Active, cheerful, generous; the group of young American Armenians, 22 volunteers, from the Armenian Service Program (ASP) [parishes of Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America] recently arrived in Armenia with a sole mission to discover their homeland and to serve its people in a meaningful way.

The first stop of generosity and service was at “Aragats” Camp* where the ASP volunteers had a chance to mix and mingle with the FAR beneficiaries for four days. Guided by Fr. Tadeos Barseghyan, pastor of St. Sahag Armenian Church of St. Paul, Minnesota, the volunteers assisted the camp supervisors in cleaning and tidying up, and served food to the children.

Soon after, the volunteers gave the campers [FAR Children’s Center beneficiaries, students, orphans, and Syrian Armenians who receive FAR’s support through different programs] a high-energy performance with songs, dances, music, and athletics, and entertained the children.

“It was never boring at camp. The kids were amazing. They would come to me, hug me tighter and tighter, and kiss me,” recollects Alex Dayenian from Illinois. Ani Javardian adds, “Camp Aragats completely exceeded my expectations of what a summer camp in Armenia would be like. The campers were filled with unconditional gratitude, love, and positivity. I never thought I’d be crying my eyes out hugging hundreds of kids goodbye after knowing them for only 72 hours. I think everyone on the trip can agree that it was the hardest goodbye, but the most beautiful relationships and memories came out of this humbling experience.”

ASP’s second stop was at the FAR Children’s Center in Yerevan where the little ones were triumphally waiting for them at the entrance. Some were finishing up their tricolor bracelets for the guests, others had baked éclairs for them, and a third group was found playing with the dough. The ASP volunteers arrived in time and rushed to join the children – coloring pictures, playing ball, making the bracelets. The volunteers also toured the center, learned about the Center’s mission, the children’s stories, and the services implemented by the pedagogues and therapists.

24-year-old Drew Doudoukjian from Mt. Laurel, NJ especially enjoyed his experience in Armenia as he studied child advocacy and has worked as a senior counselor in American camps. “I was sad to learn that these children were beggars or their parents had been abusive,” confides Drew. “However, I’m glad that they are now in a safe learning environment where FAR social workers and other staff members are helping to find a foster family for them to grow and be loved.”

In the dining hall, Fr. Tadeos Barseghyan led “Hayr Mer” (The Lord’s Prayer) and all of the children, guests, and staff sat down for lunch to wrap up a busy morning.

ASP’s final stop was the Kharberd Orphanage where FAR’s crowdfunding platform Ayo! has implemented the hippotherapy project for children with cerebral palsy, autism, and Down syndrome. The ASP members met the children, and shared some small surprises and sweets. The more courageous volunteers even tried to ride a hippotherapy-trained horse. Both the children and volunteers experienced a jam-packed day full of fun and unforgettable memories.

* Aragats is a FAR Summer Camp project sponsored by the SJS Foundation (U.S.).