BY RITA HINTLIAN
FRESNO—Delegates from 20 chapters converged on Fresno for the Armenian Relief Society of Western USA, 90th Annual Regional Convention held from July 15 to 18 at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center. The ARS Centenary and the 95th Anniversary of the “Mayr” (Mother) Chapter of Fresno made this convention a special occasion.
Opening Ceremonies were held at the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church Hall, across the street from the hotel. Judge Houry Alanjian Sanderson, who emceed the ceremonies, led the convention organizing committee comprised of the “Mayr” and “Sophia” Chapters of Fresno, the “Garin” Chapter of San Francisco and the “Erepouni” Chapter of Oakland.
Homenetmen scouts from the local “Sassoun” chapter conducted a flag ceremony, Angel Ohannessian sang the US anthem, while Shogakat Papoyan sang the Armenia and ARS anthems. Following the invocation by Prelate Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian, a moment of silence was observed for all past ARS members.
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin was among the two dozen dignitaries present. She presented an official letter of greeting and expressed her heartfelt greetings and best wishes. Barbara Sequeira made welcoming remarks and provided a historical perspective on behalf of the “Mayr” Chapter, and Angel Ohannessian on behalf of the “Sophia” Chapter.
Sossie Poladian, Regional Executive Chair, noted the accomplishments of the past year, adding, “Our experience has shown that we can be stronger in times of hardship; we have built on existing relationships and strategic partnerships with our members and the community and at large, and we have renewed our resolve to serve the humanitarian and philanthropic aims of our organization… We had to articulate a roadmap to transform our organization to one where technology is more readily accepted and utilized, despite resistance to change.” She told the delegates that they “should feel very privileged to be amongst this special group of ARS members, who have been entrusted to take an active role in evaluating the accomplishments of the past year and collectively defining the path of the ARS in the coming year” and she reminded the members that their service to the ARS is invaluable quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Rosie Bedrosian was the ARS Central Executive Board Representative to the Convention. She was accompanied by the CEB Chair, Vicky Marashlian, and CEB Advisor, Nova Hindoyan. Bedrosian explained the consequences of the financial crisis relative to the reduction of donations to the ARS CEB, and the alarming situations in Artsakh and Javakhk. She wished for a successful meeting and as a local Fresno resident, advised to stay away from the heat.
Central Committee representative Hovan Tashjian praised the fact that the convention was being held in Fresno, 100 years after the ARS founder Agnouni held a rally at the Barton Opera House (now demolished), a few blocks from where the opening ceremonies were being held, and the location of the oldest chapter in the region, the “Mayr” Chapter. He also indicated how appropriate it was that the newly established chapter in San Jose was called “Agnouni”. Tashjian noted the importance of the vast philanthropic work that Armenian women have accomplished and praised the role of the Regional Executive.
Western Prelate Archbishop Moushegh Mardirossian noted that the year 2010 was called as the “Year of the Woman” by His Holiness Aram I and added, “You the current members of the ARS faithfully continue the path set by the founders a century ago and serve with humility and conviction for the betterment of the Armenian people. Thus, the Centennial is an opportunity for us to collectively commend and praise the colossal work undertaken and carried out successfully by you all.” Blessing the CEB, Regional Executive and delegates, he asked Almighty God to lead the ARS to new successes in what is truly noble and worthy.
The dignitaries included Prelacy Executive Council Chair Rima Boghossian and Member Bill Sahatjian, Rev. Vahan Gosdanian and Board of Trustees member Levon Baladjanian, Soghomon Tehlirian Gomideh Chair Khachig Havatian, Chair of Hamazkayin Taniel Varoujan Chapter Serpouhie Messerlian, Levon Eskijian of the Homenetmen “Sassoun” Chapter, and Sophia Mkhitarian, Principal of Charlie Keyan School.
Following the opening ceremonies, the luncheon that followed was dedicated to the 95th Anniversary of the ARS “Mayr” Fresno Chapter. The delegates returned to the hotel, where the call to order was given by Sossie Poladian, ARS-WUSA Regional Executive Chair.
Lena Bozoyan and Angela Savoian were elected co-chairs of the convention while Maral Poladian and Carmen Libaridian were elected as secretaries (Armenian and English respectively). Following the report of the credential examining committee, additional secretaries were elected: Anahid Ajounian and Victoria Markarian.
Since most of the reports were emailed to the delegates, the convention proceeded to evaluate the accomplishments of the past year. Nyree Derderian and Maral Poladian presented the Strategic Planning vision and direction, which were adopted by the convention to recruit volunteers, develop programs, education, outreach and ongoing training, balance resources and enhance organizational effectiveness. The convention passed resolutions for additional ideas to better the physical, health and administrative capabilities of members, advancement of the region economically and in terms of public relations, and to set up a new fund to assist victims of domestic violence.
Rosie Bedrosian, the ARS CEB Representative, presented the CEB report about the ongoing programs and challenges during these hard economic times. She noted how precious the Western USA region is to the ARS, praised every single one of the members and chapters for their hard work and dedication, and applauded the Regional Executive for such a great job.
