ISTANBUL — People with autism require very special care, and there are precious few facilities providing adequate facilities and personnel to deal with their needs. Armenia is fortunate to have one such establishment; however, being the only one, not only nationally but in the entire Transcaucasus region, it is limited in resources to meet the actual needs of the community. Located in Yerevan, “My Way” Socio-Rehabilitation Day Care Center for Children and Teenagers with Autism provides education, care and therapy for youngsters all day every day during the week and for free. (See Armenian Mirror-Spectator, June 17, 2017, and http://www.m-w-stiftung.org/English/News/MyWay/MyWay.html for additional photos.) The socio-rehabilitation unit offers custom-tailored vocational training classes for almost 190 beneficiaries, up to the age of 35. There are 72 dedicated, trained staff members working in small groups or in a one-on-one basis, to develop students’ skills and support their further integration into society.
With a growing waiting list of persons who want to take part in their programs, the board members decided to expand their physical facilities, in order to provide the logistics for a broader range of activities. This meant launching a major building project to renovate a second building on the premises. The idea is to dedicate the first building, which has been fully renovated, to children and the second to young adults seeking vocational training, to learn skills that will allow them to find meaningful employment and thereby provide the basis for an in dependent adult life.
The renovation work has been proceeding over the past year and a half, with the help of the John Mirak Foundation, and when my husband and I were there in April, we saw that the finish line was in view. The whole structure had been refurbished, with spacious rooms and modern utilities, but what remained were the finishing touches. Inside the building the floors and walls still needed work, windows, doors and the relevant fittings.
The sum required to finance the last stretch was not astronomical, but still beyond the means of the group with its current budget. What was required was a creative approach, and “My Way” is well known for its creative spirit. Not only does it place great emphasis on creative work — painting, ceramics, handcrafts, music — in its therapeutic work, it also has artists among its founders and directors.
Lilit Soghomonyan, for example, the mother of a child with autism and a founding member, is a well known artist, married to Gagik Ghazanchyan, also an artist. Lilit’s mother and father, Nona Gabrielyan and Van Soghomonyan, are both artists, living and working in Wiesbaden, Germany. Lilit’s son, Guy, is a painter and daughter, Yeva, who has been attending art therapy classes in the center, has produced remarkable works.
Why not organize an exhibit and sell works by artists associated with “My Way” to finance the last phase of the building project? The idea arose during a visit to Yerevan by Ani Kurdian, Ani Pekkucuk and Talin Merti of Istanbul. Ani Kurdian her husband, Grikor Kurdian, are active members of the Armenian community in Istanbul, and good friends and supporters of the “My Way” center. They suggested having a fundraising exhibition in Istanbul, featuring art works of the well-known Armenian painters Lilit Sogomonyan and her husband Gagik Ghazanchayn, along with art works of Ani Pekkucuk, Talin Merti, Gulizar Artuchi, Ita Gahramani and Garin Jinjinoglu. Hayk Arslanyan, a leading member of the community who had visited the center in Yerevan, was instrumental in bringing the idea to fruition.