Sharing tenderness in crisis

Marijan Kevorkian is an old hand at finger-painting.

As a preschool teacher at the Armenian Sisters Academy, a private Catholic school in Montrose, she often does art projects with her students. With each project, Kevorkian asks her students what their art is about and writes what they say on the back, which helps the children express their emotions, said the school’s administrative assistant, Armine Sherikian.

The preschool teacher compiles her students’ art into a book for parents at the end of each school year. She also saves some of her students’ artwork and gives it to them when they graduate from eighth grade, said Sherikian, whose daughter had Kevorkian as a teacher.

Sherikian said teaching is Kevorkian’s gift and her calling.

“She is a wonderful teacher, appreciated by all parents — not only me,” she said.

Kevorkian put her art and teaching skills to use when she organized an arts and crafts night in January at the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House, where she volunteers.

The house provides affordable accommodations to families with severely ill children receiving treatment from hospitals in the area.

Kevorkian set up tables covered with art supplies and baked homemade cookies for the night, which, she said, gave parents time to spend with their children.

“When the families are so busy with devastation, it’s nice to be able to take that time to do something like that,” said Jennifer Cohen, the house’s volunteer manager.

Holding an associate’s degree in teaching and child development from Glendale Community College, Kevorkian said she is going back to school for a bachelor’s in human services from the University of Phoenix in Pasadena. Her volunteer work at the Ronald McDonald House fulfills an internship requirement for her studies.

Her ultimate goal is to attain her master’s in school counseling from Phillips Graduate Institute in Encino and become a high school or college counselor, she said.

“As humans we can learn every second of our lives. It’s a never-ending process,” she said, adding that she learns from her 5- and 6-year-old students every day about how people think and interact.

Through her emotional involvement with families at the Ronald McDonald House, Kevorkian said she has become stronger and learned that one person can make a difference.

The goal of the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House is to provide a “home away from home,” as an alternative to hotel rooms and waiting rooms, for the families of critically ill children. The house can accommodate up to 75 families. Apartments are available for $25 a night, yet the fee can be reduced or waived, and no one is turned away because of an inability to pay.

Kevorkian volunteers eight to 10 hours a week as a family support office assistant, doing office work, greeting families at the front desk, checking them in and out, answering their questions and giving them tours of the house.

Kevorkian said it has been satisfying to be able to listen and talk to families at the house to ease their pain.

“I’m not there to offer therapy, but I believe just being there physically gives them great comfort,” she said.

With about 10 full-time staff members, Cohen said the house depends on the work of about 300 volunteers in order to function.

Kevorkian said she has enjoyed volunteering at the house and encourages others to do the same.

“Everyone there is respectful and professional . . . They are very kind and down to earth and are there to make sure these families have a comfortable space,” she said.

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