Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief to Celebrate its Fifth Anniversary in October


The Yacoubian Family, from left, Sophie (2), Erica, George and Liliana

PHILADELPHIA — The Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief (SOAR) will celebrate its fifth anniversary in grand style on Saturday, October 16, at the Sheraton University Hotel from 6 to 11 p.m. The event will include dinner and silent and Chinese auctions featuring handcrafted items from the orphanages in Armenia, art, jewelry, books, gift certificates, sports memorabilia and much more. Master of ceremonies will be attorney Mark Geragos and music will be provided by DJ Nick Terkanian and Alan Semerdjian. The cost is $65 per person.

SOAR was founded by George and Erica Yacoubian in May 2006, shortly after they adopted their older daughter, Liliana, from Armenia. SOAR is the only non-profit organization that focuses exclusively on providing humanitarian relief to orphaned children living in Armenia. Working with a loyal donor base and a trusted network of partners, SOAR’s mission is to distribute food, clothing, medicine, toys, educational supplies and other essential goods and services to orphanages throughout Armenia.

There are two types of orphaned children in Armenia. Natural orphans are those children without a mother and father. Social orphans are those children who have at least one living parent, but whose parent(s) is/are unable or unwilling to care for them. Unfortunately, most state institutions and orphanages are underfunded, poorly managed, in disrepair, and understaffed. Although the children receive basic material, educational and nutritional support, which they might not otherwise receive at home, most institutions do very little to care for the emotional, spiritual and psychological well-being of the children. As a result, many of these orphans and institutionalized children in Armenia are at very high risk of succumbing to abuse, human trafficking, prostitution or conflict with the law.

There are 15 orphanages in Armenia, all of which receive assistance from SOAR: Children’s Home of Gumri (105 mentally and physically handicapped children 6 years old and younger); Gavar, near Lake Sevan (115 healthy children between the ages of 3 and 18); Hadug Tibi, in Yerevan (83 healthy children between 7 months and 8 years old); Kharberd, in the Ararat region (240 mentally and physically disabled children between the ages of 6 and 18); Nork, in Yerevan (80 healthy children six years old and younger); Nubarashen, a state-funded boarding school in Yerevan (105 mentally and physically handicapped children between 7 and 18); Fridtjof Nansen (formerly Houys) in Gumri (80 healthy children between 4 and 18); Sisters of Charity- Bethlehem in Yerevan (15 mentally and physically disabled babies and young children, all of which were abandoned at local hospitals); Sisters of Charity-Spitak Orphanage (33 mentally and physically handicapped children); SOS Children’s Village in Abovyan (80 healthy children between the ages of 9 months and 15 years old); Trchoonian Home in Gurmi (60 intellectually-gifted children between the ages of 3 and 12); Vanadzor (110 healthy children 18 and under); Vardashen, a state boarding school in Yerevan (83 healthy children who “exhibit socially dangerous behavior” between the ages of 6 and 18); Zadik, in Yerevan (138 healthy children between the ages of 6 and 18) and Our Lady of Armenia Center in Gumri (60-65 healthy children between the ages of 6 and 18).

Of the 15 orphanages, three are run by non-Armenian organizations.

The Sisters of Charity orphanages in Yerevan and Spitak are run by a Catholic religious order established in 1950 by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Mother Teresa to tend to “the poorest of the poor.” The order currently consists of more than 4,500 nuns who are active in 133 countries.

The SOS Children’s Village is an international organization which provides new homes for children who have either lost their parents or who, for other reasons, can no longer live with them. The children live in small groups (between six and nine) and one SOS staff member, known as the SOS mother. Each “family” has its own house on the premises of the Children’s Village in Abovyan, located in central Armenia. When the children turn 15, they move to one of three SOS centers in Yerevan, where they remain until age 20.

SOAR also supports an annual summer camp in Tsaghkadzor, in the mountains of northeast Armenia, which is run by Our Lady of Armenia Center. The camp accommodates more than 800- 1,000 children each year, over four, three-week sessions (approximately 200-250 children per session). During the past 12 years, the camp has provided a warm and caring learning environment for more than 8,000 orphans, institutionalized children, and children from very poor families. The overall goal of the camp is to strengthen the spiritual, physical and emotional well-being of very disadvantaged children between the ages of 8 and 15. The camp also aims to lessen the immediate and long-term impact of poverty in the children’s lives through a wide range of athletic, cultural, spiritual, and social activities. Over the past two years, SOAR has provided the camp with a significant amount of summer camp supplies.

Distribution and Quality Control

SOAR works with non-profit corporations to provide donations of specific goods and receives new and used goods from donors, which are then shipped to Armenia and distributed by their network of partners. Cash donations from individual donors and foundations also assist with the procurement of goods and services. Most goods and services are purchased within the country, serving a dual role of providing the necessary assistance while stimulating Armenia’s economy. SOAR imposes a strict quality control protocol. Cash donations are not directly made to the orphanages. All goods/services are distributed by its network of partners. A strict chain of custody procedure follows to ensure that the goods/services have been received in the intended quantities and SOAR’s network of partners makes random checks to the orphanages. When possible, all goods donated by SOAR are engraved and/or stamped with a corporate seal, a type of identification particularly feasible for non-perishable items and equipment.

Affiliate Chapters, Grants Received and Major Projects Funded

Since its inception, SOAR has launched chapters in Chicago, Los Angeles, New England, New York/New Jersey, Northern California, Washington, DC, and Yerevan and has received more than $32,000 in grants from The Jerrehian Foundation, the Knights of Vartan Charitable and Educational Fund, the Linda A. Armstrong Foundation, the Yahoo Employee Foundation, and Hasbro Community Relations Toy Donation. SOAR has funded over $105,000 in major capital projects including the installation of a ventilation system in Children’s Home in Gumri; bathroom renovations, a new heater and a supply of mattresses for Gavar; bathroom, dining hall and other renovations for Kharberd; the installation of a gas heating system for Houys and kitchen renovations for the Our Lady of Armenia Center. In addition, the organization has distributed more than $360,000 to the orphanages in goods and services including diapers, toys, clothes and school supplies.

There are many ways in which SOAR could use your assistance including sponsoring a child through their Sponsor a Child Program (a monthly sponsorship program); the Balik-Jan project (become a volunteer and crochet/knit hand-made clothes for the children); goods for specific orphanages; cash donations (which are tax-deductible) and their special gifts program(such as charitable trusts and endowments). Visit their website at www.soarus.org for more details.

SOAR is looking for individuals and businesses to serve as patrons and sponsors. To take part in the sponsorship program, email Asadur Minasian at [email protected] For more information on SOAR or the October 16 reception, contact SOAR President George S. Yacoubian Jr., at [email protected]