Armenian Family Support Services Initiates 'Community Support Circle' for Syrian Armenian Refugees 

Friday, April 1st, 2016 was April fool’s day and it seemed the trick was on us as we were making adjustments for our first event down to the last minute. With the tremendous amount of excitement from our Armenian Syrian refugees, more and more people registered and our organizing team kept changing the logistics arrangements. What was thought to be 40 attendees ended up being 120!!

In the last few months we have experienced a large influx of Syrian Armenian Refugees registering with the AFSS. We have been helping our newcomers in providing them with full settlement services such as job placements, referrals to employers, resume writing, housing assistance and so much more. Through talking to our newly arrived Syrian Armenian Refugees, it was apparent that they needed a space to talk freely, express their frustrations, their wins, and their challenges of living in a new and totally different country.

Armenian Family Support Services has experience welcoming newcomers and we are aware and equipped to provide assistance for all the stages of settlement in Canada. In order to address the emotional and mental need of the Syrian Armenian newcomers, we launched the “Community Support Circle” on April 1, 2016.   

What is the program all about?

  • To provide Syrian Armenian newcomers with a safe space where they can openly speak about their challenges and experiences associated with resettlement.
  • To provide Syrian Armenians newcomers with an opportunity to share the depths of their circumstances with others who are going through similar challenges.
  • To prevent isolation and alienation.
  • To reduce their anxiety, improve self-confidence and empower them with tools and resources.
  • To empower and guide fellow Armenians as they work to solve problems individually and collaboratively with other members of the support group.

In order to ensure that families were able to attend, we provided free child care services. There were over 20 children enjoying games and other activities. Children and parents were happy for this service. 

To facilitate the logistics of transportation our team had arranged couple of school buses to pick up our participants from two key spots in North York and Scarborough.

Once all Newcomers arrived, the Maral Ishkanian hall was full and we were adding chairs to accommodate more people coming.

Maida Icliates, Maryam Aramyan and Houry Aznavourian, program developers and organizers, facilitated the group circle. Also welcoming the newcomers were Father Zareh Zargarian, Pastor of the Holy Trinity Armenian Church and Rita Odjaghian, Chair of the AFSS who both addressed the newcomers.  Everyone introduced themselves, sharing their experiences as newcomers to Canada. Maida facilitated the conversation and the newcomers began to share their problems and concerns experienced so far. After some group work, it was very clear that the primary challenge for most newcomers was finding work.

The conversation shaped into key messages from Haig Thomasian about Canadian Job Market and what behaviours are needed to succeed. Mr. Joseph Yeremian also provided insight about the professional job market.

We were able to witness that these conversations sparkled trust in the eyes of our newcomers and they felt being with a supportive family where their concerns were being heard.

Following the session, a light dinner of Lachmajoon, (Armenian pizza), veggies, dessert and coffee was served. The newcomers were also treated to a show by the HTAC Sassoun Dance Ensemble.

As we visited the tables, it was apparent that newcomers are eager to learn all the settlement processes in Canada. Everything is new to them and at times, they seem to have incorrect information. Therefore, it is imperative to create a supportive environment for them so that on one hand they feel they are not alone and know there are other families in the same condition. Furthermore, they need to feel that there is a team from Armenian Family Support Services and Holy Trinity Armenian Church who are available to assist when they need information and coaching.

The event ended with Father Zareh Zargarian and the newcomers lighting candles in the church sanctuary and participating in a special prayer for peace.

This was our first AFSS Community Support Circle and we plan to continue providing these circles on a bi-weekly basis. The next group circle will focus on Employment such as writing a resume, cover letter, networking, job sites and much more.

Special thanks to the program organizers Maida Icliates, Mariam Aramyan, Houry Aznavourian and all the volunteers who made this first group circle a success.


AFSS Refugee and Sponsorship Committee


​​​​​​Armenian Family Support Services (AFSS)

recipient of generous donation in lieu of gifts

AFSS Press Office

Published June 17 2016

We express our sincere gratitude to Mrs. Janet and Mr.  Joseph Yeremian for their most generous support and donation to the Refugee Sponsorship and Settlement Program of the Armenian Family Support Services.  

Mrs. Janet Yeremian, an AFSS Board Member was celebrating her birthday and her husband and family planned a wonderful surprise party. In lieu of gifts, Mr. Yeremian requested guests to donate to the Armenian Family Support Services. 

Mrs. Rita Odjaghian, Chair of AFSS, was invited to speak to guests and share the humanitarian work going on behind the scenes in helping Syrian-Armenian refugees to a better life in Canada.
The proceeds of the gifts will be going towards the bi-weekly ‘Community Support Circle. ’  This gathering provides the Syrian- Armenian newcomers to get together , listen to guest speakers from the community and learn about various aspects of Canadian life, such as the Public Library, Public Health, Job Search, resume writing, housing, mental health and much more.
Thank you to Yeremian family for raising $2,000 that enables us to drive our mission. The Armenian Family Support Services is funded completely by private donations. Donations such as these provide us financial fuel to continue to drive our humanitarian mission.
Thank you again and Happy Birthday to Mrs. Janet Yeremian.



