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Ecumenical Work Week, New Orleans, LA

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From August 2 to 8, ACYOA and the Diocesan College Ministry Department co-sponsored an
all-expenses-paid Ecumenical Work Week in New Orleans, La., to help rebuild homes devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

A total of 12 Armenian young adults, ages 18 to 24, took part in the program, spending a week painting and performing exterior repairs to two homes in New Orleans. The trip was led by the Diocese’s College Ministry Facilitator Julie Hoplamazian.

The group was also visited by the Rev. Fr. Nersess Jebejian – a member of the Special Commission for the Just Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, which organized the work week – and Vasken Kaltakjian, parish council chair of St. Garabed Armenian Church in Baton Rouge, La. Participants engaged in prayer, explored New Orleans, and shared fellowship with other Christians.

Erika Belezarian, a college student from St. Mark Armenian Church in Springfield, Mass., and a member of her local ACYOA executive board, participated in the effort. Below is her reflection of the weeklong project.

The New Orleans work week is the latest in a series of “alternative” programs meant to give an outlet for Armenian youth to perform hands-on ministry, and to contribute to the community at large. Each year, the Diocesan College Ministry program sponsors three “Alternative Spring Break” trips in the month of March, during which students work with Habitat for Humanity and are hosted by a local Armenian church.

Also in 2010, College Ministry and ACYOA will team up to sponsor the third annual “4 Days 4 Life” program for the week following Sports Weekend in Watertown, Mass. In addition, plans are underway for another Ecumenical Work Week in New Orleans, from August 1 to 7, 2010. For details, contact Julie Hoplamazian at


The Alternative Summer Vacation
by Erika Belezarian

Mardi Gras. Crawfish. Bourbon Street. The birth of Jazz.

Devastation and destruction. A city in shambles.

Four years after the wrath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, New Orleans is still in the process of recovering. I, along with eleven other Armenian youths from across the country, was able to witness first-hand one of the most widespread devastations in the history of the United States, and lend my own hand to the effort to repair the city.

Traveling from all parts of the country—Texas, Michigan, Maryland, South Carolina, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts—many of us had never met before. One week in the hot New Orleans sun was all we spent, and although painting a house seemed like a menial task, when the project was realized, we saw what a big impact we had made on others’ lives.

From the very first night we were together, many of us stayed up late getting to know one another despite the fact that we had to be up at 6:30 a.m. for breakfast. Within hours, it was as if we had all known each other for years. We became like a family.

The next day, the group was split into two smaller groups to work on separate houses. The house my group worked on is owned by Roosevelt Emery, a disabled survivor of the hurricane who had fled to his children’s home in St. Francis when Katrina hit. With him lives Alyce, a survivor of domestic violence, who was homeless near the time of the storm. Roosevelt met Alyce at church one Sunday and the two have shared the house since. Roosevelt and Alyce spoke to us about their experiences of surviving the hurricane, telling stories about neighbors who refused to leave their lives’ work and their homes behind.

In addition to painting homes, we participated in fellowship and worship with the group from the Presbytery of South Florida—which was staying at the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Volunteer Village Olive Tree—as well as with groups staying at Camp Restore, another facility a couple blocks away. We also took part in Bible studies, conducted by our group leader Julie Hoplamazian

One evening we attended an ecumenical service, where our group sang the “Hayr Mer,” and a couple of our participants contributed Bible readings. Attending the ecumenical service was a unique opportunity to see how other faiths celebrate Christ.

At the end of the week, we witnessed a house dedication—a ceremony in which the house keys and gifts are presented to the owner of a house that has been rebuilt.

Throughout the week, we were able to experience the nightlife and culture of New Orleans. We also had the opportunity to enjoy some local fare, including crawfish and beignets.

Overall, the program was great and I highly recommend it. It was a fantastic trip and an experience I’ll never forget.