BY ARA SARAJIAN
I did not choose to join the Armenian Youth Federation (AYF)…
All I remember is that one Friday evening after I turned 10, my Dad said, “Ara, get in the car. We are going for a ride…”
With no clue where I was headed, off we went…
I remember seeing my friends that evening at church and then I was in. I had no idea what I was, but I loved being at church with my camp buddies, causing a little mischief during the meeting, and playing basketball after. Who knew this would be the foundation for the next 18 years of my life?
Outside of my family and a couple of my camp buddies, the AYF is the longest relationship or commitment I have ever had. As my term on the organization’s Central Executive comes to an end—as does my time as an AYF member—I cannot help but look back and be thankful.
I am thankful for the social setting that the AYF and AYF Camp Haiastan provided me…
One that allowed me to find my role models—both older and younger.
One that made me a part of the best Cabin Seven that Camp Haiastan has ever seen (Baron Pete has verified this) … The group is so tight that we all remain in near daily communication, even 15 years down the road.
A setting that allowed me to not only see my brothers grow up, but allowed me to be a part of the process.
And one that helped me meet a girl at Junior Seminar when I was 15, that I will soon be marrying (fun fact: seven of my eight groomsmen are AYF members or alumni).
In addition to the lifelong relationships, the AYF has given me so many skills and experiences, which I will cherish for the rest of my life.
The ability to run a meeting and publicly speak are always the first two that I list. But that’s just scratching the surface.
I was lucky enough to have run 200-person events and have been part of huge social media campaigns.
I have learned how to balance a checkbook and also how to reassure a concerned parent that their 12-year-old will be safe at camp.
I have been able to call up my congressman and discuss important issues, and then network with them on Capitol Hill.
I have learned how to high jump at Olympics (with four medals to prove it) and failed at learning the butterfly stroke.
And if there is ever a need in the future, the AYF had ensured that I am well equipped to run a track meet or umpire a softball game.
The truth is there isn’t enough space in this article to list the countless tools the AYF has provided me with. However, I can assure you that I call upon them every day.
I am also fortunate that the AYF put me in a position to work with many talented individuals and teams (including the NJ Arsen Softball Team).
But perhaps my favorite part of serving on Central Executive has been seeing my former campers grow up and become the real leaders of today and our future. I never knew or appreciated how talented all of our members were until I was able to see across all of our channels…
Members that led campaigns and initiatives during the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide; members that executed protests and walk-outs during genocide denial events; members that went on to chair central committees and the AYF Olympics; members that are in medical school, law school, and traveling the world; members that teach and coach; members that serve on our altars; members that are artists and musicians; members that are working on Wall Street in New York and on K Street in D.C… Seeing our members thrive within our organization and outside of it, proves how our AYF responsibilities complement our personal and professional lives.
Many of my peers and friends kept asking me if I had planned to write an article, or do something special during my last few weeks in AYF. The truth is, I didn’t plan to write an article at all. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I couldn’t zero in on one experience or memory, which I felt deserved to be highlighted. At the same time, my brothers and joked about the pressures that children face these days, with parents trying to involve them in everything, with hopes to ensure a better future.
I decided to write this article as an ask of an investment toward our youth’s future. If you have a child that is older than 10, encourage them to their your local AYF chapter. I promise you that this will be the best investment you can make in their future. It may not pay immediate dividends and the process may be frustrating at times, but I believe it will pay off.
It may be a connection, it may be an experience, it may be a skill they develop—perhaps all of the above. One thing is for sure—they will lean on those connections, those experiences, and those skills they develop in the AYF and it will help them succeed in whatever they hope to accomplish in their lives.
I guarantee it.
This op-ed originally appeared on The Armenian Weekly on January 4, 2017.