by U. Gasia Okanyan
As the 69th anniversary of Camp Haiastan inches upon us, it is imperative for the
members of today’s staff and camp community to look back upon the roots of the jampar we
adore. This summer, I am blessed with the opportunity to spend my times at Camp Haiastan
among my friends, coming together to perpetuate the same cause that our predecessors have since camp was built nearly seven decades ago. Baron Harry Kushigian and Unger Peter Alemian, accompanied by Baron Pete Jelalian and camp board chairperson Michael Guzelian, spoke to our 2019 summer staff on their experiences at Camp Haiastan and how their experience translates into advice for the summer upon us.
As Baron Harry walked into the room, his history and experience at camp resonated from
him; he began his talk by screening through the list of staff names, stopping at familiar names, making connections with grandparents, families, and communities. While this may seem minuscule, this mere gesture emphasized the massive connections that are held in the Camp Haiastan and the AYF’s history. After making countless connections and lots of beaming smiles, Baron Harry proceeded to recall the origins of Camp Haiastan and its roots, the AYF.
In July 1940, AYF members in search of a campsite for Armenian youth visited our soon to be camp in Franklin, Massachusetts, which was later bought on August 12, 1940. Having bought the undeveloped land, the AYF members built Camp Haiastan by hand over the next nearly 2 decades until Camp’s opening day in 1957. When WWII began, operations halted as AYF members left to serve in the Armed Forces. Camp construction resumed in 1946 after WWII’s end in 1945, and AYF members volunteered in their free time to cultivate the base of camp today.
As Baron Harry continued to reminisce on his time spent here, I couldn’t help but think
about how the physicality of Camp Haiastan has changed so immensely in its past seven decades of existence, but the meaning of it and nature of people’s love for camp has not changed at all. The same feeling I see take over Baron Harry when he speaks of Camp Haiastan is the same rush of emotions that I feel when I talk about the times I’ve had here.
As Baron Harry said, the common denominator of this camp over the past nearly 70 years is the hokee; the spirit of this place which never changes and continues to enrich the lives of Armenian youth. In his closing remarks, he also included a piece of advice for our staff: be careful with the campers, being their caretakers is an immense responsibility and it is upon us to do the best we can to prioritize their safety while also cultivating the children’s Armenian identity, which transcends into fueling our community.
Following Baron Harry’s wise words, Unger Peter Alemian, another former Camp Haiastan staff member and camper, spoke to the staff on his experiences with camp. The most
important thing he emphasized was the value of the people at Camp Haiastan. He preaches to us that the valuable pieces of Camp Haiastan are those intangibles that surpass what meets the eye; the epicenter and value of camp is held in the people who have spent their summers in adolescence and childhood running and playing on these magical grounds. Building upon this, Baron Peter emphasizes our importance as counselors at Camp Haiastan and how we need to utilize this great responsibility to encourage our campers in the right way, being positive role models. Recalling on his own camp experience, Baron Peter highlights the way in which Camp Haiastan can facilitate an enriched experience as an Armenian-American. Coming to Camp Haiastan has the ability to open a window for children into the rich, beautiful world that we hold as Armenians.
We, as camp counselors, have the power to magnify the Armenian identity in the people
that make up its future, the children; our responsibility, as enunciated well by both Baron Harry and Unger Peter, is to do our best here to strengthen the positive role models in the community and encourage our campers to be their best, in the Armenian community and outside of it. Camp Haiastan holds an undeniably magic essence that changes lives, mine included. As staff members, it is our duty to hold that spirit and ensure that it ameliorates the lives of the campers that come past us. To the eye, Camp Haiastan may seem like a small, mellow summer camp along a quaint pond; but, as shown by Baron Peter, Baron Harry, and myself, Camp Haiastan has the potential to have an indescribable impact on the lives of Armenian youth. Yesterday, Camp Haiastan changed lives. Today, Camp Haiastan changes my life. Tomorrow, Camp Haiastan will enrich lives of those who do not yet know what they are missing.