Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief Celebrates Its Fifth Anniversary


George and Liliana Yacoubian

By Lisa Manookian and Sonia Kailian Placido

PHILADELPHIA — The Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief (SOAR) celebrated the fifth anniversary of its founding on Saturday, October 16, at the Sheraton University Hotel. The event included dinner, silent and Chinese auctions and dancing.

The evening began with the cocktail hour, as musician and poet Alan Semerdjian performed, giving guests the opportunity to mingle and browse the auction items. A buffet dinner followed.

Much of the artwork on display in the auction was from Armenian artists, some of whom grew up orphans.

For example, on display were T-shirts for adults and children and a table of silk scarves and handmade bags by Ani Kosyan, a student at the Art Department of Yerevan’s Pedagogical Institute who had lived in the Zatik orphanage between the ages of 9 and 18. Kosyan earns her income creating handmade cards and designing batik scarves. She promotes her work at the Teryan Cultural Centre and the Vernissage open-air flea market.

After dessert, SOAR National President George Yacoubian Jr. gave a short presentation to the more than 150 attendees about SOAR’s operations in Armenia and its accomplishments over the past five years. Yacoubian acknowledged his board for their work throughout the year: the chapters for their superb efforts across the country; its Board of Trustees, based in Philadelphia, for overseeing its fiscal operations; its partners in Armenia, who serve as liaisons to the orphanages and oversee all operations in Armenia via a strict protocol and finally to the guests in attendance for their consistent and continued network of support which has, in turn, increased SOAR’s support to Armenia. The organization, which began in 2006 with a national board, now has seven chapters throughout the country and Yerevan, raising and distributing over $100,000 yearly, directly benefiting the 15 orphanages they serve in Armenia.

National board members keep in regular contact with the local affiliate chapters throughout the country and Yerevan and evaluate the needs of each of the orphanages, trying to meet those needs on at least a quarterly basis. Yacoubian stated that the assistance is most appreciated by orphanages, which are government-sponsored, as they are the ones, which tend to be more in need. Last year, more than $111,000 in goods and services were distributed. Financial donations are most helpful in that they provide SOAR with the flexibility to give to each of the orphanages based on their individual needs.

Yacoubian spoke about several projects, highlighting one in particular, SOAR’s Child Sponsorship Program, which is distinguished from others in that every penny donated by a sponsor is specifically earmarked for the child — not for administrative costs or for the orphanage’s needs. Such expenses include the child’s education, medical and dental expenses and training if a child has a talent or musical ability. This project is under the direct supervision of one of SOAR’s partners in Armenia and no funds are distributed on behalf of the child unless SOAR’s national board approves the expense. Currently, there are 34 orphans sponsored through the program, exceeding the goal for the project’s inaugural year.

Yacoubian acknowledged the United Armenian Fund for providing bi-annual airlifts of donated goods to Armenia at no charge to SOAR, as well as to Adrineh and Vaughan Hoplamazian, for assisting with delivering goods to New York by providing vans to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. Yacoubian also thanked Vicken Kazanjian (video and photography), Nick Terkanian (DJ) and Semerdjian for donating their services for the evening with special thanks to Ken Kapikian of the Sheraton University City Hotel.

Yacoubian then introduced the evening’s guest of honor, noted Los Angeles attorney Mark Geragos to say a few words. Geragos began by mentioning the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR), volunteers for which were in the back of the room swabbing potential bone marrow donors in hopes of finding a match for Charlotte Conybear, a 4-year-old Philadelphia girl suffering from Aplastic Anemia. Geragos is the chairman of the ABMDR, and he recounted how he got involved more than a decade ago in the search for a donor for Alique Topalian, a child from Cleveland, diagnosed with leukemia. At that time, there was no ability to get her into a bone marrow registry and after careful research, it was discovered that Armenians have the same six DNA markers.

He spoke of the Armenia Fund and its ecumenical virtues, emphasizing that regardless of political affiliations, the community must always come together as one in dealing with Armenian issues and stop distinguishing ourselves based on where we are born or live. He stated that this year was the 20th Anniversary of the liberation of Nagorno- Karabagh and that the Armenian-American community needed to be resolute in its determinations to ensure that Karabagh remains independent. “We are sitting on the border of Iran as the original Christian nation, in a sea of militant Islamic countries,” he said. In concluding his remarks, Geragos said that the greatest accomplishment for SOAR is to ensure that it runs itself out of existence so that all Armenian children are welcomed into families and are no longer orphans.

Terkanian then got the crowd dancing to Armenian favorites. The evening netted $10,000 for Armenia’s orphaned children.

SOAR was founded by George and Erica Yacoubian in May 2006, shortly after they adopted their older daughter, Liliana, from Armenia. It is the only non-profit organization that focuses exclusively on providing humanitarian relief to orphaned children in Armenia. Working with a donor base and a 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. For more information, visit SOAR’s website at http://www.soar-us.org.