From the outside, it looked like just an ordinary Christmas party—a group of teens and twenty-somethings coming together to snack on homemade treats, laugh at inside jokes and exchange gifts. But there was something special that brought each person to this lively celebration: AGBU Generation Next.
AGBU Generation Next is a mentorship program that provides Armenian middle and high school students in Southern California with adult role models to guide them into adulthood. Since it began in 1997, Generation Next—fondly called GenNext by mentors and mentees alike—has served several hundred youth aged 12 to 18. All volunteer mentors meet with their mentees at least once a month to develop solid relationships that help mentees withstand the vicissitudes of adolescence and step confidently towards bright futures.
It was in this spirit that mentors and mentees gathered for the GenNext Christmas Party on December 21. The evening began with a much-loved tradition: decorating the GenNext Christmas tree in anticipation of the white elephant gift exchange to follow. Together, mentors and mentees made and hung stockings and snowflakes, which they adorned with their names and special messages. They also enjoyed a delicious potluck dinner, while playing a number of different board games.
One of the highlights of the evening was the photo booth that mentor Anita Khachikyan set up, capturing the atmosphere of the festivities with a series of silly photos. The white elephant gift exchange was another highlight, as mentees chose presents from under the tree and tore off the wrapping paper to find their gift.
The party was filled with exhilaration for the host of activities planned for the year to come: “I hope we go visit USC [University of Southern California] next year!” said one of the mentees. “Are we going camping soon?” asked another with high hopes. “Let’s go hiking in Governor Deukmejian’s Park!” Richard, one of the youngest mentees, called out. “Well, all I know is that we better be going to Big Bear!” said Arthur Khamtrashyan, a former mentee and current mentor, who by alluding to the annual Big Bear Mentor Retreat, sent a buzz of excitement through the entire room.
For most of the 57 mentors and mentees, 2014 was their first year in the GenNext program. It was a year where new pairs learned more about one another and began forming strong bonds that will only grow stronger in 2015. Together, GenNexters will to do more than just laugh and have a good time; together, they will continue to build a sense of community and another generation of well-educated, civic-minded, Armenian Americans.
For more information about the AGBU Generation Next Mentorship Program, please visit: http://www.agbugennext.org/.
If you live in Southern California and are interested in becoming a mentor, please contact Saro Ayvazians at firstname.lastname@example.org.