BY SEROUJ APRAHAMIAN
LITTLE ARMENIA, CA–More than 300 Armenian youth adorned in bright green t-shirts and armed with cleaning supplies made their way throughout the streets of Los Angeles’ Little Armenia region this past Sunday, March 29. With rakes, shovels, brooms, bags and other utensils in hand, the young volunteers proceeded to pick up trash, plant new trees, and remove graffiti as part of the AYF’s 6th Annual Little Armenia Beautification Project.
“We came out here today to express our appreciation for having an area of Los Angeles named in honor of our community and to take ownership of what is in essence our ‘home away from home,’” said AYF Central Executive Chairman Vache Thomassian. “I am truly proud of all of our members and supporters for showing their leadership and taking to the streets directly to give back to their community.”
Following the official designation of Little Armenia in 2000, the AYF has taken upon itself to consistently show its gratitude and ensure that the area remain clean and presentable. Working in conjunction with Councilmember Eric Garcetti’s office, hundreds of volunteers have come together every year to revitalize the streets of this densely populated district of East Hollywood.
This year, the task of organizing the project became the responsibility of the community’s very own Hollywood “Musa Dagh” Chapter. Under the direction of the AYF Central Executive, the chapter formed a committee made up entirely of local members to organize all aspects of this major initiative.
“It’s really fitting that the Hollywood chapter took on the challenge of putting together this event, seeing as Little Armenia falls directly under our jurisdiction,” said Arek Santikian, one of the main organizers from the Hollywood AYF. “The entire chapter did a lot of work and showed a tremendous amount of collective support.”
The beautification project formally began on Saturday with a mid-morning opening ceremony at the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, a key sponsor of this year’s effort. Some of the speakers at the ceremony included Maral Habeshian of the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center and Thomassian of the AYF Central Executive.
California State Assembly Member Kevin de Leon was another one of the honored guests who addressed the volunteers in front of the hospital located in the heart of Little Armenia. De Leon made a special announcement to the crowd revealing that, starting next month, Little Armenia’signs will be erected along the 101 freeway, designating certain exits which correspond to the district.
After listening to the opening remarks, participants were quickly split up into three groups and began canvassing the entire region making up Little Armenia. Several AYF members took up their pre-designated roles as group leaders and guided their fellow volunteers throughout the various sections of the district.
Razmig Sarkissian of the Montebello “Vahan Cardashian” Chapter, for example, was assigned the task of leading the “Red Team,” which began its morning with a tree planting ceremony attended by Assembly Member de Leon in front of the auditorium of the Los Feliz Elementary School.
Sarkissian recalled how he first began attending the AYF’s cleanup efforts as a badanee (junior) in 2004 and has come back every year since. “Its fun doing good work alongside friends,” explained Sarkissian as he led his team by example and picked up trash from the side of the street. “Plus it’s our responsibility. How can we not clean Little Armenia? It’s named in honor of us. It’s our duty to make sure it looks beautiful.”
Another volunteer, Cynthia Momdjian of the Pasadena “Nigol Touman” Chapter Executive, shared a similar sentiment. “It’s great that the AYF is taking this initiative and making sure our community is a more pleasant place to live,” said Momdjian. “Helping clean up this ‘home away from home’ and making it a beautiful place to live is very important and that is why I am here.”
As they marched alongside one another cleaning the sidewalks, volunteers could be also seen socializing as they worked. Many of the participants–which included not only AYF members but also members of Homenetmen, the AEO fraternity, Armenian Student Association, and local community members–could be heard introducing themselves and getting to make new friends in the process.
In addition, lending its assistance to the initiative for the sixth year in a row was the Hollywood Beautification Team (HBT), a county wide organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in Los Angeles. HBT’s Founder and CEO, Sharyn Romano, was on hand personally to partake in the cleanup and support the AYF in its commitment.
“The fact that this is an ongoing effort that happens consistently every year demonstrates the strength of this organization [the AYF],” commented Romano. “These young people are stepping beyond their doors and helping the community as a whole and that is something we all must do.”
Increasing partnership and support from such community organizations was stressed as an important aspect of what the Beautification Project is striving to embody.
“Our collaboration, with groups such as HBT, Councilmember Garcetti’s office, Hollywood Presbyterian, Hollywood High School, the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council, AEO and others helped make this year’s cleanup an all-around great success,” said Caspar Jivalegian, another key organizer from Hollywood’s “Musa Dagh” Chapter. Additional sponsors who made the Beautification Project possible included Sardarabad Armenian Bookstore, ADIN of California, Horizon Armenian Television, Asbarez, CRA/LA and the Armenian American Chamber of Commerce.
“The success of the event serves an even larger purpose of getting the residents of the community itself engaged and involved in the year-round maintenance of Little Armenia,” Jivalegian added. “As an example of the impact the volunteers’ presence has on local attitudes, he cited the many times passerby’s stopped to ask the group questions and commend their efforts.”
In one case, a local elderly Armenian woman walking by the volunteers touchingly thanked Jivalegian and the youth for coming out in such large numbers to clean the neighborhood. “She said she sees us here every year,” relayed Jivalegian following the encounter. “She hopes that people will respect what we’re doing and continue to keep the community clean.”
Indeed, in years past, the City of Los Angeles Sanitation Department has estimated that more than 23,000 pounds of trash has been removed as a result of AYF volunteer efforts. Indeed, participants who have been coming back for the cleanup consistently since its inception acknowledge a noticeable difference.
“The streets are simply much cleaner today than they were six years ago,” concluded Jivalegian. “That shows us that what we are doing is having an effect beyond just the several hours a year that we labor here.”