DETROIT — After the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted Armenian community activity, it was unclear whether the viability of small organizations like the AGBU YPs of Detroit would be affected. So, when the group held a practically last-minute picnic on September 12, committee members were surprised to find that 16 people showed up, when they were expecting 4 or 5.
The rationale for this occurrence seems to be that local Armenians were starved for social interaction outside of their immediate families due to the massive quarantine. And since all Armenian community activity had stopped, the Detroit Metro residents were in search of the old connectedness.
The chair of the current committee, Naera Haghnazarian, is an engineer for DTE (the electric and gas utilities firm formerly known as Detroit Edison) and is a native of Iran. Other members of the YP executive board are Chris Banerian, Lisa Aglamishian Ghoukasian, Garooneh Haghnazarian, and Harry Kezelian. The picnic was organized by Kezelian with the help of group members Erika Palaian and Brent Palaian, who served as “grillmaster,” as well as the other board members.
The committee was heartened by the fact that not only did their traditional constituency participate in the event, but new members also appeared, several of whom are students at Wayne State University Medical School and are originally from Los Angeles. Due to the economic downturn after the recession of 2008, newcomers have become scarce in Michigan and the Detroit Metro area, one of the areas hardest hit. But the auto industry and world-class educational institutions such as the University of Michigan and Wayne State Medical School continue to be a draw, and Armenians from large communities such as LA and the East Coast are often drawn to the fact that the Detroit area has a large Armenian presence, certainly compared with practically any other place in the “heartland” where one might go for college. The increasingly “hip” reputation of downtown Detroit doesn’t hurt either.
Several of the newcomers expressed interest in becoming more involved in planning activities, and the old guard has been enthused by this influx. The YP group was formed primarily to cater to the community needs of Armenians in their late 20s, 30s, and beyond who were searching for a way to get involved. Although the traditional youth groups ACYOA, AYF, and Homenetmen remain strong in the Detroit area, these cater to Armenians in their late teens and early 20s. The AGBU YP group fills a gap and tries to play a nonpartisan and nonsectarian role. With the lack of community involvement during Covid and the arrival of newcomers who are not tied to, or are too old for, the traditional institutions, the group feels it has a renewed purpose and mission to bring together the Armenian young professionals of the area in community involvement and giving back.