of town–attended the celebration. The Class of ’85 Reunion Committee consisted of Jack Der-Sarkissian–Vache Keledjian–Alina Dorian–Tamar (Der Megerdichian) Tujian–Tamar Kevonian–Raffi Najarian–and Jirair Habeshian. Between them they have a variety of experience and they all work in different fields. However–they all agreed–along with their classmates–that helping their school was the best way to celebrate their reunion.

Most of the Class of ’85 had newly immigrated to the US in 1979 when they entered Ferrahian. Many of their families had left countries for a better future and here–in America–things appeared more promising. Yet their parents and guardians still wanted their introduction to the American landscape to come through an Armenian lens–one shaped by their experiences at Ferrahian High School.

The school was founded in 1964–largely as a worldwide community effort steered by Mr. Gabriel Injejikian with a substantial bequest by Mateos and Yevgeeneh Ferrahian. Although many parents still want their children to have an Armenian experience–the stark reality is that 90% of Armenian students in California do not attend Armenian schools–probably due to financial reasons. While our schools continue to subsidize the high cost of education–their funding sources are being stretched to the limit. In this aspect–anyone attending an Armenian school in America has been quite unique and privileged. The schools’ founders sought to provide their students with the necessary tools for a responsible adulthood in America–but also a tie to their Armenian cultural heritage.

Some twenty years later–the Class of ’85 returned to their "homebase" to celebrate their individual achievemen’s and to renew friendships forged long ago. Everyone has been through a lot in twenty years–to say the least. The world itself has experienced a revolution during the last two decades–including the independence of Armenia. Schools like Ferrahian have instiled the seeds here in America to meet both personal and global challenges.

The Class of ’85 chose to give back to Ferrahian in appreciation for what it had provided. The reunion became a fundraising event with major sponsors from Jirair Habeshian (Jupiter Properties)–Jack Der-Sarkissian (Kaiser Permanente)–and Tamar Kevonian (MOSAIX Magazine)–among others–enabling a donation of $3700 to the school. The Class of ’85 recommended that the money be given to teachers and staff from the school who chose to receive training in the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program.

Although local government prepares for everyday emergencies–during a disaster the scope of a incident can overwhelm conventional emergency services. This was seen in the 1988 eartquake in Armenia and more recently with hurricane Katrina in the Gulf States. The idea to train volunteers from the community to assist emergency service personnel during large natural disasters began–coincidentally–in 1985. This eventually developed into the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program. The CERT is an all-risk–all-hazard training program designed to help you protect yourself–your family–your neighbors–and your neighborhood in an emergency situation. It is an ideal program for teachers and staff at all of our schools. It may make the difference between an emergency and a true tragedy. This free 17.5 hour program–available to everyone–is conducted by the City of Los Angeles Fire. For information–call the Disaster Preparedness Unit at 818-756-9674 or visit www.cert-la.com

On August 3-5–22 members of the Holy Martyrs Armenian Elementary & Ferrahian High School faculty and staff participated in the CERT program. Each participant received a $150 honorarium from the Class of ’85. In Principal John Kossakian’s words–"We are pleased that the participants were very impressed by the CERT program and by the presenters. The contents of the syllabus have been very informative and very helpful." Now–if disaster strikes–the school will be well prepared to protect its students and staff–something that should make any parent feel much safer.

The Class of ’85 has come full circle and has reestablished its roots in their school. "The administration–faculty–and staff?would like to extend sincere gratitude and appreciation to the Class of ’85 for spearheading a first-of-its-kind fundraising project and for supporting the CERT program," Principal Kossakian stated. "[We hope] to encourage other alumni to continue such exemplary functions and fundraising activities."

In the good natured spirit of high school rivalry–the Ferrahian Class of ’85 waits to see if its Armenian high school counterparts at Alex Pilibos and Mesrobian will be able to match its accomplishment.

The stakes are simply too high to ignore–for our community at large–for our schools–and for our students.

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