By Taleen Babayan

The significance and value of education was championed among dedicated philanthropists in the picturesque setting of the Mr. C Beverly Hills on Sunday, May 19, 2019, during the Donors’ Appreciation Dinner for the Archbishop Hovnan Derderian Scholarship Fund.

The backbone of every nation, education has been key in not only the survival, but the growth and cultivation of Armenia, a country that has weathered many storms yet emerged with strength and prowess. The emphasis placed on education throughout its history has allowed for the social and economic development of its citizens in the homeland and the Diaspora, creating a symbiotic relationship necessary for the endurance of its people.

This unyielding belief in education as a major force in the security of a nation was the impetus for the establishment of the Archbishop Derderian Scholarship Fund, founded in 2012 with the mission to provide Armenian students in the Diaspora with financial aid in order to attend Armenian schools. To date, over $200,000 has been donated to needy families both within the United States and abroad. The Donors’ Appreciation Dinner, in a buoyant and jovial atmosphere, provided the platform to thank donors for their contributions and to outline future plans, ensuring that the advancement of the Scholarship Fund reaches new heights.

“We believe that not one child should be left behind,” said Alice Chakrian, Chairlady of the Archbishop Derderian Scholarship Fund. “Because of all of you, our dream became a reality and we have changed lives, realized hope and answered the prayers of parents.”

Looking towards the future, Chakrian announced that $100,000 was raised that evening, which will help strengthen the endowment fund, allowing the scholarships to become more sustainable and increase the number of students who can benefit from this initiative. As a special thank you to its contributors, a donor wall will be erected at the Western Diocese, listing the names of supporters, in honor of the upcoming 10th anniversary celebration.

“Please continue believing in our mission and supporting us so we can realize our promise to the Armenian schools,” said Chakrian. She recognized the Fund’s faithful board members and welcomed new individuals who have come on board to assist in fundraising. Chakrian thanked Archbishop Derderian for his yearly contributions as well as for his ongoing encouragement and support.

“You lead by example and you work harder than anyone we know,” she said. “You have exceptional love for children and the elderly and you work nonstop to make your vision a reality.”

She referred to Archbishop Derderian as an “exemplary spiritual leader” and expressed gratitude to him for “changing our lives.”

“Everyone sees the hard work you put forth for the betterment of our lives,” she said. “We are all doing God’s mission by answering the prayers of parents.”

Following the invocation by Rev. Fr. Khajag Shahbazian, parish priest of St. Leon Cathedral and an entertainment segment by George Ghougasian, Vice Chairlady Eileen Keusseyan, Esq., thanked the donors for their contributions and expressed her appreciation for their dedication to provide aid to “deserving and needy children to keep them in Armenian schools.”

“I’m a product of an Armenian School and you just can’t beat it,” she said.

Highlighting the transparency and accountability that takes precedence within the Archbishop Derderian Scholarship Fund, Saro Kotoyan, board member of the AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian Armenian School Finance Committee, reiterated Archbishop Derderian’s “vision and mission that no Armenian school student should be left behind due to financial restraint.”

“Their vision became a reality thanks to all of you,” he said, elaborating on the fair and transparent approach to managing and disbursing funds. In total, AGBU-MDS has received $68,000, providing “much-needed financial assistance to 25 families so their children can continue to attend an Armenian school.”

Diran Avagyan, Project Manager at the Western Diocese, said it was “an honor” to serve on the board with “talented and dedicated individuals.”

“This Fund has made a tremendous philanthropic impact on our community,” he said. “It has enabled young people to achieve their dreams and we look forward to expanding exponentially.”

He noted the collaboration with the Glendale Unified School District Flag Dual Immersion Program, where students who don’t have the opportunity to attend a private Armenian school, can earn a strong bilingual education. The Scholarship Fund also broadened its horizons by becoming a Pillar of the American University of Armenia, donating $50,000 to defray tuition costs for students currently studying in the homeland.

“Thanks to Archbishop Derderian’s capable leadership, we have reached our goals and have huge potential for growth,” he said. “We pledge that we will always pursue our objectives and we will continue the good work of God.”

