Armenia Service Program (ASP)
The Armenia Service Program(ASP) provides young adults an opportunity to travel to their homeland to not only tour, but to give back to their brothers and sisters in Armenia. This trip is truly a pilgrimage in which hundreds of ACYOA members have felt a connection to their Armenian heritage that continues to inspire them throughout their lives.
The program began in the 1970's and was called the Armenia Studies Program. ACYOA members would travel to Armenian for educaitonal purposes. Several years ago, as need for aid in Armenia grew, the course of the trip changed from studies to service. For many years, the service portion of the trip included acting as counselors and teachers at camp Siranoosh in Yeghegnadzor, a camp for underprivileged children from the villages in Armenia. The ASP recently joined Habitat for Humanity, which has been making a considerable impact in Armenia, to build homes for a better, stronger homeland.
ASP: A Journey of Service and Discovery
This past summer, from July 1 to 20, a group of young people representing the youth of the Eastern Diocese embarked on an unforgettable journey across Armenia, taking in its historic and spiritual sites, meeting local residents, and volunteering with children and the elderly as part of the ACYOA Armenian Service Program. Under the leadership of the Rev. Fr. Hratch Sargsyan, pastor of St. Gregory of Narek Church in Cleveland, OH, with assistance from Ani Gulbenk of Fairfield, CT, the group visited landmarks ranging from the Khor Virab and Datev monasteries to the Erebuni Fortress and the Dzidzernagapert Genocide Memorial. They took part in the Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin, and met with His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.
"It had always been my dream to travel to Armenia," said Andrew Tesini. "Being in Armenia gave me a better understanding of the Armenian culture, and made me have a stronger connect to my Armenian roots."
In what was described as the most rewarding aspect of the trip, the group spent one week in Vanadzor, Armenia's third largest city, where they volunteered at Dzidzernag Summer Camp and at the Vanadzor Old Age Home, run by the Fund for Armenian Relief.
"You don't need to speak the Armenian language for us to see in your eyes that you're Armenian." This quote said by one of the managers of the old age home seemed to resonate through the participants the most. "This quote really stuck with me," said Julia Janigian, "there are so many other qualities within our unique culture that make us stick out as being Armenian."
The three week journey was more than a tour of the homeland, the participants said. It was also an introduction to the local way of life, and an opportunity to give back. "We realized that our service in Armenia is a lifelong commitment," said Alexis Shahnasarian.
As the trip came to its conclusion, and the group had a chance to reflect on their journey, it was noted how wonderful it was to discover Armenia with such a unique group of young adults. "I could not have picked a better group to experience the Armenia Service Program with," said Alexis Shahnasarian. "Over the 20-day pilgrimage, we went from strangers to family."
A program that started in the 1970s, Armenia Service Program continues to provide an opportunity to ACYOA members to travel to their homeland and give back to their brothers and sisters in Armenia, while feeling such a strong connection to their heritage that continues to inspire each and every one of them for the rest of their lives.
For more information on ASP, please contact Jennifer Morris, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 248-648-0702.