A Decade of Excellence: AGBU Young Professionals of Greater New York and Northern California Model the Way


NEW YORK and SAN FRANCISCO — In 1995, the first Young Professionals (YP) group was established in Los Angeles, Calif. by then-BU President Louise Manoogian Simone as a means to actively engage young Armenians between the ages of 22 to 40 in the mission of AGBU. This single act set in motion a trend which, nearly 15 years later, boasts a vibrant, growing network of over two dozen YP groups around the world run entirely by AGBU volunteers.

This year, for the first time ever, the AGBU Central Board of Directors honored the Young Professionals of Greater New York (YPGNY) and the Young Professionals of Northern California (YPNC) with special awards on the occasions of their 10-year anniversaries for extraordinary service to the Armenian community. Deserving of the highest accolades, YPGNY and YPNC were two of the first groups established by AGBU in the late 1990s and, through a decade of service, have mastered harnessing the talents of the younger generation for the greater good.

With an overwhelming response from its contemporaries, YPGNY in 10 years has witnessed a five-time increase in its constituency base. Members close to the group attribute this achievement to its open-door policy for all young Armenians, as well as conscientious efforts to cultivate community relations. In 2008 alone, YPGNY’s diverse programming drew in 1500 YPs and, defying the economic climate in 2009, its trademark Armenian Christmas Reception hit record-breaking attendance figures, raising a remarkable $15,000.

Even more impressive, fundraising powerhouse YPGNY has donated $93,000 in total — the most raised by any one AGBU YP group — to AGBU-affiliated programs since its inception. Striving to make a long-term impact, YPGNY also established the AGBU YP Endowment Fund in 2002 to benefit the AGBU Children’s Centers of Armenia, which has since become a pan-YP endeavor and totals a substantial $79,800.

Ensuring the group is realizing its fullest potential, YPGNY has worked over the years to improve the quality and range of it civic activities. For example, YPGNY, which has annually sponsored student scholarships for the AGBU New York Summer Intern Program (NYSIP) since 1999, teamed up with the program in 2000 to organize Mentoring Night, an evening of professional exchange between local young professionals and visiting interns. In 2007, the initiative was expanded even further into a one-on-one mentorship program, in which YPGNY members provide professional guidance and advice through special gatherings and offline support throughout the eight-week-long internships. Extending its community activities to the interns in 2003, YPGNY introduced NYSIP to Sunshine for Seniors, a day of service with the residents of the New York Armenian Home in Flushing, Queens.

“With an organization as venerable as AGBU, we embrace the role and responsibility that comes with representing the young face of AGBU to the world,” shared Natalie Gabrelian, associate director of the AGBU Education Department, and former chairwoman of YPGNY for seven of its 10 years.

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To this end, AGBU Central Office invited key members over the years to help organize milestone events, such as its Centennial Celebration in 2007, represent the organization annually at the Armenian Genocide Commemoration in Times Square and sit on the organizing body of FOCUS, the AGBU event for young Armenian professionals from around the world.

Aline Markarian, current YPGNY co-chair with colleague Danny Abajian, shared her thoughts on the future of the organization: “As we move ahead training new board members on the inner workings of the group, it is our goal to ensure our generation carries on the legacy and high standards set by the members before us, while building upon their accomplishments by experimenting in untapped areas such as the environment and the arts.”

A key ingredient to success imparted by the groups in New York and the Bay Area has been their close, supportive relationships with senior leadership in their local AGBU Chapters and Offices. Nowhere is this most relevant than in San Francisco, where then-AGBU Oakland Chairwoman Ashken Mouradian spearheaded the establishment, growth and sustainability of the AGBU Young Professionals of Northern California.

Inspired by the results of the group in Los Angeles, Mouradian recounts, “The San Francisco Bay Area didn’t have anything like this at the time and, by being the first to establish the young professionals group, our shining moment was bringing all Armenian young people under one roof.”

In its 10th year running, YPNC represents the only YP group to singularly mount a weekend getaway, coined the Winter Gala, which attracts hundreds of YPs on an international scale to the Bay Area. One of the group’s proudest achievements, the signature Winter Gala evolved from a one-day benefit dance in its early years to an extended weekend with proceeds earmarked for AGBU-affiliated programs in Armenia. To this end, benevolent YPNC, with its yearlong roster of quality events and activities, has donated $48,000 in total, representing a sizeable quarter of the funds raised by the network.

Running a volunteer organization in sprawling San Francisco has its challenges, yet YPNC has an unblemished reputation as a stable organization which is fiscally responsible, boasts strong leadership and cultivates strong working relations with fellow Armenian and non-Armenian organizations.

Key reasons for their 10-year success include their ability to set a clear mission and vision for the organization, take risks with new events, and most importantly, foster an environment of teamwork and camaraderie.

“YPNC has filled the needs of the 22- to 40-year-old crowd, targeting events towards their interests which may not be addressed by other Armenian groups within our community,” shared Ed Minasian, longtime YPN board member and former chairman for four years. “Our service reached beyond the needs of our constituents to also support the Bay Area Armenian and non-Armenian communities, like Mt. Davidson Cross, the annual Genocide Commemoration, and by volunteering at local soup kitchens and Habitat for Humanity.“

In agreement on the reputation inherited from the group, new Co-Chairs Steven Cherezian and David Ojakian project on the group’s future plans: “This year we aim to refocus the group and truly embody the core values and mission of AGBU, while emphasizing the Young Professional aspect that makes our AGBU committee so special. We look to introduce new professional networking opportunities and community-service events this year, while continuing to raise funds and awareness for the AGBU charitable programs in Armenia.”

With the support of local communities, the results of YPGNY and YPNC are born from a commitment and charitable spirit. In addition, their ability to keep up with the times and the needs of their constituencies will continue to propel them forward as leading organizations amongst their peers.

For more information on the AGBU YP Network, visit www.agbu.org/yp.

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