BY TATEVIK MANUCHARYAN
GLENDALE—Sitting in a room at the Homenetmen Glendale Ararat Chapter Center, crowded with athletic prizes and trophies, the organization’s executive director Armond Gorgorian sipped on a cup of Armenian coffee while telling the story of the Ararat Chapter.
Listening to his account, one is struck by the spirit of volunteerism encouraged by this organization – something that is quite uncommon in the Armenian-American community. It seems that many people become Homenetmen members for life – each generation coaching the next one and thus, imparting not only athletic skills, but also important values such as sportsmanship and comradery. It’s not just a motto – Homenetmen is really all about elevating yourself and others with you.
Homenetmen Glendale Ararat Chapter, founded on Dec. 15, 1978, is the largest of the 18 Western United States chapters. With two campuses located on San Fernando Road, the chapter offers a variety of athletic, scouting and cultural programs for the young as well as the old.
“In any Armenian community in the diaspora, after building a church and a school, they start a Homenetmen,” Gorgorian said.
The year-round programs at the Ararat Chapter include scouting, gymnastics, soccer, basketball, volleyball, table tennis, tennis, martial arts and a choir.
The chapter is headquartered at the Ararat Center, which features two full basketball gyms, a hall exclusively for gymnastics, a gym for martial arts and the administrative offices.
The North Campus has two gyms, a table tennis hall, a fitness center and a children’s corner to be built soon.
Sports practices take place twice a week, while scouting activities are held every Sunday.
The scouts participate in several weekend or weeklong educational camps. Since 2009, the scouting division has been preparing the scouts to become Eagle Scouts, which is the highest honor that they can achieve. As of now Ararat has five Eagle Scouts.
The choir, composed of more than 40 members, meets every week and performs annual concerts. In addition, Homenetmen Ararat hosts 6-8 cultural and educational events each year, including one in commemoration of the Armenian Genocide on April 24.
Among upcoming events is a literary forum, titled “The Armenian-Iranian Woman and Literature,” which will take place at the Ararat Center on August 26, 2012.
The chapter has also organized an Armenian-American Leadership Seminar, featuring 4-6 speakers – successful businessmen and leaders from the Armenian-American community. The seminar will be held at Woodbury College on September 29, 2012.
In 2010, Homenetmen Glendale launched a program called Optimal Health Community Wellness Center, which provides health and fitness classes to people of all ages. The group fitness classes, divided into 6-week increments, include cardio, gentle stretching, and muscle sculpting exercises, as well as health education.
The Ararat Chapter also offers seasonal programs, such as the Basketball Development League, also known as the D-League, and the Jr. NBA for children ages 5-12. These two programs are in session three times a year for three months. More than 300 children participate in the program every season.
Lastly, the chapter hosts an annual summer day-camp program for children ages 5-12. The program is divided into eight weekly sessions – each week dedicated to a different theme such as friendship, sports, careers, science and health.
Aside from athletic, scouting and cultural programs, Homenetmen Ararat Chapter also offers merit-based scholarships for undergraduate study. Starting this year, the Rima Abedi Sagherian Scholarship will be available to Ararat members. Sagherian was a past Chapter and Regional board member, and her husband created the scholarship fund in her memory. The scholarship will be in the amount of up to $10,000 to be divided among three people.
Homenetmen athletic competitions are scattered throughout the year. The annual volleyball tournament takes place at the Ararat Center in April. The tournament is named after Alan Hovagimian, a former Homenetmen athlete who passed away at a young age.
The tennis tournament, which is the largest in the Glendale community, is held at Glorietta Park every year in May.
The table tennis tournament is a one-day event at the Ararat Center in June. The tournament is sanctioned by the U.S. Table Tennis Federation and attracts nationally ranked players.
The Navasartian Games, the largest Homenetmen athletic event, starts in May and ends in July. During these games, athletes from all the chapters compete in all the different sports played at Homenetmen.
Since 2011, Ararat holds an annual charity golf tournament. This year the tournament will take place on October 8 at the Brookside Golf Club.
The chapter also organizes the annual Glendale Friendship Games during which Homenetmen athletes compete against other teams from Glendale and neighboring communities. The games take place at the end of October and involve competitions in soccer, basketball, volleyball, table tennis and tennis. In the past, along with Ararat athletes, teams from high schools, the American Youth Soccer Organization and also teams composed of Glendale police officers, fire fighters and other city employees have participated in these games.
From time to time Ararat athletes travel outside the country to participate in competitions such as the Pan-Armenian games in Armenia and the tournaments held by Homenetmen regions around the world.
“The whole idea is to get the kids involved,” Gorgorian said, “because the more involved they are in athletics or scouting activities, the less is the chance of them getting into bad habits.”
There is a membership fee for joining Homenetmen. Reduced fees are available for college students and families. Membership dues cover one third of Ararat’s budget. The rest of the funding comes from the federal government in the form of Community Development Block Grants and from donations and fundraising events.
While children can join their local Homenetmen chapter as early as age 5, there is no upper age limit for membership. Many of the Homenetmen Ararat choir members are in their mid-40s and 50s, so are many athletes on the various sports teams. The oldest member of the chapter is a 70-year-old table tennis player who practices once or twice a week.
Age boundaries for membership are further erased due to Homenetmen being largely a volunteer-run non-profit organization. Both campuses combined, the Ararat Chapter serves around 500-600 athletes between 4 p.m. and 12 a.m. daily, said Gorgorian. Yet its full-time staff is comprised of only eight people. The rest are volunteers – both young and old. Over 300 people, mostly parents and older kids, spend 4-24 hours per week coaching the various sports teams, organizing and putting on events, and administering programs.
Currently, around 10-15 percent of parents volunteer at the organization. Increasing that number is key to Homenetmen Ararat’s continued growth and development, Gorgorian said.
Since its inception, Homentemen Glendale has claimed numerous victories in many different tournaments, including the Navasartian and the Pan-Armenian games. Yet, according to Gorgorian, the true accomplishments of the organization lie beyond medals and trophies.
“[In] the past 34 years, since the day we were founded, more than 15,000 kids have come and gone through our ranks,” Gorgorian said. “…Now some of them are professionals and leaders of the community and whenever we reach out to them, they are always there to help us.”
“Although we are proud of our achievements in athletic and scouting fields,” he said, “we are even prouder that we’ve had a role in educating these youngsters and have helped them become solid citizens and good members of the community.”
The Homenetmen Glendale Ararat Chapter, in partnership with ANCA-PN, will host the first-ever Elevate 2012: Armenian-American Leadership Development Seminar.