November 9, 2016
After a three-year hiatus from GenNext’s annual camping trip, our mentors and mentees journeyed to the San Bernardino Forest to embrace nature and enjoy the experience of togetherness.
The group arrived to the Barton Flats area by caravan on Friday, November 4th as the sun was departing from the skyline. Mentors and mentees worked together to quickly build their little village of tents. The camp kitchen and living area were built next with preparations for a quick and easy dinner simultaneously underway. Needless to say, the group hustled to prepare their campsite for nightfall and did a fantastic job at that! If GenNext camping is about returning to our roots to rediscover ourselves, to discover hidden gifts and strengths, to increase confidence, and to connect with one another, then night one was undoubtedly a big success.
A big breakfast and stories of how our campers braved the previous night’s freezing temperatures is how we began our Saturday morning. The day also included several hikes, a number of spirited games of volleyball and football, along with chess, monopoly, and backgammon. One of the most fun activities of the trip was capture the flag, an outdoor game which saw participation from almost the entire group.
One of the more impactful moments of the trip was when our mentees witnessed mentor Varand Avanesian return to the campsite Saturday evening after having left that very morning for an important work meeting. Dressed in suit and tie, Varand’s return to our dusty campsite impressed the entire group and revealed his commitment to his mentee and the rest of our group. Moses, one of our more reserved mentees commented that Varand “definitely didn’t have to come back. That’s pretty cool.” The underlying idea here is simple; Varand’s decision to drive an extra 200 miles just to spend the remaining hours of the night with his mentee made all of us feel closer. That decision and those types of actions is what great mentoring moments are all about. These are the special memories that stay with us and inform youth as they begin to embark on their own journeys of personal development.
The most memorable moment of the trip for many of us was mentee Vartan’s reading of a special poem he had written which highlighted his personal struggles. Vartan’s willingness to open up and share these very real obstacles with the group was a pivotal moment that was met with recognition and love from mentors and mentees alike. That poem was the catalyst for several of our mentees who also shared their own personal stories with their mentors and the group.
Another truly astonishing moment for all of us was an unexpected visit from Komitas Vardapet, who would have been proud to know that in 2016, over a hundred years since his passing, an AGBU youth named Levon Moradkhanian would sing one of his songs with such beauty and grace. Levon, inspired by his fellow mentee, Vartan, gave in to an encore request from the group and shared his talent and appreciation for an Armenian legend a second time before hearing the cheers and jubilation of the crowd. Our impromptu “talent show” was encouraged by mentor Anita Khachikyan, who reinforced our mission as an organization and led our group in a very positive direction. She later stated “I think that kids nowadays aren’t encouraged as much to have some type of talent. I felt that we were comfortable enough as a group where the kids would be willing to ‘expose’ whatever talents they had and they did.”
GenNext campers left San Bernardino on Sunday morning feeling rejuvenated, closer as a family, and excited about the prospect of returning to camp next year.
Article written by Saro Ayvazians
Program Director of AGBU’s Generation Next Mentorship Program