Before the John and Hasmik Mgrdichian foundation became one of TUMO’s key partners, trustees Lysa Grigorian (John and Hasmik’s granddaughter) and Gary Hampar were headed to what turned out to be a fateful encounter at our headquarters in Yerevan. “A lot of people kept telling us to check out this program,” Lysa says. During a trip in 2016 from Los Angeles to Armenia, they decided to see for themselves what this four-letter name was all about. “We were waiting behind the turnstiles at the entrance and I had never seen kids with so much energy and enthusiasm for learning. We were sold before we even got in,” Gary admits. It was TUMO at first sight.

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Lysa Grigorian, JHM trustee and grandaughter of John and Hasmik Mgrdichian, touring TUMO Gyumri’s new building with TUMO CEO Marie Lou Papazian.

During the tour, they met CEO Marie Lou Papazian and head of development Pegor Papazian, who shared plans for renovating Gyumri’s historic theater into a TUMO center. Constructed in the 1850s, the building had once served as an opera house and survived two devastating earthquakes – Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury would redesign it into a modern tech hub while preserving the historic structure. “They told us they were headed there the following day and invited us to join. We immediately canceled our plans and went on a road trip the next morning,” Lysa shares. “I have always cared about taking the old and the historic and blending it into something new and meaningful. I was very curious to see the building and feel the space for this exciting project.”

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John and Hasmik Mgrdichian in 1974.

There were a handful of reasons why JHM, named after the children of Armenian genocide survivors from Gyumri and Kharberd, decided to sponsor the construction and eventual operations of the center. Not only was Lysa passionate about architecture and preserving cultural spaces, but the building was located in the city of her grandfather’s roots. After creating two successful businesses in California, John and Hasmik began taking yearly trips to Armenia in the 1960s to visit John’s family in Gyumri and establish closer ties with their homeland. This project felt like the perfect fit. “My grandparents always valued education and would be thrilled that this is an education program that is inspirational and impacts the development of the youth in the country.” John and Hasmik were also big fans of the arts and music (especially jazz and blues). The center’s official opening in September 2021 celebrated the fusion of art and history with a performance of Anoush opera on the same stage where it had premiered over one hundred years ago.

Before and after TUMO Gyumri’s renovation.

The foundation has also funded the tuition-free TUMO Studios program, which provides students between the ages of 16 and 28 the opportunity to gain skills in contemporary design. In addition to staying up-to-date with all of the latest technology (Hasmik owned the first-ever Apple computer and every version that followed), Lysa’s grandmother had a creative streak – she enjoyed making jewelry and was a self-taught gourmet chef. “My grandmother basically raised me, so there’s a lot of her in me. I enjoy cooking, design, and architecture and I know that she would be over the moon about everything here,” Lysa reflects. In the coming years, JHM hopes to expand TUMO Studios and support the preservation of traditional Armenian art and design.

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TUMO Studios is a tuition-free program for contemporary art and design.

As part of their investment into Armenia’s future, the foundation has also joined TUMO’s latest expansion program in Armenia and sponsored the upcoming center in Koghb, the northeastern border village that will accommodate students from more than 10 neighboring border regions, such as Noyemberyan and Berdavan. Thanks to the generous support of one of our first and biggest sponsors, TUMO is nearing its goal of equipping teenagers in every corner of Armenia and Artsakh with the tools needed to unlock their potential. “This educational movement has clear goals: it expands the minds of kids, enables them to thrive, and creates jobs for our economy,” says Gary. “As members of the Diaspora, we did a lot of research on how to best support and develop Armenia. We have the utmost confidence in Sam and Sylva Simonian and their team for this honest cause and great mission.” As part of our ongoing partnership, Lysa recently became a TUMO board member and will be closely involved in the planning of our programs and activities.

“We came here knowing virtually nothing about TUMO and eventually became familiar with its mission and decided to support it. Investing in education has a long-term, transformative impact not only on the individual but also on our country. Armenia’s greatest resource is the intelligence of its people,” Gary explains. We can’t wait for more chapters in the TUMO-JHM story, one that started when a foundation with the goal of paving the way for a better future met its soulmate in Yerevan.