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Newcomers’ Luncheon Organized by

Armenian Family Support Services

AFSS Press Office
Published June 23 2016

On Sunday, May 15, 2016, following Divine Liturgy at Holy Trinity Armenian Church, a luncheon and talent show was organized at the “Magaros Artinian” hall by the Armenian Family Support Services (AFSS) to welcome Syrian-Armenian newcomers. About 300 people attended this one-of-a-kind event and enjoyed the warm atmosphere with friends, great food and performances. Rev. Archpriest Father Zareh Zargarian, Parish Priest of Holy Trinity Armenian Church (HTAC), delivered his warm welcoming message to the Syrian-Armenian newcomers, and expressed his well wishes to them. He appreciated the organizers' efforts and devotion and praised the AFSS board members for their ongoing efforts. Many of the HTAC Parish Council members were present at this lovely gathering. Maida Icliates, Founder of AFSS, introduced Toronto City Hall Councillor, the Honourable Jim Karygiannis, who thanked the AFSS Board and volunteers for their many years of dedication and service to the Toronto Armenian community. 








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AFSS assists in the development of online medical tool for Armenian language version of the free online Syrian Refugee Medical intake form

AFSS Press Office

Published March 11, 2016

The Armenian Family Support Services (AFSS) is proud to be part of the development of the Armenian language version of the free online Syrian Refugee Medical Intake form.

This form was developed in part by Cognisant Causes, a charitable program run by Cognisant MD. Cognisant MD approached AFSS to assist in developing the Armenian version of the tool, which already existed in English and Arabic. The Armenian version was uploaded for use in various hospitals and medical offices where Syrian Refugees receive treatment.  The comprehensive form can be completed using an Ocean Tablet in a hospital or doctor’s waiting room.  When completed, it provides a medical history including mental health profile of the patient in English.

Mr. and Mrs. Mekerdich and Gohar Bablanian, Syrian newcomers, along with Rita Odjaghian and Seza Nazarian, AFSS Board Members, were invited to the office of Dr. Doug Kavanagh, the founder of Cognisant MD, to participate in the demonstration of the use of this new tool. CBC News covered this special story, filming the couple using the form and inquired about the services of the AFSS.  The Globe and Mail also covered this event and the article will appear next week.

 Our thanks to Mrs. Seza Nazarian for leading this project and making a difference in the lives of newcomers and the Canadian medical community.

Bellow is the Cognisant MD press release.

Press Release by Cognisant MD:

Continued - 

Free Medical Translation Tool Reduces Language Barriers for Syrian Refugees Receiving Healthcare Services 

Refugees can complete a full patient history and PHQ-9 mental health screening in Arabic or Armenian, with responses automatically translated to English.

Toronto, ON – March 3, 2016 – With over 25,000 Syrian refugees recently arrived in Canada, a significant need for primary care healthcare services is expected in the coming weeks and months.  Physicians and front-line healthcare workers across the country are already beginning to assess and treat a range of physical, emotional and mental health needs for this wave of refugees. However, providing appropriate care to non-English-speaking refugees can involve significant challenges, particularly with limited translation support available.

To help address this, a free, secure online tool has been developed to allow patients to complete a full history and mental health screening in Arabic or Armenian, with the results automatically translated to English for the clinician to review and add to the patient record. Collecting this information in the patient’s first language can help ensure a more complete and accurate history is collected, while also increasing the likelihood of sharing sensitive issues.

“We know that many of these refugees have experienced significant trauma and difficult living conditions , so we expect to see a wide range of healthcare concerns that need to be addressed,” said Dr. Sharon Domb, Family Physician with the Sunnybrook Family Health team. “In addition, the existence of a language barrier in many cases adds further challenges.  By decreasing the impact of these language barriers, the medical translation tool will be incredibly valuable in helping us provide the highest level of care for these refugees.”

The Syrian Refugee Medical Intake tool was developed as part of Cognisant Causes, a charitable program run by CognisantMD that provides resources – in the form of project-based technology and marketing support – to non-profit healthcare organizations at no cost. The PHQ-9 for mental health screening has also been made available in Arabic with automatic translation to English, and additional clinical screening tools are planned for the future.

 “As a family physician, I’ve experienced first hand how a language barrier can create stress and time pressure for both the patient and the clinician,” said Dr. Doug Kavanagh, a family physician at the North York Family Health Team and the Co-Founder of CognisantMD. "Together with the assistance of my Arabic and Armenian-speaking colleagues, we've created a tool that can help family doctors like myself to communicate with refugee families and connect them with the care they need."

