Janet Demirjian Leist
Hoops 4 Hayastan, a sports-focused non-profit organization founded in 2017 by two Armenian American members of that year’s Armenian National Basketball team, just wrapped up its biggest fundraiser, successfully raising about $50,000 last weekend. The group surpassed its initial goal of 10 to 12 thousand dollars the very first night.
Fundraising events don’t get any more exciting for today’s youth than the one organized by the seven-member team of Hoops 4 Hayastan (H4H). Targeted ideally for its sports-minded followers, H4H hosted brief, interesting interviews with a talented group of movers and shakers in the sports world. Guests included well-known current professional athletes, well-respected sports veterans, business professionals in the sports field, coaches and sports enthusiasts. The fundraiser was hosted via Instagram Live over three evenings last weekend. The informal and relaxed vibe created by the H4H hosts with their guests kept the atmosphere fun, upbeat and friendly.
More than 25 guests shared their inspiring stories, career highlights/challenges and advice for today’s aspiring athletes. Many of them expressed heartfelt messages for the youth to pursue their dreams with hard work and determination, while remembering to care about the world around them and giving back to their communities. Hundreds of viewers from all over the country and some from as far away as Brazil watched the exciting live program, offering comments and questions for the guests and the hosts.
H4H co-founders Garen Spendjian (New York) and Matt Madoian (Rhode Island) described to guests and viewers how after their first visit to play in a basketball tournament in Armenia, they both realized that as in most developing countries, soccer was the main team sport in Armenia (especially in villages), and that most other sports were individual ones. Contrary to soccer which in its most basic form requires an open field and a ball, basketball requires a proper outdoor or indoor court, hoops, basketballs, etc. Inspired by their love for basketball, the duo decided to find a way to bring the love of the game to the villages of Armenia.
Over the course of two years, they expanded the H4H team to five members who all loved the game and the mission of H4H. Joining the team were Aram Spendjian from New York, Vigen Sarkisov from Boston and Arakel Aristakessian from the San Francisco Bay area. The ‘starting five’ organized a few small fundraisers, collected gently used athletic shoes from their local Armenian communities and after their summer tournaments in Armenia, visited a few schools in villages and distributed shoes and uniforms to the local children.
These happy interactions were life-changing for the H4H team. That’s when they realized this was going to be their mission as Armenian Americans and lovers of basketball. They decided to double their efforts, add a few more basketball enthusiasts to the team and focus on larger fundraising efforts so they could take on bigger projects in villages, such as renovating or building gyms and finding sponsors to bring basketball shoes, uniforms, and gear to villages in Armenia.
In 2020, two more members joined the team from the San Francisco Bay area. Sisters and sports industry professionals Natalie and Claudia Leist became the newest members to join the team of five guys. While the team was unable to travel to Armenia due to the pandemic, they made the most of their time while working from home and met regularly via Zoom to discuss future projects and potential fundraising events.
In 2020, fundraising events via Instagram Live became very popular. The H4H team began discussing the possibility of planning such a fundraising event for their future projects as well. Having team members who have made connections with professional athletes and coaches during their basketball careers or through their current jobs in the sports field, they brainstormed potential guests. Before too long, an impressive list emerged and an exciting IG Live fundraiser was planned for January 2021.
The list of amazing guests included current and retired, well-known professional basketball players such as Danny Green, Eric Paschall, Damion Lee, Glenn Robinson III, Will Magnay, Carlos Boozer, Jason Smith, John Petrucelli, Troy Caupain and Patrick Rembert. From the NFL, guests included retired players Andrew Hawkins, Will Blackmon, Lance Moore and Justin Forsett. Other athletes and personalities joined the live event including Olympic gymnast Houry Gebeshian, MMA fighters Georgi Karakhanyan and Katlyn Chookagian, NBA assistant coaches Rex Kalamian and Jay Hernandez, New England Patriots football director Berj Najarian and former professional soccer player Alecko Eskandarian.
Many professionals in the sports field also joined, including journalist Allie Clifton, scouting coordinator Christian Endrigian, Memphis Grizzlies personnel manager Ariana Andonian, NFL Network marketing coordinator Careen Chapjian, NBA agent Blaise Ffrench and basketball enthusiast and Michigan State Representative Mari Manoogian. The guests not only warmly engaged with the hosts and viewers, but many of them generously donated to the H4H cause and urged everyone watching to do the same.
This Hoops 4 Hayastan All-Star Weekend truly lived up to its name and was incredibly successful in every way. It not only surpassed all fundraising expectations of the H4H team members, but provided an amazing opportunity for viewers to hear inspiring stories and donate to an amazing cause that will bring the joy of basketball to underserved children in the villages of Armenia.
The H4H team deserves much appreciation and gratitude for their weeks of planning, excellent preparation of material and questions for the guests, and for their heartwarming dedication to bring the love of sports to our youth in Armenia.