The AYF-YOARF upcoming Olympics in Chicago is in full gear. Amo, the “Meet Us in the Middle” Olympics mascot interviewed the men and women behind the steering committee that has been hard at work in organizing the event. He has also assigned them appropriate nicknames.
Ari Killian, Co-chairperson, aka Godfather:
Ari joined the Armenian Youth Federation when he was 12 years old. This is his third time co-chairing a Steering Committee. During his AYF years, he enjoyed coaching for Junior Olympics, being on Central Executive and working on Hai Tahd initiatives to increase recognition on the Armenian Genocide. “I am excited to have Armenians from across the country visit Chicago, as the community is excited to roll out the red carpet and host a great Midwestern weekend,” said Killian. “At the end of the day, the weekend is for AYFers, but they should use this as a springboard to increase membership, activities. and become strong community members for years to come.”
“The SC is awesome. All with the exception of one person, we all are alumni and grew up in AYF together. I still call the ladies in our SC by their maiden names. We’ve been friends for 40 years, and we will continue to be good friends ‘til the end.”
Killian says he’s excited about this year’s entertainment lineup, which includes Vahe Berberian.
“Bringing the AYFers together from around the county will give them the lifelong friends that we have enjoyed from the AYF. There’s no greater organization for Armenian youth, and it is our duty as alumni to ensure the tradition continues!”
Lena Surenian, Administration, aka Still the Boss:
Lena Surenian has been involved in AYF for 16 years (1980 – 1996). This is her first time on the Steering Committee, but she has helped the marketing and alumni night committees ahead of previous Chicago Olympics. “My biggest accomplishment in AYF is surviving 16 years with only good memories,” reflected Surenian. “I honestly only have happy memories when I think of my AYF years. I met my husband, Ara, through the AYF, and I’m now proud to have three kids who are active members of the organization.”
“Being on multiple executives for many years has its benefits, including teaching us important life lessons that you realize after you’re too old and have to move on; such as organization, presentation and communication skills. It’s great to work with fellow AYF Alumni on this Steering Committee, and reminds me of the ‘good old days!’”
Renee Devedjian, Ad Book, aka Ad-Venturer:
Renee Devedjian was in AYF for 12 years. When she was in Juniors, she held executive positions and served on many committees, but this is her first time on the Steering Committee for Sr. Olympics. “It is an honor to help our youth,” she said. “Our parents did it, and it is my pleasure to keep the torch burning.”
She says her biggest accomplishment in AYF was co-chairing the committee for Christmas Around the World at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago to help represent the Armenian Christmas tree. “This was an important role to the public,” said Devedjian. “Every December, they have a Christmas tree display and Festival of Lights. The AYF was—and still is—in charge of putting up the Armenian tree. We created a lot of fun memories and had a wonderful opportunity to represent Armenia with all the tree doves, berries, and gold lights.”
“My favorite memories of course were going to Junior Seminar and Olympics, but honestly my dearest memories were the typical Sunday afternoon meetings. We would have a meeting, then a social right afterwards. It was a special bond. I know it was, because my AYF friends are now with me on the SC. It doesn’t get better than this!”
Hovig Vartanian, Treasurer, aka Cash King:
Hovig Vartanian was in AYF for 15 years. He served on the Steering Committee three times—twice as treasurer and once as co-chair. His greatest accomplishment has been creating lifelong friends who have been a very important part of his life to this day.
“I’m excited for this weekend, because, as any good Armenian, being a great host when people come to your home is important,” said Vartanian. “We always want to show people a great time, and I think this will be one of the greatest Olympics ever. Also, because it is Chicago, we strive to be unique and attract as many AYFers as possible throughout the country since, we are in the ‘middle.’ I look forward to having people enjoy our beautiful city, as well as the great entertainment and athletic events that we have planned.”
Ardem Ghazarian-Hardy, Marketing/Sponsorship, aka Amo Ink
Ardem Ghazarian-Hardy was in AYF for about 18 years, serving in many leadership positions. This is her second time on the Steering Committee. She also helped run the marketing for the first Chicago Olympics. “For this SC, we are older and hopefully wiser,” said Ghazarian-Hardy. “This tight-knit team includes people I consider my close childhood friends, who are like a family—brothers and sisters whose parents we grew up with, some who squeezed our cheeks, but we loved them anyway as we were their ‘kids’ too.” Ghazarian-Hardy said she loved “watching our own kids grow up together with their children, solidifying the role of maintaining our Armenian culture through AYF and church.”
“It is an honor working with my cousin and close friends on this SC. Even though the job is great, Olympics in Chicago are an important one, as our tagline reflects, ‘Meet Us in the Middle.’ Chicago is not only central to West and East Coasts, but the ‘middle’ also means ALL Armenians coming together, breaking barriers in our youth, forging new friendships, forgetting what church or group another Armenian belongs. The middle is a safe zone.”
“Probably the best part of this crazy journey has been drawing Amo doodles, which started out as a joke, then a vision, then a mascot. Now, he is serious stuff. Everyone has a keri or amo they can relate to, and I hope, pen to paper, this goofy, fun character brings you a smile!”
Hagop Soulakian, Athletics, aka Abowww
Hagop Soulakian was in AYF for 18 years starting at the age of 10. He served on Senior Executive for many years. He was also a Junior Advisor and worked on Central Executive and Central Junior Council. This is his third time on the SC. Soulakian was part of the first Olympics in Chicago in 1991. He also helped organize aid to victims of the 1988 Spitak earthquake.
Soulakian is excited about this year’s Olympics. “This committee formed quickly, which meant we didn’t have time to waste. To see all that work come to fruition is always rewarding,” said Soulakian. “By doing this work, we contribute to our cause which is what AYF is all about.”
“Working with this SC takes me back over 30 years, when Lena and Renee were my Junior executives always telling me to behave, Ari and Hovig showing me how to throw the shot put for Junior Olympics, and Ardem providing educations with quizzes about the AYF, ARF and our history. Garin came in the form of his father, Greg, who mentored me when I was a senior executive member. All these people played an important part of my life, and I couldn’t be more proud and excited to work with this team of friends and alumni again… as long as I’m not told to run, behave or take a quiz!”