LAGUNA BEACH – A brother-sister pair of Scouts from Laguna Beach, California teamed up to start a sewing program for Yerevan’s Orran youth shelter as part of their Eagle Scout and Girl Scout Silver Award service projects this past summer. The pair, Joseph and Ani Hovanesian from Laguna Beach, received enthusiastic applause from a crowd of 300 when they presented their project report at the annual gala for Orran in Glendale on October 1st.
Orran is a nonprofit founded by Armine and Raffi Hovannisian that is dedicated to serving Armenian children who were once found begging on the streets of Yerevan. Founded in 2000, Orran now serves over 300 children and elderly poor people in both Yerevan and Vanadzor, providing healthy meals, health, vision, and dental care. For children, Orran also helps with school work and vocational skill training to give them a path to rise above poverty.
As an Eagle Scout candidate, Joseph, a member of Laguna Beach Troop 35 and a freshman at Laguna Beach High School, first had the idea to do a service project in Armenia when his parents, John and Tanya Hovanesian, planned a trip there this past summer. John, an eye surgeon, had become familiar with Orran on his volunteer trips to Armenia with the Armenian Eye Care Project, and he connected Joseph with Armine, who founded and is director of the center.
Before starting his project, Joseph obtained approval from his troop, the local Scout district, and the Orran center in Armenia, to embark on an effort to raise money to purchase two sewing machines, supplies, and collect fabric for Orran, which he would bring to Armenia during his trip. He also planned to teach the first two machine sewing classes to the local children, launching what would become a regular vocational education program.
Joseph started his fundraising campaign first at St. Mary Armenian Apostolic Church in Costa Mesa and later at his school and in the local community. He promoted the fundraiser and project through Laguna Beach KX radio, where his family friend, Caroline Rustigian, hosts a radio program that highlights local nonprofits.
In total, the youth raised over $2,500 for his project, almost double his goal, and this allowed him to purchase 4 sewing machines instead of 2. He also collected over 350 pounds of fabric, partly due to large gifts from Janet Designs, and Armenian-owned tailoring and designer in Laguna Beach and a local drapery manufacturer.
“It was amazing to see how supportive the community was when they heard a kid like me wanted to help other kids,” Joseph said.
Meanwhile, Ani Hovanesian, Joseph’s 11 year-old sister, a Girl Scout Silver Award candidate, took on her own version of the project. She collected fabric and supplies to teach the Orran kids hand sewing of puppets and other crafts. These lessons, she planned, would be offered for the younger participants at Orran, while the older kids could participate in machine sewing offered by Joseph.
Both Joseph and Ani conducted mock sewing lessons for their fellow Scouts before they left home to learn supplies they would need and what challenges they would face in teaching kids who spoke another language in Armenia.
With their family, Joseph and Ani carried 7 large duffels full of fabric and supplies to Armenia, and the sewing classes for the Orran kids came off “more or less according to my plan,” said young Joseph.
“Actually,” said Joseph’s sister, Ani, “Joe learned that, even with a language barrier, girls pay so much better attention than the boys back home in his Scout troop learning the same lesson. No surprise!”
Armineh Hovannisian asked the two to present their project at the nonprofit’s Glendale gala on Oct 1st. “It was so inspiring to everyone to see these kids make a difference by picking a needed project, making all the arrangements, and seeing it through to completion. We are really excited to offer this program to our participating kids on an ongoing basis,” she said.
Both Joseph and Ani have a few more requirements before they earn their Eagle and Silver Awards, respectively. “But I’m really glad our project went so well, and I’m thinking about what we can do on our next trip to Armenia,” said Joseph.
More information about Orran can be found at www.orran.am.