GLENDALE— Over 40 prospective coaches attended the Homenetmen “Hrashq” Chapter’s first day-long training seminar. The session was held at the Homenetmen Western USA Region’s Kevork Andonian Hall, on Sunday, December 16.
Organized by the Homenetmen Hrashq Special Events Subcommittee, the seminar was dedicated to ensuring that volunteer coaches were well-equipped to administer basketball, soccer, and track and field activities for Armenian American youth with special needs.
The Homenetmen Western Region’s Executive Committee established the “Homenetmen Hrashq” Chapter in March 2018 to enable special needs adults and children to participate in the greater organization’s athletic programs, thereby becoming an all-inclusive institution. This important step serves to promote inclusion and acceptance of the special needs population within the greater Armenian American community.
Homenetmen “Hrashq” (“miracle” in English) was established in March 2018 in order for Armenian youth with special needs to participate in sporting activities, and address the stigmatization often associated with awareness of special needs in the Armenian community.
“Hrashq” made its grand debut at the 43rd Annual Navasartian Games on July 4th, 2018, with 20 athletes participating in organized soccer, basketball, and track and field activities, as well as the iconic closing ceremony.
Volunteers with vast experience in working with the special needs community— including occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, and adaptive physical education teachers—provided one-on-one support to the athletes on the day of the event. Subsequently, Homenetmen “Hrashq” participated in the Homenetmen Centennial Street Festival as well as the Homenetmen Kaham Games earlier this year. There are currently 38 athletes registered under the program.
In 2014, the AYF-WUS’ San Fernando Valley “Sardarabad” Chapter initiated the first-of-its kind “Pyunik” (“phoenix” in English) Basketball Program, which is based on volunteer-run, bi-weekly basketball practices for Armenian American athletes of varying ages and special needs, held at Holy Martyrs Ferrahian High School and begun with careful planning and coordination with the Armenian Autism Outreach Project, which has been instrumental in informing families about the program and recruiting athletes.
The chapter created the program with the aim of creating a safe space where children with special needs could experience the thrill of playing basketball while building motor skills and bonding with members of the Armenian community. Drills usually include passing, defense, shot-taking, and various on-court movements.
Since many of the “Pyunik” athletes are also part of Homenetmen Hrashq, the two organizations agreed that in achieving their common goal of serving the community, it would be in the best interest of the athletes to join forces, therefore, increasing the number of available volunteers, securing ample and appropriate sports equipment and facilities, and providing one-on-one support to athletes where appropriate.
Specifically, the AYF-WUS “Sardarabad” Chapter’s vast experience of working with special needs athletes would be of great benefit to the Homenetmen Hrashq Program.
In order to expand and improve Homenetmen “Hrashq,” the following steps were taken:
1- Homenetmen Hrashq and AYF Sardarabad Pyunic Committee Joined forces: Given the common goals of the organizations, Homenetmen and the AYF-WUS took this step to administer the sports program. Specifically, representatives of both organizations will head multiple organizing sub-committees.
2- Facilities: The Pacific Community Center and Park was secured for basketball, soccer, and track-and-field practices. It offers state-of-the art facilities and easy access via ample parking.
3- Equipment: Sporting equipment for practices and competition events was purchased, tailored to the unique needs of the athletes.
4- Volunteers: Volunteer coaches were recruited to provide one-on-one support to the athletes. These include AYF-WUS and Homenetmen members.
5- Training: A day-long seminar was organized to prepare prospective coaches to help administer the Homenetmen “Hrashq” sporting activities.
The coaches’ training seminar opened with Aram Bekarian, chairperson of Homenetmen “Hrashq”, who welcomed the attendees and thanked them for their commitment to the Homenetmen Hrashq program. Nora Tchaparian, the Homenetmen Western USA Region Board member representative for “Homenetmen Hrashq” reaffirmed the organization’s pledge to continue making the development and expansion of this program a priority.
Homenetmen “Hrashq” member Nanor Kabakian gave a brief overview of the Homenetmen “Hrashq” Program, from the time of its inception to present day, and discussed where the program is headed in the future. A video showcasing Homenetmen “Hrashq’s first participation in the 43rd Annual Navasartian Games. Subsequently, Kabakian introduced the first speakers of the day.
The first topic entitled “Coaching/Teaching Strategies for Kids with Special Needs”, featured adaptive physical education teachers Anahid Magdesyan and Ayline Amirayan.
Anahid Magdesian has a Bachelor’s degree in General Education Physical Education with a specialization in Adaptive P.E. from California Polytechnic University, Pomona, and a Master’s degree in Administration from Walden University. She has 30 years of experience in the field.
