September 1, 2019 | The Insider

Creating Impact

AGBU’s global network of alumni has never forgotten the AGBU programs and experiences that have helped them become the leaders they are today. So vital has AGBU been to the personal and professional development of its alumni that many choose to pass along their gratitude to a younger generation of Armenians. Each one contributes in his or her own way, but all their efforts help ensure that Armenian identity thrives well into the future.

Hripsime Nourikian
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

No matter where globetrotter Hripsime Nourikian finds herself, AGBU is never far away. Whether it was studying at the Melkonian Educational Institute in Cyprus, working at the AGBU Head Office in New York City, or founding the AGBU Plovdiv Dance Group for Ladies in her native Bulgaria, she is always looking for ways to engage other Armenians in their community. In addition to volunteering, Nourikian writes for the AGBU Plovdiv bi-monthly newspaper AGBU Voice as a correspondent and regular contributor.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering with AGBU? By far, working with the youth. A couple of years ago, to serve as an example for our youth who dance at the AGBU Dance Group for Children, a group of mothers formed their own Dance Group—‘Nreni’. We gather once to twice a week and the two dance groups rehearse together to instill a love for Armenian music and dance. We have a number of festivals and cultural events that we participate in and represent our cultural heritage through dance. I have also organized fundraisers in the past few years, helping young Armenians from Bulgaria participate in AGBU programs in Armenia—Discover Armenia, Yerevan Summer Internship Program, and Cultural Forums for the Youth. I believe to continue the legacy of our ancestors is a privilege that is given to every Armenian worldwide. Involving the youth gives every community the chance to bloom and provides hope for the future. 

How would you describe the Armenian Community in Bulgaria? The Armenian community in Bulgaria has a lot to catch up on compared to Western communities in the Diaspora. The political regime in Bulgaria up until 1990 repressed ethnic development and our community in Bulgaria suffered a great deal as a result. After 1990, the community and Armenian organizations that were reestablished, have had the difficult task of reviving themselves. Living in a country that is economically challenged has hindered that process. After almost 30 years, however, AGBU Plovdiv has been able to stand out as a leader in the community by establishing associated chapters in five cities in Bulgaria, including Haskavo, Sliven, Dobrich and Rousse, in addition to Armenian Saturday schools, publishing a bi-monthly newspaper AGBU Voice, maintaining an online news platform Gantegh Araratian, Dance Groups, Womens’ Clubs, and helping young Armenians participate in international programs such as Camp Nubar, Goriz, Discover Armenia, Ari Tun, and other Summer Internship Programs. Integrating that AGBU global vision into the local Armenian community is a recipe for success. 

What concrete steps can Armenians take to help the community flourish? The best way to sustain smaller Armenian communities like in Bulgaria is through art and cultural programs. They have a vast following in the community. They also provide exposure to the Armenian language and history in ways that are easily accessible to young Armenians. This gives them the option to showcase Armenian culture to the public at large, beyond the community.

What are your future plans? To continue challenging our youth with activities and projects that will help them identify as Armenians wherever they happen to be in the world.

Valentina Manoukian
Montreal, Canada

Born and raised in Montreal, Valentina Manoukian graduated from Dawson College to pursue her passion for arts and interior design. Today, she is an Interior Designer at Cameo Collection, creating custom furniture pieces for clients using programs such as AutoCAD. She also stages an 8,000 sq. ft. showroom to help customers envision specific settings and provides at-home consultations. Despite the demands on her busy work life, Manoukian still finds time to volunteer with AGBU Montreal, giving back to her school and the community that shaped her.  

What is your title and responsibilities of your current position? I am the In House Interior Designer at Cameo Collection, a furniture store and manufacturer located in Montreal. With pro-grams such as AutoCAD, I design and create various furniture pieces that are aesthetically pleasing and meet each client’s needs and requirements. I also stage the 8000sq/ft showroom to help customers envision these pieces within a specific setting. Recently, I’ve begun doing at-home consultations where I meet with the client and provide essential design elements such as furniture choices, sizes as well as fabric and finish options. 

How did you first become involved with AGBU Montreal? My first experience was as a member of the AGBU Scouts. I also attended the AGBU Alex Manoogian School of Montreal throughout elementary. That being said, my family has always been strong supporters of AGBU and the Armenian community. I was very active during the 45th anniversary of the AGBU Alex Manoogian School. It was a very successful and rewarding event. We reconnected with past students and shared wonderful memories. We truly realized that this school bonded us and gave us our first sense of belonging. Interestingly, it is through this involvement that I met my fiancé, also a former graduate from the school.