The convention delegates, guests and observers concerned about the financial difficulties faced by ARS Mother and Child Clinic and Birthing Center in Akhourian, Armenia, responded to the Regional Executive’s appeal for immediate action, and within 24 hours, over $11 thousand dollars had been raised for the Center, and four chapters had plans to conduct fundraisers for the same purpose. The socio-economic hardship being endured by Javakhk Armenians was also of concern and a resolution was passed to assist the region as well.
One of the last duties of the convention was to review and approve a proposed budget presented by Jasik Jarahian, General Manager. Four members of the Regional Board had completed their 2-year terms and Carmen Libaridian, Nyree Derderian, Christine Keshishian and Seta Hagopian were elected to replace them.
On behalf of the Regional Executive, Arousyak Melkonian handed plaques of appreciation for their service to Sossie Poladian, Asdghig Chitilian and Ani Guiragossian (Mako Setrakian was absent). Other remaining Regional Executive members and delegates made their comments to the members completing their terms, as well as the convention officers, and congratulated the newly elected board members. The convention adjourned with the singing of the ARS anthem.
Following the conclusion of the convention, the 2010-2011 Regional Executive convened for the first time with the convention officers and the Central Executive Representative, Rosie Bedrosian, and elected Arousyak Melkonian as chair, Nyree Derderian as Vice Chair, Rita Hintlian as Secretary, Kristine Keshishian as treasurer, and Sona Madarian, Hasmig Kozanian, Vicky Kataroyan, Seta Hagopian and Carmen Libaridian as advisors.
Each evening, the convention organizing committee hosted a different program at the Holy Trinity Church Hall. On July 15, it was a Meet-and-Greet dinner program. On July 16, it was a “Comedy Mezza Night” with comedienne Varsi Nersesyan. On July 17, it was a dinner-dance with the participation of community members, who came to celebrate the ARS Centennial.
The host committee chairperson, Judge Houry Sanderson emceed the Saturday event and following the ARS anthem, a moment of silence for passed members, and invocation, she invited all four organizing chapter chairpersons to the stage, and Barbara Sequeira spoke on their behalf saying that the committee worked very hard to make this a pleasant and memorable convention. Sossie Poladian, Regional Executive Chair, handed Sequeira a plaque congratulating the 95th anniversary of the ARS “Mayr” Chapter of Fresno.
Poladian spoke that “throughout the Convention and during this past year, we have spent so much time together for one purpose, to relentlessly pursue the goals of the ARS. At the end, we have laughed together, we have spent many anxious moments together, and we have found solutions for our concerns together.” She added, “For many of us, the ARS family is our second family. This year, we learnt that in this family, when a new chapter is born, the echoes come from all over the world… They were immediate and sincere. Our joy was their joy; our success was their success.”
Poladian added, “Our strength lies in our unity. When we honor the accomplishments of our past members, we are all honored. When our chapter members support each other, we are all supported. When larger chapters lend a hand to struggling chapters, we all win. When our region helps educate the younger generation in our communities, and Armenia, Artsakh and Javakhk, we can all rejoice in their success… In an organization where innovation and progress are taken for granted, where friendships flourish in serving together, where the vision for the future is shared by so many, achieving success even during the worst economic crisis is surely expected.” She called for more active participation by everyone in the community and saluted past and current members, who lived their lives committed to ARS values, and inspired others to follow them, making a difference in the lives that they touched.
Following Poladian’s remarks, Judge Sanderson urged every ARS member to remind themselves of their oath and why they would like to continue their membership in an organization, which is 100 years young. She said that it is time to get involved and take on challenges to move forward.
Rosie Bedrosian, Representative of the ARS Central Executive Board, congratulated the ARS Centennial and reminded that the ARS has a heavy burden on its shoulders. Noting the fragile socio-economic and political conditions in Artsakh and Javakhk, and the still recovering earthquake zone in northern Armenia, she pleaded to those present to open up their hearts and provide assistance, particularly to the ARS Mother and Child Clinic and Birthing Center in Akhourian, Armenia.
Central Committee Representative Hovan Tashjian looked back into the history of the ARS to inspire supporters to join the ARS in its quest to continue its philanthropic aims. He reminded that in 1915, the year the “Mayr” chapter was founded and the Armenian Genocide was underway, the ARS held a convention in Boston and with vision, strength and determination wrote a letter to then President Woodrow Wilson to stop the atrocities. The State Department responded and promised to continue to use its influence to the fullest extent on behalf of the Armenian Christians. He noted that he is humbled to be among the best and brightest, that he believed in inspiring the new generation to join the ranks and expand its mission and vision, urged the community to be supportive of that and to prove his point, he informed the audience that he had completed an application to join the ARS ranks himself. The announcement roared the audience and Judge Sanderson determined that Tashjian was already committed to the Burbank “Araz” Chapter.
A candle-lighting ceremony to celebrate the centennial commenced. The ARS leadership lit the candles and the anniversary cake with the hosts of the event, Mr. & Mrs. Charles (Garo) and Alice Gureghian. The program continued in a festive mode with entertainment being provided by Kahchig Jingirian.
Despite the heat wave, just as Tashjian had noted during the opening ceremonies, there couldn’t have been a more appropriate place to hold this convention in Fresno, and the organizing committee and the Fresno community made sure that the 90th Regional Convention was a memorable one.