Sophia Minassian
Reminder Publishing submitted photo

SPRINGFIELD — When Sophia Minassian visits her Armenian grandmother in Springfield, she hears stories about the old country and what life was like for her Armenian ancestors who settled in the city a century ago.

“She always has stories for me about her childhood. We make Armenian food together, which is one of my favorite parts. When we go to church, we’ll bring the food and share it after the service,” she said. “We’re creating a lot of memories.”

Minassian is a 17-year-old Girl Scout from New Jersey. She is earning her Gold Award — the highest achievement in scouting — by creating a history section on the website of St. Gregory Armenian Church in Indian Orchard.

She’s had conversations with parishioners and posted those audio and video interviews online. She’s also gathered artifacts like old church bulletins and pictures, uploading them to the website.

Armenian immigrants settled in Springfield and built the church in 1934. St. Gregory’s was the social and spiritual center of the community. The people needed such a sanctuary after what they endured before coming to America.

“St. Gregory arose as a symbol of unity and survival after the Armenian genocide in 1915 and continues to do so today,” said Minassian.

“This project has made me realize how hard-working this community is,” she continued. “When they settled in Indian orchard, they didn’t really have anything, they just had each other. And from starting with nothing and building what they have, it’s an incredible story. It’s incredibly moving.”

The 17-year-old is proud to say, “I am 100% Armenian.” Her culture and heritage mean everything to her, which is why she is preserving it online.

“It’s a big part of my life. I have a great circle of Armenian friends, and our culture is really prevalent in our household. We have a close-knit community. You could be in a different state, but you’re always feeling their love,” she said.

When Minassian attends church, she’s concerned about who is missing from the congregation. “As the younger generation grows up, they’re leaving the area,” she said.

“My goal isn’t to prevent them from leaving, but I want them to be reconnected with their roots. This project will remind them of where they grew up and where their family is from,” she continued.

With none of the church’s founding families alive to tell their stories, Minassian is relying on the recollections of their children, second generation Armenians who describe a history of hope and upheaval that included a disaster six decades ago.

“There are current members who have been part of the church for a very long time. They were there when the church burned down in the 1960s and they had to rebuild. They were there for that important milestone. They also told me stories of their parents coming over from Amenia,” said Minassian.

While she was digging into the past, Minassian found no compelling reason why her ancestors settled in Springfield. Like so many other ethnic enclaves, the first families found a home here, and others followed to be with them.

With a launch timed to coincide with St. Gregory’s 90th anniversary, Minassian is giving the community a look into its past.

“It’s amazing that she can create thoughtful messaging and impactful content that resonates with multi-generational audiences,” said church board member Ed Garibian. “Learning about human stories, some happy, some not, taking place over many, many decades is no easy task. But then creating a way to effectively communicate those stories is phenomenal.”

One of the requirements of the Gold Award is to create a project that is sustainable, that lives on. Minassian has built something church members will be able to update as their history evolves.

Staasi Heropoulos
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