Project SAVE honors its volunteers and staff
Published: Monday July 02, 2012
Watertown, Mass. - Given a choice between lying on a hammock in the Caribbean or categorizing photographs for Project SAVE, the choice would be an easy one for John Kebadjian.
Give him a cubicle inside an overstuffed office --- doing what he enjoys best --- and he's perfectly content with life.
Kebadjian doesn't consider himself the "ultimate" volunteer but how else would you describe a 70-year-old who spends five days a week at 65 Main St., working a myriad of jobs including that of office manager?
He documents historic pictures, files them accordingly, keeps the donor list updated, handles the bookkeeping and supervises other volunteers like himself.
"We don't have another organization like this anywhere in the world," he says of Project SAVE. "The history of our ancestors is being preserved and what better way is there to do this than through pictures. We're a link to the outside world."
Founded by Ruth Thomasian in 1975, Project SAVE Archives' extensive and diverse collection of more than 35,000 images and growing library of oral history audio tapes depict all aspects of Armenian life in the homeland and Diaspora dating back to the 1860s.
As the premiere archive of Armenian photographs in the United States, its mission is to collect, document, preserve and present the historic and modern photographic record of Armenians and their rich heritage. The 26 calendars which have emerged forth are another testament to success.
"Our purpose is to make our resources available and increase our outreach to the academic communities, general public and to the greater Armenian community," said Thomasian. "We wouldn't exist today were it not for the many volunteers and donors who have come to our side. If I had to pay for each of these services, we would not have survived this long."
According to Thomasian, volunteers do everything from hands-on work to office cleaning, graphic design and technology.
"We accomplish so much with so very little," she notes. "People bring their own skills to us and we utilize them. It benefits both sides."
Project SAVE honored its staff and volunteers during an appreciation luncheon June 20 at the Coolidge School Apartments.
Among the highlights was a special award to Arlington High senior Anahis Kechejian for her outstanding creativity and communication skills in designing and implementing "Stand Up For Your Survivor" presented April 20 at the Massachusetts State House Genocide Commemoration.
The 17-year-old was accompanied by her mom Linda and brother Antranig.
"I hope to inspire Armenians of my generation to volunteer their time for worthy organizations like Project SAVE," said Anahis. "There's nothing more rewarding than being able to contribute to the Armenian community."
The Greater Boston AYFer will be lecturing at Camp Haiastan this summer to generate added interest in her survivor project. In her initial attempt, 50 people took part by holding up posters of their loved ones. The results were gratifying and emotional from the near-capacity crowd which included four survivors.
Not only was Kebadjian among the volunteer honorees, he took it upon himself to host the luncheon. His association with Thomasian dates back nearly four decades.
"I met her on the street one day and she asked me to help her with some bookkeeping," Kebadjian recalled. "It's given my retirement years a new purpose. I started once a week and saw the work needed so I expanded my role."
Kebadjian spent 50 years as a diamond-cutter in the family jewelry business located in downtown Boston. He retired three years ago.
Hasmig Esserian has spent the past 11 years volunteering some 2,800 hours as a translator. She started with captions and extended herself to articles on the genocide. She was born in Alexandria, Egypt, spent 27 years living in Armenia before immigrating to Watertown in 1975 --- the year Project SAVE was conceived.
Being fluent in both dialects (Eastern and Western) has been a valuable commodity for the archival center. She started the year after her husband passed away and it's helped to fill a void in her life.
"Ruth kept after me to devote my time," said Esserian. "I learn something new each day I'm here. The more I read, the more I translate. It's very stimulating. I'd hate to think what would happen to all these photographs if they weren't being properly preserved."
In her seven years and 1,050 hours as a volunteer, Beatrice Changelian has served as an office assistant, performing a variety of administrative and archival tasks.
Sarah Murray has spent five years as a volunteer, logging some 500 hours as an archival assistant before, during and after her degree work in Library & Information Science at Simmons College.
Other volunteers singled out were: Taiga Lorena, archives assistant; Marlin Keshishian, calendar mailing specialist; Jean O'Kuckan, photographer, and Ani Chilingirian, high school community service.
Two staffers were also paid tribute for their enthusiasm and pride: Suzanne Adams, for her five years as an archivist and development associate, and Aram Sarkissian, for his 11 years as an archival assistant, helping to keep photographs and documents organized and accessible.
The vision becomes obvious and immediate: more resources and an expanded operational base.
"In order to achieve our purpose, we need full-time professional staff operating in a larger office space that meets archival standards for temperature and humidity control," Thomasian points out. "We need an endowment that will ensure this professional care for our treasured collections.