On July 11, 2016, the official grand opening of the Shirvanian Youth Center in Gyumri, a project led by the “We Are Gyumri” Committee of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation – Western US Central Committee, took place in the presence of hundreds of guests. Since its opening, the SYC has served as a hub for various community youth programs, including numerous educational, civic and cultural initiatives, serving thousands of local children thus far.
The project would not have been possible without the generous contribution by the late Hacob and Mina Shirvanian, for whom creating and advancing educational and cultural opportunities for the youth of Armenia was a life-long priority. Accordingly the center was named after them and their legacy lives on through the vibrant activities carried out at the center. Hacob and Mina Shirvanian traveled to Gyumri and were present at the ribbon-cutting and opening ceremony of the center. To celebrate the couple’s unwavering support, the “We Are Gyumri” committee decided to name its annual scholarship program in memory of Mina Shirvanian.
Armenia, similar to many other countries, is currently facing challenges battling COVID-19, with the pandemic affecting a broad spectrum of both public and private institutions and citizens. Following the directives of local government, the SYC currently remains closed for the safety and protection of staff, volunteers and the community. Despite the physical distance, the SYC’s educational mission continues undeterred.
All educational programs have transitioned to online platforms and have been continuing virtually. Although the SYC facility is temporarily closed, the We Are Gyumri committee has taken the principled stance of continuing efforts to keep staff employed, cover building expenses, and continue funding the scholarship initiative – activities they believe are vital to ensuring that the SYC remains a home away from home for the thousands of children it serves as soon as they are able to return, and that scholarship recipients will be able to continue their education without financial struggles.
Ahead of SYC’s virtual fundraising effort, “We Are Gyumri” Committee Chairman Shant Baboujian briefed Asbarez on the progress of the committee’s activities by responding to questions submitted by email.
ASBAREZ: Most of our readers are familiar with the background of the Shirvanian Youth Center and “We Are Gyumri” campaign. For those that are not, please provide an overview.
Shant Baboujian: The “We Are Gyumri” campaign was launched in 2013 as an initiative by the AYF Orange County Ashod Yergat and Juniors Aghpiur Serop Chapters. The mission of “We Are Gyumri” is to create a positive and lasting impact on youth in Gyumri, Armenia. The campaign has undertaken various projects over the years, including the restructuring and renovation of the Shirvanian Youth Center in Gyumri that had been destroyed during the 1988 Spitak earthquake. The campaign also funds a year-round functional program was created at the center to teach youth in Gyumri everyday skills, to provide them with the essentials they need for a brighter future, and to serve as a bridge between youth in Gyumri and their peers in the Diaspora.
The Mina Shirvanian Scholarship Fund is another component of the “We Are Gyumri” campaign. It was launched for the purpose of supporting residents of the Shirak Province to pursue their undergraduate education in their native region. To date, nearly 30 students have received scholarship (many covering all years of their education), and we plan to fund at least 10 more scholars in the upcoming academic year. The students who have received the scholarship study in diverse fields, from linguistics, to mathematics, to computer science. The scholarship covers full tuition for each year of their education.
“We are Gyumri” is an ARF Western U.S. initiative. We have received small and large donations and have been fortunate to have the support of the community in the Western U.S, most notably from the late Hacob and Mina Shirvanian, who were long-time community activists and benefactors. We are thankful for each donation and appreciative to each sponsor.
ASBAREZ: What has the committee worked on over the past year?
S.B.: The committee continues to fundraise and serve as benefactors for both the Shirvanian Youth Center and the Mina Shirvanian Scholarship Fund. This includes the full time employment of the SYC Manager and Program Coordinator Gohar Karapetyan and several part-time staff. Under her direction and with the support of many volunteers, the Center has continued to serve youth by offering free after-school classes and tutoring in English, Russian, computer, music, dance, chess, history and physics. The Center had served as the site for AYF Youth Corps day camps and now holds AYF Juniors activities, Homenetmen activities and other community events. Over the past 4 years, the number of youth, who benefit from the Center, has grown dramatically.
During the past year, our committee also worked on the renovation project of the Nanulik Kindergarten and Day School, as well as a book drive for their students.
In partnership with the ARF – Western US Homeland Initiative Program, the Orange County chapter of the Knights and Daughters of Vartan, and the Armenian Territorial Development Fund, we worked to collect the funding needed to renovate the school. The Nanulik Kindergarten was constructed after the Gyumri earthquake in 1988 with temporary wooden cottages that were connected to each other by concrete and stone corridors. Prior to construction, the temporary constructed cottages were totally exhausted. The micro-project at Nanulik Kindergarten and Day School removed the old cottages and constructed a new building at the same location. The new two-story building, built to meet current seismic requirements, has several play and rest areas, a sterile room for visiting doctors and nurses, classrooms, dedicated areas for children’s naps, a kitchen, and dining area.
Through a school-wide book drive and a generous donation from the library, Vahan & Anoush Chamlian Armenian School collected over 1,500 books for youth in Armenia. The books, in both Armenian and English, were donated to the Nanulik Kindergarten and Day School in Gyumri.
ASBAREZ: Are there any recent developments for the Mina Shirvanian Scholarship Fund?
S.B.: Each year, the scholarship fund intends to grant up to $3,000 to students to help complete their education at Gyumri universities. Scholarship recipients are selected through an application process that includes interviews, as well as questionnaires about the students’ field of study, personal achievements, their decision to pursue their education in the Shirak province, volunteer experience, grade point average, family circumstances, and military service and background. The committee is proud of these scholars and excited to see each student continue to excel academically and as members of their communities. Most importantly, the scholarship recipients spend their time volunteering at the Shirvanian Youth Center, where they pass their knowledge, experience, and love for their homeland to the future generation. We are currently conducting interviews to select the 2020-2021 scholarship recipients. These students will face difficulties in studying during a pandemic, but we want to ensure that financing their education is not one of their concerns.
ASBAREZ: What can you tell us about the committee’s upcoming virtual fundraising effort?
S.B.: We have launched an online campaign with a goal to collect $15,000. Proceeds will directly benefit staff expense, building maintenance and operations, and afford us the opportunity to continue with our scholarship efforts. Donations may be made at “We Are Gyumri” GoFundMe page. We know and fully understand that these are trying times for many individuals and families. There are many wonderful projects and initiatives to support our Homeland and we simply ask those, who are in a position to donate, to consider donating to the “We Are Gyumri” campaign. Donors will be eligible to receive notes and videos from the children who participate in the center’s activities, and the scholarship recipients, which is a small part of our efforts to maintain and strengthen the ties between Homeland and Diaspora. If your readers would like to sponsor a student for $750 per year or donate another amount, they can also do so by sending a check to ACF Shirak Youth Center, 104 N Belmont Avenue, Suite 300, Glendale, CA 91206.
We wish all of our brothers and sisters health and prosperity. As a people, we have always overcome different challenges and acts of aggression that we have faced. It is in the spirit of community and love for our Homeland that binds us together that has allowed us to triumph – today and tomorrow, we will continue our efforts with a renewed vigor for our common cause.