It is no coincidence that the Homenetmen Western United States Regional Executive Board decided to name their new flagship program “Hrashq” (meaning “miracle” in Armenian). For the first time at this year’s annual Navasartian Games, youth with disabilities will be allowed to compete. This decision was undertaken to reaffirm that Homenetmen is a home for all youth, without boundaries.
The initiative aims to make an inclusive environment for a subsect of the Armenian community too often overlooked. With this in mind, the Regional Executive Board created a new committee to professionally and effectively organize the participation of special needs Armenian Americans at the 2018 Navasartian Games.
The committee consists of Nanor Kabakian, Razmig Simonian, Aline Habeshian, Lori Sivazlian, Sevag Garabedian, Serj Krasgian and Aram Bekarian serving as the liaisons between the committee and the Regional Executive Board. This past week, they were able to discuss “Hrashq” with some of the committee members.
Naturally, it seemed beneficial to collaborate with an institution that already specialized in this field. Through working with the Lanterman Registry Center for Special Needs (a local center), as well as enlisting the support of special needs youth and their parents, about 20 young individuals ranging from 5–20 years old with special needs will be participating in the annual Navasartian Games. They will be participating in specifically organized games of basketball, soccer, and other athletic games. And, of course, they will be participating in the iconic closing ceremonies.
“It is vital to adopt a very professional approach,” committee member Nanor Kabakian stated. “This process is made possible by not only the parents but also the volunteers and career special needs specialists. Armenian youth with special needs are usually not given opportunities to participate in similar athletic tournaments, and Homenetmen created this first-of-its-kind program to ensure they have the chance to do so.”
She continued by encouraging parents of youth with special needs to enroll their children in “Hrashq.”
“There exists an unfortunate stigmatization in our community, where parents do not feel comfortable showing their kids in public and community spaces,” Kabakian said. “However, we view these youth as integral components of our citizenry, and we should treat them not only with the utmost respect, but also accommodate our athletic games and opportunities so they feel they are integral as well.”
Kabakian continued, “Close to 2 percent of today’s newborns are born with some degree of special needs, sometimes revealing themselves later in life. Yet, children who have special needs should not be excluded from participating in public events like the Navasartian Games. Furthermore, if Homenetmen did not launch this initiative, who would?”
The Lanterman Registry Center for Special Needs will be present at this year’s Navasartian Games to give guidance to interested parents.
The committee has encouraged parents of youth with special needs to trust and enroll their kids in the new “Hrashq” program. They also added, that programs like these have costly financial impacts and that the committee is steadfastly and diligently working to alleviate the ever-present financial hurdles. They stated that “Hrashq” creates a professional and welcoming environment, mindfully organized to become a lasting program and its prospects are very promising.
“Hrashq” has just begun, but it will undoubtedly find its place in the hearts and minds of California’s Armenian-American community. Children with special needs are children of the Armenian nation, and Homenetmen has a responsibility to take ownership of all Armenian youth, and with the best of its ability to create equitable opportunities for all members.