Bike-a-thon Raises Money For Children In Armenia


Douglas Boyajian and daughter Isabella after the bike ride

By Nancy Kalajian
Special to the Mirror-Spectator

QUINCY, Mass. — On Memorial Day weekend, Isabella Boyajian, 3, sat in a borrowed trailer attached to her dad’s bike and rode from Cambridge to Lexington on the Minuteman Bike Path, all to benefit her peers in Armenia. Joining them were a dozen other bikers, many of whom have made repeated annual rides to support the Nish Boyajian Memorial Foundation whose mission is to help the children of Armenia.

The Bike-a-thon was started by Richard Boyajian of Quincy, a retired barber, nine years ago in memory of his brother, Nish, who died about 16 years ago from cancer. Since 2000, Boyajian has raised money for playgrounds and other school-related projects in Armenia, with a focus on rural schools.

After the Bike-a-thon, bikers and other supporters attended a traditional Armenian BBQ held at the home of Richard Boyajian near Wollaston Beach. About 100 people stopped by throughout the afternoon to enjoy the BBQ and support the cause. “It’s a great community activity and a great cause,” said Houry Youssoufian, a guest who has long supported the group’s mission. So far, more than $5,000 has been raised after this year’s bike-a thon.

“I ride every year and usually get my friends to join me. It’s a very reasonable bike ride. My uncle’s been doing it for years. Some of my cousins race to support my uncle and what he believes in,” shared Melissa Boyajian, hailing from the Lowell area. “I’ve been to Armenia three times; two times was with my uncle so I’ve helped him with this project as videographer (documenting the) before and after, and made a promotional video for the Foundation. The foundation is getting bigger and bigger every year. They really needed the help, with bad plumbing and terrible classroom facilities.”

During the BBQ, Douglas Boyajian, Richard’s nephew, said this was his young daughter’s second race, the first being when she was 6 months old. This time “she wanted to ride her own bike” to help. “This is something we look forward to every Memorial Day Weekend,” he said. “We don’t have enough exposure to the Armenian culture, music and food so this event gives us that opportunity.”

Of course, no traditional Armenian BBQ would be complete without some good old-fashioned Armenian music and many talented musicians donated their talents to the delight of the audience including Garo Papazian, Harrry Papazian, Mal Barsamian, John Berberian, Hagop Garabedian, Joe Kouyoumjian, Mike Gregian, Costa Maniatakos, Richard Boyajian and Gregory Smyrlian. Some other musicians and guests couldn’t resist, and grabbing a spare dumbeg, tambourine or oud, joined in on the musical fun. Others danced Armenian style, encouraging other guests to join their snakelike line.

And it wasn’t just Armenians enjoying the BBQ. Majid Bensellam, originally from Morocco but now residing in Boston, has been a friend of Richard Boyajian for 16 years. “I am sympathetic to this cause. It was a pleasure to do the bike ride early in the morning,” declared Bensellam.

Echoing the sentiment was Nancy St. John of Cohasset. “We think what he is doing is great and we like to support it.” She heard about the benefit event through her husband, who makes flags, including ones representing Armenia.

Boyajian thinks of every little detail in planning for the annual event. Indeed, he even goes to a local farm in the western suburbs to procure meat so that’s it’s freshly killed “like you’d find in Armenia,” he says. Boyajian not only prepares his home and outside yard for the days leading up to the event, but procures and cooks much of the food served at the post-ride BBQ. Twenty-four hours before the event finds Boyajian with a volunteer team making dozens of yalanchi. Then there is a huge salad to put together as well. The next day, the finished products are brought outside and laid out on a long table next to the hugest, deepest platter of hummus that I’ve ever seen. And of course, no Armenian meal would be complete without pilaf. One really busy place is the BBQ pit where chefs Ara Ghazarian and Ben Der Torosian are constantly moving, flipping and turning the meat, serving an admiring crowd.

Boyajian has tackled numerous projects, often playground-related, in various parts of Armenia, including Sissian, Gumri, Zeitoun and Nor Marash. The foundation’s latest project is in the village of Hnaberd in the Ararat Valley. He said this is the first time they have taken on the responsibility of rehabbing an entire building.

How he found Hnaberd is the story of one connection leading to another. After he visited a treasured archaeological site at Dvin, an ancient capital of Armenia, “Deagin Frina, the archaeologist, asked me, Peggy Hovanissian, a member of my Board of Directors, and her dad to meet the mayor of a nearby bordering village. The mayor said, ‘We don’t need a playground. We need help with this building!’” recalls Boyajian.

On a future trip, Peggy Hovanissian represented the board and oversaw the construction in purchasing the materials from local sources and hiring the local skilled labor to put a roof on the building, add doors and windows, remove the outhouse and redo the plumbing. Half of the building is now used as a community center, and the other half is used as a teaching and napping area for Kindergarten age children. Hopefully, cots, a stove, refrigerator and cabinets will soon be added — essential when the staff must prepare meals since the children stay there half the day and need to nap while their parents are working long hours in the fields and farms to earn a living. In three years, the Foundation has raised around $25,000 for this Hnaberd project. The building, named the Mary Boyajian Parechanian Kindergarten, is in memory of Boyajian’s late mother. The sign on the playground acknowledges the donation by the Nish Boyajian Memorial Foundation for its creation.

All the monetary donations received go directly to each project. Boyajian himself pays for his plane fare and hotels.

For this summer’s trip to Armenia, Boyajian will take quilts made by a group of senior volunteers from the Beech Street Center in Belmont, to be used by the children when they take naps. “Not one of the quilters is Armenian,” said Boyajian, “It transcends nationalities. It’s just human beings helping other human beings with their needs.” Some of the quilts were displayed and admired by guests at the BBQ.

Besides helping across the Atlantic, the foundation has also worked to help children locally. Through contact with Precision Fitness’s CEO David Aykanian, a life cycle was donated for use by children attending the Abaka Armenian School for Performing Arts. Apo Ashjian, Abaka’s founder, was grateful for the gift as it helps the dancers prevent injury.

The foundation’s website (www.boyajianmemorialfoundation.com) has pictures of some of its projects.