Biennial Event Gathers 400 in San Francisco for Sold Out Weekend
Every two years, AGBU FOCUS brings together young Armenian professionals from around the world to a new city where they share their ideas, expand their networks and spotlight a different AGBU cause. From August 1 to 4, 2013, 400 guests gathered in San Francisco to pay tribute to the AGBU Generation Next Mentorship Program (GenNext), which pairs at-risk youth with positive mentors. When the celebratory weekend came to a close, they left knowing they had made life-long memories—and helped change the lives of scores of young Armenians in southern California.
Discussing Diversity and the Diaspora
The seventh biennial AGBU FOCUS weekend was one of the most diverse to date, with guests flying to San Francisco from across the U.S. and as far as Bahrain, Greece, Israel and Monaco—to name just some of the 18 countries represented. No matter how far they had traveled, the attendees felt immediately at home at Thursday’s signature kick-off event, Perspectives, which opened with welcome remarks by AGBU Central Board Member and AGBU Silicon Valley Chapter Chair Dr. Yervant Zorian.
During Perspectives, panelists Gabriel Armas-Cardona of New York, AGBU Young Professionals (YP) Lebanon Coordinator Sarine Karajerjian, YP Northern California Board Member Rose Nemet, and YP London Coordinator Ara Yeromian engaged over 160 guests in an open conversation on what it means to be an Armenian. Throughout the discussion, moderator Lara Setrakian, a journalist and founder of SyriaDeeply.org, brought the audience back to one key issue: how the diaspora can preserve traditions in today’s rapidly changing world.
The theme prompted many to comment from the floor, including Henri Arslanian, a native of Canada who works in Beijing and pointed to the little-known, but growing, Armenian communities in Asia. He remarked, “I was so pleased to talk about exciting projects that Armenians in Hong Kong are working on, from the restoration of 19th century Armenian graves to the upcoming opening of their first Armenian community center. Many don’t know Asia has a young Armenian community and AGBU FOCUS was a great platform to create that awareness.” By the evening’s end, everyone had reached a consensus: to continue organizing public events, both within and outside of the Armenian community that showcase Armenian culture.
YP Groups Strategize
Those efforts are already being led by the worldwide network of AGBU YP Groups, which held its Biennial Assembly earlier that Thursday. The YP Assembly provided a forum for the YP Network to convene, brainstorm, and exchange ideas, as well as discuss areas of opportunity for cross cooperation and collaboration. Over 30 YP leaders met to discuss new ways to help build capacity for the global organization and strengthen connections with the Armenian community at large. They also took the opportunity to award YP Northern California (YPNC), the local host of AGBU FOCUS, with a Teamwork Award. Through fundraising and promotional activities, the YP Network helped support FOCUS and GenNext by building momentum in the months preceding the weekend.
Keeping the Focus on the Cause: GenNext
At the Saturday night AGBU FOCUS gala, all of the attendees celebrated the impact that their support will have on GenNext. Over 400 guests filled San Francisco’s historic City Hall for the evening, where GenNext Program Director Saro Ayvazians presented the program’s exciting plans for the future.
Modeled after the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program, GenNext was founded by a subcommittee of YP Los Angeles in 1997. It quickly took off, becoming its own program and connecting hundreds of troubled teens with positive mentors. In the coming school year, Ayvazians detailed, they will build on those past successes with a new curriculum developed in partnership with the Didi Hirsch Community Center, the Glendale Unified School District and Glendale Healthy Kids. That, and more, will be made possible by pre-FOCUS fundraising—which reached a record-breaking total of $80,000.
Ayvazians thanked the crowd for their generous support, which will allow the program to continue serving dozens of GenNext mentees, stating, “Our youth depend on our adult community for all kinds of support: to interact with and encourage them, to listen to and appreciate them, and, most importantly, to show up consistently in their lives as dependable role models. Thank you for stepping up to the plate with a resounding show of support for the future of our community. Thank you for showing our Armenian youth that they have not been overlooked or forgotten.”
Building on Ayvazians’s remarks, Greg Nemet, who serves as co-chair of YP Northern California (YPNC) as well as FOCUS with Steven Cherezian, commented, “The countless phone calls, thousands of emails and hours of planning for FOCUS 2013 were worth it to bring us to this moment: young Armenian professionals from around the world under one roof for one amazing cause. AGBU’s GenNext will produce the next generation of young Armenians who will rise to the challenges facing our global diaspora. We’ve shown here this weekend that we can help them.”
Back-to-Back Events Celebrate All San Francisco Has to Offer
As with previous AGBU FOCUS weekends, FOCUS 2013 brought guests all over the host city. Sold-out events included wine tasting in the northern Sonoma wine country, and a downtown exhibited curated exclusively for FOCUS on Art. For guests such as Lilit Pogosian, who recently moved to the Bay Area from Australia, it was a chance to see new parts of the city. As she described, “FOCUS introduced me to places and events in my new hometown that I would not have known about otherwise, and I couldn’t have been happier to do it with my new Armenian friends from around the world.”
FOCUS on Art featured sculptures, sketches and tapestry designs by celebrated Armenian American artists: the late Haig Patigian, Nadine Takvorian, Jacques Terzian and Leslie Terzian Markoff. Also present were pieces by William Saroyan, which stood alongside that of GenNext’s own rising talent, 19-year-old Arpa Shirvanyan. Years ago, as a middle school student enrolled in GenNext, Shirvanyan’s mentor helped foster her love for drawing. Now an artist in her own right, Shirvanyan is planning to become a GenNext mentor herself, and her story reminded every FOCUS participant of why they were there.
As FOCUS came to a close, the guests made it clear that they will continue to support GenNext—and other AGBU causes. Following a farewell brunch on Sunday, Facebook saw a new spike in friends made over the weekend, as everyone promised to see each other at AGBU FOCUS 2015. YP London Coordinator Ara Yeromian reflected, “These bonds we have created with people from around the world are what we will remember and nurture until we all meet again in two years.”
Cherezian credited the weekend’s success to the hard work of the FOCUS volunteers, YPNC, and the AGBU Central Office in New York, remarking, “We made a dynamic team that put together a stellar four-day affair. On behalf of the AGBU FOCUS committee, I want to thank those groups, as well as all the attendees who made San Francisco their playground and GenNext their cause. We left our hearts in the city, and we know everyone else did, too.”
Since its inception in 2001, AGBU FOCUS has united over 2,500 Armenians in New York (2001, 2007), Montreal (2003), Miami (2005), Chicago (2009), and Paris (2011). FOCUS 2013 brought to San Francisco guests from 115 cities and 18 countries including Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Monaco, Russia, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. FOCUS guests enjoy an array of events showcasing both the culture of the host city and their shared Armenian heritage. To date, FOCUS has raised $330,000 for AGBU programs focused on education, women’s health and youth.
To learn more about the AGBU Generation Next Mentorship Program, visit: www.agbugennext.org.
To hear more stories from GenNext participants, watch their video: www.agbugennext.org/video/.
Established in 1906, AGBU (www.agbu.org) is the world's largest non-profit Armenian organization. Headquartered in New York City, AGBU preserves and promotes the Armenian identity and heritage through educational, cultural and humanitarian programs, annually touching the lives of some 500,000 Armenians around the world.
For more information about AGBU and its worldwide programs, please visit www.agbu.org