SOAR Continues Mission to Aid Orphans


Arsen Alaverdyan at the Gumri Social Childcare Center received much-needed purchases through his sponsorship funds from Lilit Martirosyan.

By Gabriella Gage

Mirror-Spectator Staff

PHILADELPHIA — When George S. Yacoubian Jr., and his wife, Erica, began the process of adopting a child from Armenia in 2005, they knew that their lives and the life of a child without a home would forever change. They did not know, however, that they were beginning a journey that would affect the lives of countless children in the process.

While visiting Armenia during the adoption process, they toured several orphanages and experienced first hand the conditions, in which the children were living. It was there that they met their daughter, Liliana, whom they would bring home on April 23, 2006, but their connection to the orphans of Armenia did not stop there.

“During that trip we also saw a few of the orphanages and all of them were in bad shape at that time,” said Yacoubian. After extensive research, Yacoubian and his wife found that there were not any organizations focusing directly on aiding these orphanages.

From there, the Society for Orphaned Armenian Relief (SOAR) was born, and the Yacoubians organized a board of directors and began formal operations in 2006.

In less than a decade, SOAR has grown from a singular idea formulated while visiting an Armenian orphanage to a full-fledged non-profit organization encompassing 32 chapters worldwide — and growing. Its mission is to provide humanitarian relief to orphaned children living in Armenia.

SOAR provides assistance to 27 entities, including 16 orphanages, summer camps and orphanages in Artsakh (Karabagh,) Georgia, Syria and Lebanon, in addition to Armenia. Its aid reaches both “natural” and “social” orphans in these facilities. Natural orphans have no parents and social orphans have parents unwilling or unable to care for them.

SOAR not only offers its assistance to orphaned children, but also orphaned adults, meaning those who are 18 and older, who need aid transitioning from the orphanage system and for those with special needs.

For example, Warm Hearth-Jermik Ankyun is a private group home housing approximately 13 orphans with disabilities and mental illnesses who have outgrown the state-funded orphanages. It provides each resident with an alternative to the psychiatric institutions and offers holistic care in a family-like setting. Warm Hearth-Jermik Ankyun is located outside of Yerevan in Third Village and is now formally affiliated with the SOAR Colorado chapter.

SOAR has been able to grow largely due to the dedication and foresight of its founding members. At least four of the original members of the board of directors have been with SOAR since its inception.

“It [SOAR] was always envisioned as more than just a Philadelphia organization. It’s just grown from there,” said Yacoubian, who also serves as a resource for members of the community considering adopting from Armenia.

There are currently 32, soon-to-be 33, chapters of SOAR throughout the world. “The goal has been to have 50 chapters by 2015, our 10th anniversary and the centennial of the Armenian Genocide,” he added, stating that new chapters are slated for locations as diverse as Montreal, Switzerland and Iowa in the forthcoming months.

SOAR members and directors have gone to great lengths to ensure that the organization runs efficiently and transparently, which can sometimes be an issue for organizations trying to connect funds and resources to where they are needed overseas. SOAR members and directors manage the distribution of resources by carefully tracking all resources and ensuring the resources reach the orphanages, facilities and ultimately the children who need them.

“For example, when we ship mattresses to the orphanages from Maine, the local chapter president is at the shipping site counting the mattresses, verifying the number and signing the invoice for the sea container. Likewise, when the shipping container arrives to the designated location, the local SOAR liaison is right there at the docks to count the mattresses, verify the number, sign the invoice and ensure that all the mattresses reach the orphanages.”

SOAR also closely monitors the needs of the individual facilities and tracks growing areas of concern.

Due to the recent uprisings in Syria, there are more orphaned children in that country than in previous years. The SOAR Syria chapter, which aids the local orphanages, is headed by Father Armenag Bedrossian and Sr. V. Louisa Kassarjian. One of the issues plaguing Syria is that “there are a lot of children living outside orphanages,” said Yacoubian.

Like the organization itself, SOAR’s resources and reach have expanded rapidly, but efficiently. “We have also been able to increase the amount we can help these children over the years,” he said.

A couple of years ago, SOAR began its sponsorship program that allows them to allocate funds directly for the children themselves, in addition to the aid they provide to the facilities. With the sponsorship program, the sponsors are matched to individual children and the funds are exclusively used to meet the needs of that child, such as physical therapy, psychological counseling, surgery, braces, chess lessons and more. “When we post a child that needs sponsoring, the response is generally very quick and we find them a sponsor. There are some individuals who sponsor multiple children,” explained Yacoubian.

As SOAR continues to expand its resources and outreach, their original mission to aid the Armenian orphans remains at the forefront of the organization. “We believe that these children are the most vulnerable population in Armenia,” said Yacoubian.

SOAR has several upcoming events including a partnership with attorney and author Mark Geragos, who will donate a portion of the proceeds from his upcoming book tour to the organization. Geragos and co-author Pat Harris will be speaking about their new book,

. Book tour dates include April 14 in Philadelphia, April 27 in Chicago, May 4 in New York/ New Jersey, May 5 in Providence, May 6 in Boston and May 8 in Detroit. May 4 is also the date for an upcoming SOAR reception in Philadelphia.

SOAR is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization. For a complete list of all of SOAR’s services, affiliated orphanages, facilities and chapters worldwide and ways to donate or sponsor visit www.soar-us.org.