Salt & Light Youth Group
Salt & Light Youth Group and the AYF New York Hyortik Junior chapter held a joint MidWinter Sleepover event last weekend at St. Sarkis Church. Being that it was the first time an event like this has been held at St Sarkis Church, there was a lot of interest and over 50 youth registered and attended the sleepover. The agenda for the weekend was put together by Der Nareg, Yeretsgin Annie, and leaders from both AYF and Salt & Light Youth Group. Everyone worked diligently together to provide our kids with a balance of both religious and cultural education, as well as time for singing, dancing,laughing and wonderful homemade meals throughout the weekend.
With over 50 kids attending, along with the 15 adults that were supervising, it is easy to say that halls of St. Sarkis were filled with joy, laughter and a lot of noise last Friday and Saturday. But there was much more than that present … There was a sea of red, blue and orange everywhere you turned, the colors of our Armenian flag present in banners, lanterns and even the shirts that were worn by the adult supervisors. There was the beautiful voices of our kids singing patriotic songs being taught by our group leaders, followed by their voices learning prayers from Saint Nerses Shnorhali at a late night service that Der Nareg held especially for them in church Friday evening before lights out. There was the sound of our kids calling out ancient Armenian city names as they called their groups to come together, groups that were named after cities in Cilicia; “Marash”, “Zeytun”, “Sis” and “Adana”. We heard their little voices moaning and groaning as they woke up to the sounds of Armenian music blasting from the speakers, only to be followed not much later by them asking for us to blast Armenian music so that they could dance Shoorch Bar and Tamzara. There was also the wonderful smells of homemade food, made lovingly by our group leaders, community members and parents… pancakes, eggs, waffles and traditional mamounieh for breakfast; delicious chicken kebab, salad and pilaf for lunch. There were squeals of laughter, friendly horseplay, giggles and hugs all throughout the hallways as the kids and adults bonded together during this time spent at our “MidWinter Sleepover”.
The sights, sounds and smells of the weekend were not all that was present during this amazing event. The youth were also provided with a well orchestrated series of presentations and lectures, starting with a heartfelt introduction Friday evening by Der Nareg about “Identity and Purpose”. Through his creative storytelling, Der Nareg reminded the kids about their deep rooted Armenian heritage, and the importance of their role in carrying their culture, language and religion through to future generations. We were also fortunate to have members from the church and AYF community volunteer their time to come speak to the kids about various topics. Mr. Mardig Cholakian introduced a ingenious app called VLUME, which offers a huge selection of Armenian books converted to audio books for anyone that wants to listen to and/or read along to them in Armenian. Yeretsgin Maggie Kouyoumdjian spoke to the group on the topic of “Do No Harm”, which taught the kids the basics of being kind, respecting others, and avoiding gossip. Unger Pete Jelalian and Ungerouhi Meghri DerVartanian from the AYF community came and spoke to the kids about Camp Haiastan and AYF Junior Seminar. They had wonderful videos to show, during which many kids in the audience were excited to see familiar faces and asked lots of questions about camp experiences.
To make the weekend even more memorable, the kids were blessed by a surprise visit from His Emminence, Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian on Saturday morning. Our Prelate spoke to the kids about the meaning of the St. Sarkis name day and the Armenian traditions around honoring our Saints with name day celebrations. He also encouraged the kids to ask him any questions they may have about the church, or his role in leading our church, which led to an interactive question and answer session. It was an unexpected visit that added a wonderful element of depth to our entire weekend.
When the time came for the weekend to come to an end, judging by the smiling faces,tired eyes and heartfelt hugs among kids and adults alike, I think it is safe to say that our Salt & Light and AYF leaders had fulfilled their goals of providing the youth with a healthy dose of culture, religion, identity and purpose. We look forward to providing more of these events in the future.