By Christina Issa
MONTEBELLO, CA–One of the Armenian Youth Federation’s oldest chapters in the western United States, Montebello’s “Vahan Cardashian,” celebrated its 50th anniversary on Saturday, November 15, marking simultaneously the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Armenian Youth Federation in America.
These twin anniversaries were commemorated with an all-AYF alumni reunion, a hallmark event in the community organized once every 5 years by “Vahan Cardashian” members and alumni–a tradition dating back to 1978.
This year, nearly 1000 people from across the country turned out at the newly renovated Baghramian Hall in Montebello’s Holy Cross Church to celebrate the two birthdays and mark yet another year of history in the making for the Armenian community in the Southern California.
Some came to the event from throughout California, while others made the trek from the Midwest and East Coast, where they now live. Many, however, did not have to travel far to attend the anniversary dance, having made their homes in Montebello where they grew up as members of the AYF.
According to several alumni interviewed during the reunion, “Vahan Cardashian” has been a critical component of community life since its founding in 1958. The chapter, they all agreed, matured and grew along with the community.
The Armenian community in Montebello largely traces its roots to two waves of migrations–the first came as survivors of the genocide, while the second escaped Nazi occupied Russia with the help of General Karekin Njdeh, the founder of the AYF.
“Vahan Cardashian” has always maintained very strong ties with its community, explained its chairperson Zaven Altounian, commenting on the chapter’s continued commitment to fostering a sense of community among each new generation of youth in Montebello.
“The chapter’s relationship with its Alumni has always been its strongest asset and the best method to maintaining community links,” he added, noting the critical support provided by its alumni over the years. “Cardashian alumni are always there for us, offering experience and knowledge and helping organize events like this anniversary commemoration.”
The chapter, one of the largest and most active in the region, has also been an informal training ground preparing Montebello youth for leadership roles in the community. “Our chapter has always represented the next generation of our community’s leaders,” Zaven explained. “The chapter has always served as a place where Montebello’s youth can gain the skills they need to become good leaders in any capacity.”
Members graduating from the chapter have gone on to serve in the local ARF, as well as organizations such as the Montebello Prelacy Church Board, the Armenian Eye-care project, and the Armenian Educational Foundation, according to Zaven’s father Stepan, a member of the Montebello “Dro” Chapter of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. Stepan, an AYF alumnus, was one of the key organizers of the reunion.
The chapter, Zaven explained, exists to provide opportunities to its members, empowering them to do the things “they enjoy,” while assisting Hai Tad. Activities organized by the chapter range from organizing educationals, cultural and social events or political actions. “The chapter is also a place for learning and growth.”
“In the AYF you have to cover all aspects of what it means to be Armenian and to be involved in an Armenian community, whether that means being politically, socially or culturally involved,” he explained, commenting on his chapter’s guiding ethos.
“Vahan Cardashian” has also helped to educate the community’s youth about the Armenian cause, and Armenian issues, while maintaining culture and heritage.
The chapter kicked off its 50th year with 42 members on its roster. It recently organized a town hall meeting where a community development speaker, Bedros Vandazian, talked about qualities of leadership, and community organization. The forum also saw lengthy discussion on the development of Montebello’s Armenian community.
As Montebello’s Armenian community continues to grow and evolve, so will “Vahan Cardashian,” providing new generations with new ways to connect with their community. One aspect of the chapter that will never change, however, is its desire to learn from, call upon, and collaborate with its vast alumni, noted Zaven.
As evident by the successful celebrations and reunions of the past years, including the most recent celebration this year, the chapter’s tie with its alumni is valued as a primary means for building community.
It is in that vein that Zaven Altounian proudly noted that the proceeds of every reunion are donated to strengthening a certain facet of the organization. The proceeds from this year’s dance will sponsor the renovation of an entire cabin at AYF Camp at Big Pines.
To register as an Alumnus of the AYF, please visit the Alumni section of www.AYFWest.org