The forms are accessed through a web browser that allows patients to respond to questions online.  All responses are encrypted before being sent to the Ocean Portal where a translated clinical note is generated which can be copied and pasted into the patient record. To ensure patient health information is kept secure, data is kept encrypted both in transmission and in storage. 

There is no fee for patients to complete the forms, or for clinicians to review, copy and paste the results. Clinics using the Ocean Platform can also access the forms from the Ocean Library and present them on a patient tablets or send them as secure emailed links to allow patients to complete before their appointment. The forms can be accessed online at or through the Ocean library.  

Special thanks to Dr. Faisal Al-Sani, Dr. Nour Khatib, Mrs. Salpi Der Ghazarian, Dr. Ani Hasserjian and Mrs. Seza Nazarian of Armenian Family Support Services, Holy Trinity Armenian Church for their assistance with translations.

About CognisantMD

CognisantMD is Canada’s leading provider of EMR-integrated patient engagement solutions. Using mobile devices and a cloud-based platform, Ocean allows patients to securely share health information for clinical use, administration and research. By adding Ocean Tablets and our large library of forms, patient questionnaires and clinical content to existing Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), the Ocean Platform provides a powerful way to connect patients to their physicians and beyond. For more information, visit

Copyright 2016. Armenian Family Support Services. All Rights Reserved.

Toronto Public Library and Toronto Newcomer Centre visit the AFSS Community Support Circle for Syrian-Armenian newcomers.

AFSS Press Office

Published May 15, 2016

Holy Trinity Armenian Church ​​

Another successful event!! Out third “Community Support Circle’ for Syrian Armenian newcomers was a big hit. We thank the Toronto Public Library and Toronto Newcomer Centre for their presentation about services for newcomers. 

Following the presentation, everyone got to sign up for their very own library card and free passes to city events such as Toronto Zoo, ROM, AGO and other places to choose from. We also had sign up for free cell phone with two year data plan. These are great incentives for our newcomers and help them integrate into Toronto life that much easier.

​Following the registrations, everyone enjoyed the delicious food and dessert, especially the traditional Armenian lachmajoon prepared by the AFSS volunteers.Please join us at our next event, the Newcomer Luncheon for Syrian Armenian newcomers on Sunday, May 15, 2016 at 1:00 pm. The afternoon will be a fun get together filled with food, musical entertainment by our very own Syrian newcomers sharing their artistic talents with the community. 

Հայ Ընտանիքի

He presented a Certificate of Appreciation from the City of Toronto. Rita Odjaghian, Chair of AFSS, welcomed everyone with a heartfelt speech.  She talked about the mission of AFSS, and how important it is to create a sense of love and affection in the hearts of all the newcomers through compassion, hard work and dedication. She thanked Janet Yeremian, the organizing committee members and all volunteers without whom the event would not have been possible.
Mr. Greg Sarkissian, President of the Zoryan Institute, addressed the newcomers and spoke about a new Oral History Project they are undertaking to document the stories of the new Syrian-Armenian refugees. He invited interested newcomers to join this project.
The MC of the day was the lovely Sarin Poladian, herself a newcomer. She opened the event by thanking AFSS for welcoming the Syrian- Armenians and allowing them to showcase their talents in this new land.. The event featured several performances by well-known artists such as Nazar Poladian, Hasmig Tachajian Bertizian, Mher Minassian, Anahit Koutsouzian, Anna-Maria and Mike Muyabed. Several paintings by the  well-known artist Razmig Bertizian were on prominent display.

The “Sassoun Dance Ensemble” of Holy Trinity Armenian Church performed lively Armenian dances, bringing even more joy to the gathering. A delicious lunch was served, followed by homemade desserts. As the two “Welcome to Canada” cakes with Canadian flag designs were brought into the hall, everyone stood up and sang the national anthems of Canada and Armenia. At the end of the luncheon, the joy and happiness were palpable in the air.  AFSS Board members received many testimonials of gratitude from the attendants. Many said they felt they were treated like family, felt at home and appreciated.
For over 12 years AFSS has provided various humanitarian services to our existing and new community members. Two years ago, AFSS was granted the Sponsorship Agreement Holder privilege. Since then we have sponsored over 300 Syrian-Armenian refugees. Our services begin at the point of landing and continue throughout the settlement and integration into this beautiful country. AFSS greets refugees along with their sponsors at the airport. Services include assistance with housing and furnishings, schooling for children, employment counseling and placement, support circles, referrals and more. This truly manifests an end-to-end settlement process for our new Canadians.
Our work continues with even more dedication. If you are interested in the services provided or if you would like to support our mission, we would like to hear from you by phone: 416-431-5549 or by E-mail:

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