More than 30 young people representing 14 parishes across the Eastern Diocese gathered in St. Petersburg, Fla., for the 2014 ACYOA Chapter Workshop, January 24-26.
Over the course of three days participants built their faith, discussed the accomplishments and setbacks faced by their local ACYOA chapters, shared advice, and brainstormed new programming possibilities.
St. Hagop Church of Pinellas Park, Fla., again hosted this year's event, with the Rev. Fr. Hovnan Demerjian, parish pastor, serving as the weekend's chaplain. The sessions were organized by the ACYOA Central Council, with assistance from Lorie Odabashian, coordinator in the Diocese's Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, who also attended the workshop.
On Friday evening, January 24, participants gathered at St. Hagop Church for dinner and fellowship. This was followed by a service project during which ACYOA members made 200 sandwiches for Pinellas Hope, a local charity that provides shelter and aid to the homeless. An overview of the organization's work was given by Central Council member Daniel Zalinov and St. Hagop parish council member Mallory Maslar.
The evening concluded with a vespers service led by the Very Rev. Fr. Simeon Odabashian, Diocesan Vicar.
On Saturday, the group convened at the St. Petersburg Marriott for sessions on faith, leadership, and team building.
Fr. Demerjian opened the day with a Bible study on the revelation of Christ. Central Council members Shant Paklaian and Adrienne Ashbahian led a discussion titled "ACYOA: Mission Possible," where participants shared programming ideas and personal skills that fulfill and build on the mission of the ACYOA. They focused on the organization's key principles of worship, witness, education, service, and fellowship.
St. Nersess seminarian and former ACYOA Central Council chair Saro Kalayjian spoke about the founding of the ACYOA and explained how it has evolved in its seven-decade history.
Small group discussion led by Central Council members Chelsea Kress and Armen Terjimanian presented problem scenarios ACYOA chapters have encountered in previous years and challenged participants to consider various solutions.
Central Council chair Jon Pelaez and vice chair Ani Grigorian presented a session on strategies for success, during which participants drafted goals for their chapters and filled out a programming calendar listing events they hope to implement in the coming year.
The day concluded with dinner at a local restaurant.
On Sunday morning, the young people took part in the Divine Liturgy at St. Hagop Church and joined the community for an outdoor picnic, which raised funds for Syrian Armenian relief.
"ACYOA Chapter Workshop is my favorite Central Council-sponsored event," said Aras Mermer of St. Mary Church of Washington, D.C. "I always get new ideas for events, and find out what works and what doesn't work."
Aline Beylerian of St. Leon Church of Fair Lawn, N.J., said, "I enjoyed meeting new people who share the same love and passion for keeping the Armenian youth connected to their faith and heritage."
The ACYOA Central Council is now preparing to host Lenten regional retreats in Palos Heights, Ill., and Fair Lawn, N.J. on March 29.