The Pavilion at the Ararat Center in Greenville, NY, where St. Vartan Camp takes place

An Old Friend Is Back as St. Vartan Camp Director

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By Taylor Manookian Gregory

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Mid-June through early August is the favorite time of year for many Armenian children who attend any of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America summer camps. One of these popular sleepaway camps is St. Vartan Camp, at the Diocese Ararat Center, in Greenville, NY, and the 2023 summer session just finished on August 5.

This year marks the second time that the camp is back in person after the COVID lockdown of 2020. St. Vartan Camp has welcomed a new director: Arpi Kouzouian, known as Yeretzgin by all the campers since she is the wife of Rev. Vasken Kouzouian. However, Kouzouian technically isn’t a new director since she is only returning to the role after an 18-year absence.

“My first year at St. Vartan Camp in 1995 was the camp’s last year at the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Conn.,” Kouzouian said. “I started off as a counselor that first year, and then quickly expanded my role to eventually become Director of Programming by our second year at the Marvelwood School in Kent, Conn.”

The Primate meets with the campers and the new director, Arpi Kouzouian, at left.

By 1999, she and Rev. Vasken were working for the Diocese as Directors of the Department of Youth Ministry and ran St. Vartan in the summers. In 2000, they were able to get the camp program expanded in order to accommodate double the number of campers by offering a second session. Finally, in 2004, they were able to move St. Vartan to its permanent base in Greenville and expand the camp to three sessions by 2005. This three-session structure is still in place to this day.

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“This summer we have grown our program from last year, welcoming over 220 campers and Counselors in Training (CITs) and more than four dozen staff and volunteers,” Kouzouian detailed. These campers range from ages eight to 15, and CITs are 16 and 17. At camp, kids are offered the opportunity to learn about themselves and about their Armenian heritage through daily lessons, messages, activities, music, Armenian language, and other experiences such as sports and weekly dances. Kouzouian cites these camp activities as experiences that “are all designed to help foster each participant to develop a deeper understanding and pride in who we are as Armenian Christians.”

“Honestly, I was nervous about returning as director after an 18-year absence, but I have found that it’s somewhat like riding a bike,” Kouzouian said. As all St. Vartan campers know, this camp is very rich in tradition, and Kouzouian says these traditions permeate the entire camp spirit. She intends to continue their legacies. “My goal this summer is not to change anything but to enhance the program by preserving our favorite traditions, but also creating new ones.” However, that does not mean there have been no differences made to camp under the new director. “One big change we made this year was using online staff training modules to enhance staff development,” Kouzouian described.

Campers participate in the Armenian holiday Vardavar, celebrated by splashing others with water.

“St. Vartan Camp has always had a special place in the heart of our family,” Kouzouian said. “Our daughter started coming to camp when she was only a few months old and grew up at the camp, returning this year as program director.”

When she heard the news that the Diocese was struggling to find someone to lead this summer’s program, she “felt that God was calling me back home to help raise another generation of children at St. Vartan Camp.” And that she did — from her experience directing the camp almost 20 years ago, Kouzouian has met many different campers, CITs, and staff that still remain close to her camp family. Now she is meeting many of their children years later at this summer’s session.

Ararat Center Beckons

The Ararat Center Board, directed by Chairman of the Ararat Center Board Aram Hintlian, is responsible for the upkeep and financial stability of the facility of the Ararat Center in Greenville, where the camp is located.

He said of the camp: “It’s a great experience for the kids; they meet lifelong friends from all over, not just from their own parish, but kids from all over the Diocese.”

Hintlian has been the board director for the last four years, and has been on the board since around 2012. The Ararat Center Board also helps the facility’s revenue during the year while camp is not in session, such as renting it out to tenants like Armenian hiking groups, locals, or people who want to use the facility for events such as clergy retreats. They work closely with St. Vartan Camp to provide what the camp needs, such as installing air conditioners in the Rec Hall, implementing new basketball courts, and repaving the driveways and walkways when needed. They also provide general maintenance upkeep such as mowing and building repairs.

To help the revenue of the camp, the Ararat Center Board has been looking to find more renters during the “shoulder seasons” of camp, April through early June and late August through October. Currently, the Ararat Center is closed during the winter, its last day being October 31.

The Primate visits St. Vartan Camp, July 15-16, 2023.

Their next project after this current camp session is to winterize the rest of the buildings. Only the main house is winterized at the moment. Having the whole facility winterized would be a good idea, as Hintlian describes, “There’s a lot of skiing that’s relatively close enough and there’s people that go up there and rent places for the winters.”

“One of my favorite things about camp is that it allows kids to be kids,” Kouzouian says. “Our campers’ days are full of opportunities to learn, play, grow, make friends, and interact with others in a Christian manner.” St. Vartan Camp allows kids to grow and be a part of the Armenian Christian family, follow the role modeling examples of the CITs and counselors, and “to exhibit God’s love towards one another at all times.”

“Camp is a great experience for the kids,” Hintlian concurred. “It would make a great gift for grandparents to give their kids for Christmas!” We hope the camp program continues to grow and expand in the coming summers, providing more memories and lifelong friendships to Armenian youths all across the country.

To learn more about the camp, visit https://diocesansummercamps.org/stvartancamp/.

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