FRANKLIN, Mass.—AYF Camp Haiastan Day Camp is approaching a second decade since its establishment. This year, the Day Camp hosted a record 44 campers. Day Camp runs daily for one week and is limited to children five to seven years old.
Digin Ani Changelian led both sessions of Day Camp. The first took place from June 26-31 and the second from August 7-11. Changelian has been a kindergarten teacher for 17 years and has been leading the Day Camp program for the past 12 years.
An AYF Camp Haiastan alumnus, as a camper and staff member with two years as the Camp’s summer director, Changelian is well-versed in the Camp’s mission, as well as its safety protocol.
According to Camp Haiastan Board member Nevart Apovian Mikaelian, the Day Camp was established, because parents wanted their younger children to attend a camp with an Armenian identity. In fact, this year the Board of Directors added the August session for parents whose children were unable to participate in July but were still very much interested in sending their young children to Camp.
Apovian Mikaelian and Judy Gavoor served as the first Day Camp directors in 2005. At that time, most of the children attending lived locally, but attendance quickly expanded to children from other Eastern U.S. Armenian communities. Their parents would stay in a local hotel or with families that lived in the area. This year, nine different states were represented by the Day Campers.
Now, parents of the Armenian day schools also are instrumental in organizing children from their communities to attend the Day Camp. “Parents speak to each other on summer plans,” Changelian said. “They organize a fun week while staying in the area. This year, we had 16 campers from the Sisters Academy. The parents made all the arrangements, stayed at the same hotel and made it a family fun-filled week. Parents from New Jersey do the same,” she added.
The parents’ dedication and desire to have their children attend Camp Haiastan Day Camp has resulted in most of these campers attending overnight Camp as they grow older, and some, as we have seen this year, also become staff members.
Digin Ani preparing the campfire
Day Camp campers get ready to swim in the pool
According to Changelian, the program is evaluated and redesigned every year. “We want to make sure we are up to date with activities that challenge, educate and entertain the children,” she stated. Aspects of the overnight camp are also introduced, such as sitting around a campfire, celebrating the Armenian tradition of vartavar, learning the mess hall chants, swimming in the pool, catching fish on Uncas Pond, arts and crafts and of course, Camp Store.
The counselor staff is key to the success of the Day Camp. In the past, counselors from among the overnight campers were selected to work with the children. But this year, with such a large number of Day Campers, the job was posted instead. “We are grateful that a former head counselor took the lead and recruited alumni members of the staff who were all in their mid-twenties. Having a strong group of counselors makes a difference in the campers’ experience. Campers and counselors form special bonds that go beyond the campgrounds,” Changelian explained. Designating the Day Camp counselor as a stand-alone position is another major step in the growth of the Day Camp.
The last day of Day Camp is devoted to the hantes. The children perform songs and dances for invited family and friends, as well as the older campers who are at Camp staying overnight for two weeks. The program ends with campers of all ages dancing together.
As the Day Camp is growing, both in numbers of attendees and in significance, the AYF Camp Haiastan Board of Directors is fully committed to continuing to meet the Day Camp’s mission to fully engage campers’ imaginations and encourage them to explore, learn and connect with their Armenian heritage in a warm and friendly atmosphere. This year, as with all previous years, the Board will review the facility and program needs and make the necessary adjustments to assure the continued success of this important aspect of AYF Camp Haiastan.