Ayline Amirayan holds a Bachelor’s degree from California State University, Dominguez Hills in Kinesiology and a Master’s degree from California State University, Long Beach, where she specialized in Adaptive P.E. She has been working with special needs students in public schools for the past 20 years.
In the first part of their presentation, Magdesian and Amirayan discussed how to communicate effectively with the athletes through consistent and predictable routines and directions. They reviewed coaching strategies that are suitable for the special needs population. In the second part of the presentation, 6 Homenetmen“Hrashq” athletes of various ages and abilities participated in a hands-on training in order to incorporate the principles taught in the first part of the presentation into an actual practice session.
Following the educational, Manuel Marselian, former chairman of the Homenetmen Western USA Region’s Board, gave an overview of the history of Homenetmen, its structure, as well as the values that guide the organization.
Following a brief intermission, Hayley Peck, M.A, BCBA, and Rosaura Espinoza, BA from Autism Spectrum Therapies were the last speakers of the day.
Hayley Peck is currently the assistant clinical director at Autism Spectrum Therapies. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Subsequently she earned her Master’s degree from the Chicago School of Psychology.
AST was founded in 2001, on the principles of integrating the latest applied behavior analysis research and technology to provide a family-focused approach in serving special needs populations.
The presentation was titled “Minimizing and Preventing Challenging Behaviors”, and summarized how to identify particular behaviors, what causes them to occur, and what to do to decrease the occurrence of maladaptive behavior. Several hypothetical scenarios that can arise during practices and how to address specific behaviors using various techniques were discussed. Subsequently, the presenters demonstrated techniques on how to shield themselves should aggressive behaviors arise.
Each speaker was presented with a certificate of appreciation. Aram Bekarian and Nanor Kabakian thanked all the speakers for their respective contributions to the success of this maiden seminar, and the attendees, for their participation in the event. Koko Abounayan, chairperson of the AYF-WUS “Sardarabad” Chapter also contributed thoughts on the joining of forces between the two organizations.
Nanor Kabakian, from Homenetmen Hrashq, as well as facilitator of the Armenian Parents’ Support Group of the Lanterman Regional Center through which many of the Homenetmen Hrashq Chapter’s athletes were recruited, commented the following about the program: “As a parent of a special needs child, I am thrilled that my son is able to partake in an Armenian Organization’s activities such as Homenetmen.”
“I will never forget the tsunami of emotions that myself and the parents of the other Hrashq athletes experienced as we entered the stadium at Birmingham High School during the Navasartian Games closing ceremonies and received a standing ovation by the attendees. Homenetmen Hrashq provides my son the opportunity to socialize with other peers on a weekly basis, practice his communication skills and improve his gross motor skills and coordination. It also gives me the unique opportunity to connect with other parents sharing the same challenging journey of raising a child with special needs. It is, therefore, a win win situation for children and parents alike,” Kabakian stated.
“We initially created this program to serve young Armenians with developmental disorders in our community. We wanted to create a space where they could interact and socialize with their peers, as well as develop their motor skills and apply them to something they could enjoy,” said Garni Dadaian, a current AYF-WUS “Sardarabad” Chapter executive and “Hrashq” athletic and public relations subcommittee member. “While these goals have been achieved for the most part, AYF-WUS sees an opportunity to better serve our athletes and their families by utilizing the resources which Homenetmen provides. We are very excited that we’ve been blessed with the opportunity to give to our athletes these tools which will allow them to learn and grow even more,” she continued.
The first formal “Homenetmen Hrashq” practices began on February 24, 2019. Thanks to the dedication of the program administrators, parents, career special needs professionals, and volunteers – as well as the enthusiasm and energy of its participants – the group maintains a definite level of professionalism and care in order to best carry out its mission.
Those interested in participating in Homenetmen Hrashq Program as either a volunteer or athlete, or learning more about the program are welcome to send an email.
Since its establishment in 1918, Homenetmen has played an essential role in helping to shape the character and leadership capabilities of generations of Armenian youth. Through its robust scouting and athletic programs, Homenetmen has preserved the Armenian spirit and addressed the needs of Armenian communities in the diaspora.
Founded in 1933 with organizational structures in over 17 regions around the world and a legacy of over eighty years of community involvement, the Armenian Youth Federation is the largest and most influential Armenian American youth organization in the world, working to advance the social, political, educational, and cultural awareness of Armenian youth.
Below is a poem written by a Hrashq athlete:
Hope is what everyone needs
Respect is what everyone deserves
Armenian is what we are
Special is what we feel
Human is how we should be treated
Quest for the best is what we seek
By Aren (9-year-old Hrashq athlete)