Why is it important to give back to your community through AGBU and any other projects? Contributing to your community is a rewarding experience—it’s beneficial for others but it is also rewarding for yourself. AGBU has shaped who I have become, and I want to give future generations of Armenians the same experience and opportunities that I have received through my years in scouting, arts and recently through the AGBU summer internship program. 

How would you describe Montreal’s Armenian Community? Montreal’s Armenian Community
is one of the most active and vibrant communities in the diaspora. It is strong and progressive, while keeping the values and traditions of our heritage, as well as the mission of AGBU. Our community crosses all generational boundaries, where several generations work together as one. 

It has succeeded in preserving and maintaining a very active Armenian community that is very warm and close knit. I think what makes us so special is that there are so many programs and activities that you can always find something to be part of and be involved in. We have sports, scouts, youth, Young Professionals, dance classes, lecture series, Saturday programs for children to name a few that are all doing very well. Any Friday night, when you pass by the AGBU Center,
it is not uncommon to have difficulty to find a parking spot for your car!  

You enjoy your Armenian heritage at home and in the community and identify as a bilingual Montrealer as well as a Canadian. What are the benefits of this multicultural experience? The benefits of being trilingual are immense. On a professional level, it provides me with work opportunities on both local and international fronts. On a personal level, it also allows me to interact with different people and this itself is a richness. Growing up in a multi-cultural milieu has made me realize the importance of being an open-minded person. It is a balancing act of being welcoming to new ideas while being true to fundamental values and traditions. 

What projects are you planning/hoping to pursue in the future? I hope to establish myself as an innovative and detail-oriented designer to create my own line of home accessories and furniture. Furthermore, through my many trips to Armenia, I’ve noticed that there is a lot of talent in the arts. Therefore, I would love to create an Interior Design symposium in Armenia to show-case their talent and to give everyone the opportunity to learn from each other. I would also hope that someday soon, the creative products made in Armenia, can be shown and sold all over the world. 

Hagop (Jack) Semerdjian
Toronto, Canada

An electrical engineer by profession, Jack Semerdjian’s other passion is basketball, the sport he grew up playing at his local AGBU Center in his native Toronto, Canada. Decades later, that is where he finds himself again volunteering as Co-Chairman of the AGBU Sports and Youth Committee.

Why did you first volunteer to work at AGBU Toronto? I started getting involved on the weekends with AGBU’s very successful Saturday Kids Basketball Camp. This program runs throughout the year and offers young members of our community an introduction to the program and AGBU. Soon after then Sports & Youth Committee Chairman (SYC) Jack Bastermaji asked me to join the organizing committee as an adviser. 

I wanted to volunteer for two reasons: to continue being involved in the sport of basketball, and start coaching/teaching what I have learned in order to pass that knowledge on to the next generation of players; and secondly, to give back to AGBU. The AGBU basketball program is the main reason why I have had the opportunity to travel the world, play the game, and make lifelong friendships. I grew up at the center from a very young age, it was important for me to me give back and help continue the great tradition that we have established in AGBU Toronto. 

How would you describe the Armenian community in Toronto? The Armenian community here is engaged on so many levels. There are many opportunities to become involved, give back and enjoy being a part of this community. The number of associations, cultural organizations and social clubs is something we are very proud of. Other ethnic communities in Toronto that have much larger populations in the city than we do are always amazed when we play against them in tournaments and exhibitions by the quality of our facilities and organization. 

As a coach, what part of the job do enjoy most? The most rewarding aspect is meeting youth aged 9 and 10 years old, and watching them grow up. Many of the boys and girls who I coached when I first started out are now either in University and College or have graduated. They have started their lives and careers and it’s great to still see them, continue our sporting relationship, but also spend time with them as adults and watch them achieve their own successes. 

How has the AGBU Sports program helped bring young Armenians together and promote their Armenian heritage? Our sports program allows all kids to be a part of a team, learn important life lessons, and ultimately have shared experiences that will define their youth. Many of them might not get a chance in other institutions like school to play basketball and be part of a team. AGBU allows them the opportunity to play as a team and represent not only AGBU but the broader Armenian community that supports us through basketball. Without that desire on the part of our players and parents to be a part of our heritage, there would not be a team to begin with. 

The work that I have been a part of could not have been possible without my Sports & Youth Committee. In particular, my Co-Chairman Vicken Ampagoumian and Athletic Director Gary Semerdjian. They are the real reasons why the program has thrived. They have been involved for many more years than I and deserve the recognition for their work in making the program a success just as much as I do. 

What future plans do you have or might like to see for AGBU Athletics in Toronto? We hope to expand into soccer. Our bread and butter is basketball, but our club has a long history with Soccer which we plan to reintroduce to attract new athletes to our growing network.

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