Walk Of Life Rallies Broad Community Support in Fresno, LA

The ribbon cutting in LA featured Congressman Schiff and Glendale Mayor Friedman

LOS ANGELES—For the first time in its history, the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry held a Walk of Life event in Fresno, California, in addition to its annual walkathon in Los Angeles.

Walk of Life 2011, which took place on October 15 and 22 in Fresno and Glendale, California, respectively, was attended by large numbers of supporters from throughout the Armenian community as well as several elected officials. Both events received extensive media coverage.

In an interview with We Are Fresno co-host Stephanie Booroojian (seen on NBC Fresno affiliate KSEE 24), ABMDR president Dr. Frieda Jordan commented on the significance of the registry’s first-ever Fresno walkathon. “I think it’s extremely important for Fresno’s community at large to be aware of the registry’s work,” she said.

“Fresno is among areas in California which may face higher-than-normal health risks due to industrial pollution, particularly in terms of the use of pesticides,” Dr. Jordan continued. “These risk factors can be responsible for a prevalence of life-threatening diseases such as leukemia, which has already claimed the lives of many Armenians in Fresno. By registering as potential bone marrow stem cell donors, our supporters can actually save the life of a fellow Armenian who might need a bone marrow transplant.”

A first for Fresno
Walk of Life 2011 kicked off on the morning of October 15 at Fresno’s Eaton Plaza Amphitheater, as teams of supporters from various local organizations gathered to take part in the event. The teams represented the AGBU Fresno Chapter (led by chairperson Zaroohi Der Mugrdechian), the ANC of Fresno (led by chairperson Hygo Ohanessian), the ARS Fresno Mayr Chapter (led by chairperson Angele Ohanessian), the AYF Fresno Kevork Chavoush Chapter (led by chairperson Rita Costanian), and the Fresno State Armenian Students Association (led by Vartush Mesropyan).

Following Dr. Jordan’s welcome remarks and the invocation by Fr. Vahan Gosdanian of the Western Prelacy, the participants walked to the historic Statue of David of Sassoon at the Courthouse Park and on to the landmark Saroyan Theater. Subsequently they returned to the Eaton Plaza Amphitheater to enjoy a day-long celebration featuring music and food. Participants also had the opportunity to join the ranks of ABMDR by inquiring at information and recruitment booths set up throughout the venue.

“What a profoundly rewarding experience this has been!” said Dr. Karoline Rostamiani of the ABMDR Board of Advisors, who co-chaired the Fresno and Los Angeles Walk of Life 2011 events with fellow Board member Dr. Stella Baghdasarian. “We applaud the Fresno Armenian community, and especially the wonderful young generation, for taking part in the maiden ABMDR walkathon of their city, for organizing at the grass roots and spreading the word, and for making generous donations,” Dr. Rostamiani stated. “Our heartfelt thanks go to everyone who got involved.”

On her part, Dr. Stella Baghdasarian, who had an instrumental role in organizing volunteers and overseeing the logistics of Walk of Life 2011, expressed her “profound admiration for all those who participated in the walkathon, particularly youth groups.”

In Los Angeles: a powerful expression of solidarity
A week later, on the morning of October 22, the Armenian community of Los Angeles in turn rallied in support of Walk of Life 2011. Hundreds gathered outside Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center, where the event’s opening ceremony was held.

In her remarks, Dr. Jordan said, “Our sixth annual walkathon is dedicated especially to our patients. This is a walk of solidarity with them, and an ongoing, impassioned effort to help give them the gift of life.”

Dignitaries whose presence Dr. Jordan acknowledged included US congressman and longtime ABMDR supporter Adam Schiff, California State senator Carol Liu, Glendale mayor Laura Friedman, Burbank mayor Jess Talamantes, Glendale Unified School District Board of Education president Greg Krikorian, and Glendale Community Development Department director Hassan Haghani.

After she thanked the walkathon’s two main corporate sponsors, Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center (an ABMDR Partner for Life) and Karoun Dairies, Inc., Dr. Jordan also acknowledged the many teams participating in the event, particularly youth teams from area universities, Armenian schools, Glendale Unified District schools, and various community organizations.

Next to take the podium was Congressman Adam Schiff, who stated, “You can imagine the trauma of a family whose child’s life depends on a bone marrow transplant. The Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry brings hope to such families, by matching potential stem cell donors to patients suffering from life-threatening diseases.”

On her part, Mayor Laura Friedman, a cancer survivor, praised the work of the registry and thanked all participants for their unflinching support of its mission.

The walk started following the invocation, which was delivered jointly by Fr. Vazken Atmajian of the Western Prelacy, Archpriest Fr. Hovhannes Maroukian of the Western Diocese, and Rev. Joseph Matossian of the Armenian Evangelical Union of North America.

Passing through central Glendale, the almost four-mile walkathon concluded in Verdugo Park, where the success of the event was celebrated well into the afternoon, in a festive community atmosphere featuring food, live music as well as several donor-recruitment and health-information booths.

Following congratulatory remarks delivered by Senator Carol Liu, who is a longtime advocate of breast-cancer awareness, Dr. Karoline Rostamiani thanked all participating schools and Armenian Student Associations for their enthusiastic involvement. She also conveyed special gratitude to the US Army Armenian Veterans for taking part in the walkathon.

In addition to Senator Liu, dignitaries attending the festivities included Grigor Hovhannisyan, consul general of Armenia in Los Angeles.

With each passing year, the number of elected officials who recognize ABMDR and lend it their moral support continues to grow. As it was announced during the festivities at Verdugo Park, the registry received a Certificate of Achievement from the office of Mike Gatto, a member of the California State Assembly who represents the 43rd District.

Commenting on the growing Armenian-youth presence within the ranks of ABMDR, Dr. Vergine Madelian, the registry’s outreach officer, stated, “Over two-thirds of our donors are below 35 years old and 27 percent are under 25. The younger the donors, the longer they stay active in the registry, and the higher their chances of matching a patient somewhere down the line. This is youth power in the best possible sense.”

The festivities at Verdugo Park were made all the more thrilling thanks to musical performances by a number of volunteer artists. They included Nersig Ispiryan, Joseph Krikorian, Karen Boksian, Hratch Bogharian, Ara Shahbazian, and Vatche Demirjian.

Toward the end of the celebration, raffle drawings were held and trophies were bestowed on the most active walkathon teams and individual volunteers. The Boston Team, headed by ABMDR Board of Directors members Dr. Evelyn Baghdasraian and Alvart Badalian, was awarded for having raised the most funds; the Chamlian School Team was awarded for having the highest number of participants; and Amy Boyadjian received a trophy for having raised the most funds as an individual volunteer.

About the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry: Established in 1999, ABMDR, a nonprofit organization, helps Armenians worldwide survive life-threatening blood-related illnesses by recruiting and matching donors to those requiring bone marrow stem cell transplants. To date, the registry has recruited over 21,554 donors in 13 countries across three continents, identified 2,135 patients, found 1,753 potential matches, and facilitated 13 bone marrow transplants.

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