A child’s birthday gift for Camp Haiastan

A child’s birthday gift for Camp Haiastan

Sherborn, Mass. – In a world governed by corporate executives, venture capitalists and philandering bureaucrats, sometimes it takes a child to do a man’s job.

Eleven-year-old William Whittlesey did not want the usual birthday party. No ordinary gifts for this boy. His wish turned into a bonanza for his favorite place — Camp Haiastan!

It’s where he has spent his past three summers. It’s where his three siblings have gathered. It’s where he’s learned to become a better Armenian. It’s where his good is now being invested.

“Instead of presents,” he told his parents, “I’d like everyone to make a donation to the camp. They need a lot of support right now and I want to help.”

More than 50 guests attended. After all was said and done, the camp became $605 richer at the party. What’s more, the day was designed to reflect a Camp Haiastan reunion setting with a free-for-all camp store and games these youngsters play in Franklin.

It was the next best thing to being in camp with an added twist. Charity was served through a young child’s intentions.

William is the son of Nikki (Berberian) Whittlesey and William Whittlesley Sr., and grandson of oud virtuoso Johnny Berberian and Barbara Berberian, both community and church activists who have intimate relations with the camp, as have all their children and grandchildren — three generations across time.

Six grandchildren have all attended camp sessions together and it’s not uncommon to see their oud-playing granddad and dancing grandmom somewhere in the mix.

“Will was opening his birthday cards and all these checks were made out to Camp Haiastan,” said Barbara Berberian. “He proudly read the wonderful sentiments shared by his guests and I could see how excited he was doing something for the camp, wondering aloud what the money could do. As for the toys and games he could have received, that was never mentioned.”

An emerging philanthropist brought a source of pride to the entire family and innumerable friends, including anyone who’s ever had a connection with the camp. The afternoon bore lots of reminiscing and camp trivia, shrouded by an amazing camp spirit. Camp videos were shown on a large-screen TV.

As to the menu, it’s what you would get at a typical Camp Haiastan picnic with red, blue and orange cupcakes for dessert.

“You have to credit his parents for instilling the idea of ‘charitable giving’ to their children,” Berberian added. “I hope it sets an example for other children to follow. All along, I was reminiscing about my own camp days.”

The buck doesn’t stop here, however. William’s older brother Jack, 12, chose the Armenia Tree Project for his school philanthropy project. Part of the endeavor was raising money or awareness for his organization.

Jack created note cards with a tree rubber-stamped and sold them last spring at an arts & crafts fair in town, earning $100 in proceeds. He could very well become the next oud-playing Berberian, having shown an interest in the instrument.

Two other siblings, Charles, 14, and Azadouhi, 8, are following a similar path as conscientious Armenian children, looking to reach out.

William was voted “the most spirited camper” this summer in the camp newspaper. He’s an “A” student at Pine Hill Elementary School where attends fifth-grade. He plays soccer, basketball, baseball and lacrosse and ranks as the top chess player in his school. He also plays saxophone.

Just recently, he won a contest to possess for four months a tenor saxophone which coincidentally was donated to the school in memory of his great-uncle Joe Almasian Sr.

“I was thinking of how the grandparents and great-grandparents of these kids would feel of such an amazing fraternal spirit that’s being continued down through the generations,” Berberian added. “Not only have we survived — but we’ve thrived.”