ACYOA Seniors and staff at the construction site

ACYOA Seniors Serve on Mission Trip in Atlanta

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NEW YORK — Members of the Armenian Church Youth Organization of America (ACYOA) Seniors from across the Eastern Diocese just returned from the third annual ACYOA Seniors Mission Trip. The ACYOA Central Council partnered with Habitat for Humanity of North Central Georgia and the Armenian Church of Atlanta mission parish in Roswell, Ga., over the weekend of February 16-19.

The Mission Trip was underwritten by a grant from the Dadourian Foundation, along with funds from the ACYOA Central Council proceeds from the 2022 Bishop’s 5K, which covered the participants’ lodging, ground transportation, meals, and donation fees to take part in a Habitat for Humanity house build.

Fr. Yeprem Kelegian and his young charges

Fifteen young adults, ranging from college students to working professionals, participated in the trip and were immersed in service, education, witness, worship and fellowship. They traveled from nine states (Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Wisconsin), representing ten parish communities of the Eastern Diocese. They were joined by group leader Rev. Yeprem Kelegian, along with Jennifer Morris of the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries and Dn. Arin Parsanian, a St. Nersess Seminarian.

The group arrived in Roswell, GA on Thursday evening and gathered together for a late night of icebreakers and deep discussion. Early Friday morning, Kelegian led the participants in prayer and reflection before the group took off for Acworth, GA, the site of the Habitat for Humanity house build. After meeting the Habitat for Humanity staff and acclimating themselves with the tasks ahead, the group got right to work — eager to lend a hand for two full work days as they diligently prepared materials and cleared the land for the build.

First time participant Karina Masoian shared, “Working with Habitat for Humanity was an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding experience. While giving community members a renewed sense of hope, our group engaged in exceptional teamwork and persevered through challenges. The workers and volunteers on the worksite enhanced our experience and showed us what true service work looks like. With their patience and passion, we not only succeeded in our altruistic work, but we also built deep relationships with one another and grew both personally and spiritually. Accompanied by faith and courage, we made so many memories and a lasting impact on one another and the individuals we served.”

After a full first day on the build site, the participants broke up into three groups and visited three homes of parishioners from the Atlanta Mission Parish. The participants entered their homes as strangers and left feeling like family, sharing life stories and spending time getting to know each other. Participants gathered back at their hotel together and participated in another late night of  engaging group discussions that provided space for the participants to be vulnerable and grow deeper in their faith and prayer life.

A young parishioner

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On Saturday their work on the Habitat for Humanity worksite was especially meaningful as participants worked alongside the future homeowner. This was Dn. Arin Parsanian’s first trip with the ACYOA, and he quickly became skilled at sawing precise measurements of lumber for the group. He commented, “Working in the cold temperatures and muddy conditions wasn’t an easy task, but seeing the homeowner’s face filled with emotion while working side-by-side with her truly warmed my heart.”

One of the participants, Emma Freeborn, reflected on her experiences by sharing, “I am very grateful to have been able to participate on this mission trip. The home visit and talking with the future homeowner were both inspiring experiences. Hearing the difficulties Sorayah has experienced caring for her mother after three strokes and recent hospitalizations, yet she still has a positive attitude and gratitude for all that God has done in her life. She explained how she found purpose in caring for her mother as her mother had once cared for her. Before this trip, we were asked to write down our favorite Bible passage. I wrote the verse from 1 Chronicles 16:34: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” These experiences show the importance and impact of gratitude for God’s blessings, that there is always something to be grateful for, and that God’s love does indeed endure forever through His blessings.”

After a full day of work, with a little rest, and an emotional closing reflection, the group got dressed up for a special Poon Paregentan dinner dance celebration with close to 100 members of the Armenian Church of Atlanta, which was the first event of its kind for the community. The parish leaders did an outstanding job providing an enjoyable evening with great food  and music that was truly appreciated by our young adults.

ACYOA Central Council Treasurer Michael Sarafian celebrated his birthday the evening of the dance and shared, “As I celebrated my 28th birthday, I had an overwhelming feeling of being incredibly blessed to have attended so many ACYOA events over the last decade that have afforded me the opportunity to meet fellow Armenian Christians that have become lifelong friends.”

All dressed up for the dance

The trip concluded on Sunday as the group participated in the Divine Liturgy, celebrated by Fr. Yeprem Kelegian alongside Dn. Arin Parsanian, Dn. Johnny Chadoyan, and Sdn. Jonah Doudoukjian, along with Kareen Kaltakdjian singing in the choir. After Liturgy, Kelegian shared, “This four-day Mission Trip defined what Church is: People coming together to serve others as Christ would, be a people close to each other, and to love God. This was a remarkable group because of their deep desire to serve others; they were spectacularly effective in their work with Habitat and the homeowner, visits to the Atlanta parishioners, and reaching out to all they met. I was blessed to be with this group of young adults. As they lovingly related to each other and as they enthusiastically did their work of service, I saw the light of Christ through them.”

After a closing fellowship meal and parting conversations with members of the parish community, the group said their tearful goodbyes until the next time they are able to be together again at future national and regional ACYOA programs and ministries. Before leaving, three-time Mission Trip participant, Taline Masoian reflected on the weekend by saying, “ A group of young adults from all different walks of life together with one intention – to serve. Through that we strengthened our faith and gained lifelong friendships.”

 

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