In his remarks, Archbishop Derderian traced the short history of the Scholarship Fund that provided a swift and powerful effect on the community.

“Vision has been our motivating strength,” he said. “We should put our faith and trust in this most important mission for our children who strive for an Armenian education.”

He spoke of the ancestral legacy of education and how it is a “moral duty” to collectively fortify the Scholarship Fund. In the spirit of altruism, Archbishop Derderian doubled his pledge for the upcoming school year, from $5,000 to $10,000. He encouraged those present to invite friends who seek to support a noble cause with the intention of living a “meaningful and sacrificial life.”

“We can and we should commit our lives to our churches and our schools as they are one entity that cannot be separated,” he said. “Because of your active participation, we have progressed and advanced and we will continue to do so.”

Over the course of seven years, 11 schools and a legion of students have been the recipients of the Archbishop Derderian Scholarship Fund. Through the distribution of scholarships, the notion of Christianity and the development of leadership is reinforced in each of the students.

“Enriching a mind is a wonderful mission and this investment often exceeds our expectations,” said Michael Pratt, Head of School of the AGBU Vatche and Tamar Manoukian School in Pasadena, California, that has received a total of $51,000 from the Archbishop Derderian Scholarship Fund. “The grants have served our most worthy need-based students, making their collegiate ambitions a reality.”

Donor Heidi Kavoukjian saw first-hand the positive impact of scholarships when a family friend passed away, leaving the future of her daughter, who was enrolled in an Armenian school, uncertain.

“Thanks to the financial assistance she received through scholarships, she was able to remain as a student in her Armenian school and excel academically and professionally,” said Kavoukjian. Inspired by the beneficial outcome, Kavoukjian’s brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Karo and Sirvart Kavoukjian, decided to establish the Harutun Kavoukjian Memorial Scholarship Fund to help other students whose families may find themselves in financial predicaments.

“I have witnessed what scholarships can do for a child who wants to study in an Armenian school and I fully support it,” she said.

Organizations have also come on board to back this endeavor, including the AGBU Asbeds, who put education at the forefront of their agenda.

“AGBU has always believed in education so the Archbishop Derderian Scholarship Fund is a very important cause that ensures the future of our young people,” said Chairman Harry Sinanian. “The Committee has done a tremendous job of promoting our youth’s education and giving them the chance to keep their culture and heritage alive.”

Impressed with Archbishop Derderian’s far-reaching influence and devotion to the Armenian people in many different realms, donors Dr. and Mrs. Gabriel and Nirva Aslanian were among the first to contribute to the Scholarship Fund.

“We have great respect for Hovnan Srpazan and we have seen him help our community prosper,” said Nirva Aslanian, who stressed the selfless and hard work of the Committee. “The Scholarship Fund is a good cause that we are happy to support since it gives students the chance to receive an education in a private Armenian school and provide a solid foundation for their futures.”

Current main recipients of the Archbishop Hovnan Derderian Scholarship Fund include: AGBU Manoogian-Demirdjian School (Canoga Park, CA); AGBU Vatche & Tamar Manookian High School (Pasadena, CA); St. Gregory A. & M. Hovsepian School (Pasadena, CA); the C&E Merdinian Armenian Evangelical School (Sherman Oaks, CA); the Armenian Sisters Academy (La Crescenta, CA); and the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America Saturday Schools (Burbank, CA).

Under the auspices of the Primate Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, members of the Scholarship Fund Committee include: Rev. Fr. Khajag Shahbazian; Alice Chakrian chairlady; Diran Avagyan, Diocesan Advisor; Eileen Keusseyan, Esq. Vice Chairlady; Ann Anahid Andreassian, Endowment Funds Manager; Armine Bedrossian, Funds Manager; Roy Boulghourjian, Senior Advisor; Angie Garibyan, Advisor; Vicki Grigorian, Advisor; Peggy Kankababian, Media Relations; Silva Katchiguian, Advisor; Angela Parseghian, Secretary; Silva Sepetjian, Advisor; Maggie Sumian, Recording Secretary; Silvana Vartanian, Treasurer; Leadership Council, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Dr. Ellie Andreassian, Alice Chakrian, Hagop Hagopian.

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