The western district of the Armenian General Benevolent Union — a nonprofit that promotes Armenian heritage through various programs — has for 20 years provided the mentorship program called GenNext, which serves at-risk Armenian youth in the Glendale area. However, since 2012, the organization was left without a physical space to call home.
That changed last week when, with the help of YWCA Glendale, GenNext opened its new Glendale site at 735 E. Lexington Drive, a 1,500-square-foot office space that will offer training workshops, after-school and college readiness programs as well as a place where mentors can meet with young people.
GenNext will also transition from a solely culturally based Armenian mentoring program to serve all youth from 11 to 19 years old.
Saro Ayvazians, the group's program director, began working at GenNext as a case manager in 2008. A few years later, he was promoted to his current role, and it was around that time the full-time staff dwindled from five to one.
Ayvazians kept GenNext afloat as case manager, program developer and coordinator as well as managing youth and mentor relationships — all at makeshift locations across the Glendale Unified School District when GenNext was without a lease.
"It was really challenging to meet with mentors and our youth. There were so many programs we wanted to do, and we're really grateful to the YWCA for giving us this space, something we've been trying to get for two years," Ayvazians said.
Tara Peterson, executive director of the Glendale YWCA, had initially offered a more completed and furnished space in the YWCA building, but Ayvazian opted for a much larger area in the basement, which required some major work.
Ayvazians said he had to remove trash, replace the carpet, remove huge air-conditioning vents that were not in use and sand down uneven concrete. It took him months working on his own before he let a professional handle the rest.
The location will continue to offer its main program of training volunteer mentors to connect with youth who may be experiencing difficulties at home or at work for monthly group activities and "echo sessions," where young people are encouraged to talk openly about their lives.
"Our goal is to increase their confidence and help them stay in touch with their respective culture and focus on their future career," Ayvazians said.
Mentors must be at least 19 years old and go to school or work full time. They're put through interviews, a background check and five to six hours of training.
Youth are generally referred by Glendale school officials and counselors with a goal of serving 60 young people annually. GenNext is also securing partnerships with various programs in Glendale such as Ark Family Center and the Glendale Youth Alliance.
"I think it's the natural evolution for a nonprofit," Ayvazians said about the expansion. "For years, it's been about protecting a community that was almost wiped out, but we can't build community with only a part. You need the support of all of those in the community."